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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.

How to Write in the Face of Rejection

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I wrote “unparagraphs”, I aimed for imbalance, I stayed in the moment indefinitely, I realized my maximal self on the page. Most importantly, I wrote myself on to the page. And I learned, as all writers must, how to write in the face of rejection. I received a rejection from an editor I admired, and the next day I wrote.

Guest column by Jay Ponteri, author of the 2013 memoir WEDLOCKED. Read more

Agent Nephele Tempest Teaches You How to Write an Excellent Synopsis: April 25 Webinar With Critique

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Writing a synopsis is usually one of the most difficult things about pitching a novel. It’s incredibly difficult to summarize your entire book in just one page. How do you condense all that info? What gets cut? How much detail should you give? Is it worth mention elements like subplots and character arc?

These types of questions are why we have literary agent Nephele Tempest (The Knight Agency) to teach “Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool” — a brand new live webinar at 1 p.m., EST, Thursday, April 25, 2013. It lasts 90 minutes, and all attendees will get their synopses personally critiqued by Nephele following the event. Get agent eyes on your work! Don’t forget that at least 3 agents from major agencies have signed writers after seeing their work as part of a WD webinar. Read more

Are Blogs The New Journals?

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My novel came out in June 2012 — it’s a portrait of two women, including one revealed through her journals after her death. Shortly after it was released, I got an interesting email from a reader. The reader said she hadn’t been sure she would like a book half written in the form of journals, but had been grabbed by the point of view: the private side of a woman, in her own words, that made her public self look like a facade.

“No one hears about journals anymore, now that everything is about blogs,” the reader wrote. “Were you afraid it would seem dated?”

GIVEAWAY: Nichole 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: vrundell won.) Read more

How to Get a Scene from Brain to Paper

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Different writers have difficulty with different parts of the writing process. Some hate fiddling with background information. Others despise revising. Others can’t stand outlining. Me? I have the most trouble with drafting.

By “drafting,” what I mean is this whole “get the story down on paper” part of writing. It’s not that I have trouble coming up with new material, or that I don’t know where the story is going, it’s just that I have trouble getting what’s in my head down onto paper.

GIVEAWAY: Kat 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: justsaymoo won.) Read more

Writer’s Block: 5 Ways to Get Rid of It

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2. Write something completely different. A teacher at school gave me this advice. When you’re stuck, don’t just try to think outside of the box. Try a whole other box. If you write YA, try writing a steamy scene. If you write thrillers, try writing a picture book. The change in format and tone will force you to break out of your comfort zone, to push your boundaries. You’ll discover new ways of expressing yourself, new limitations and new freedoms, and you can apply the new tricks to your existing work. If nothing else, trying to write something different might just remind you of how much you love writing your old stuff! Read more

The More You Will It, The Better Your Chances: An Inspirational Story For Writers

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… I did this one other thing on the third floor. I’d always make a detour to the spot where Close Is Fine would go if it ever found publication, which in this case was right between John Treherne’s The Walk to Acorn Bridge and Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s Leaving Sardinia. When I got there, I’d reach up and wedge my hand in and make an opening. I’d step back and let my eyes go a little crossed, and I’d force myself to see it: the title running down the spine, with the Cutter, the label on which the call letters were printed, at the bottom.

GIVEAWAY: Eliot is excited to give away a free copy of his collection 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: Jarika won.) Read more

5 Tips to Help You Make Your Deadline

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1. Do the math. Before you undertake the final throes of a deadline, you should map out how much time you have and how much writing you have to do. It’s a terrible SAT math question: if a novelist only has so much time to write x-amount of words, how long before it feels as though those two trains are coming straight at him/her? (show your work). Read more

4 Ways to Build Healthy Relationships with Your Readers

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I wrote Anne Rice an email. She wrote me back fifteen minutes later. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was, a stranger, and she immediately wrote me a kind, friendly note. Having a positive relationship with your readers pays off. Readers are more likely to buy your book if they feel a personal connection to you. They’re more likely to mention your book to their friends, because they want to brag about how they interacted with the author. I’ve had readers introduce me to reporters, set up book signings and get me speaking engagements. Here are 4 simple points to help build healthy relationships with your readers… Read more

The 9 Ingredients of Character Development

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1. Communication style: How does your character talk? Does she favor certain words or phrases that make her distinct and interesting? What about the sound of her voice? Much of our personality comes through our speech, so think about the way your character is going to talk. Her style of communication should be distinctive and unique.

GIVEAWAY: Tom 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: KarenLange won.) Read more

Debut Author Interview: Wendy Welch, Author of the Memoir THE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP

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I love featuring interviews with first-time book writers on my blog. It’s a rare treat that I get to sit down and talk with a debut memoir writer, but that’s just what’s happening today. Meet author Wendy Welch, who wrote the inspiring and fun book, THE LITTLE BOOKSTORE OF BIG STONE GAP (Oct. 2012, St. Martins). The book has been featured by People. Redbook, NPR, and many other media outlets.

Wendy’s story is billed as “the little Virginia bookstore that could: how two people, two cats, two dogs, and thirty-eight thousand books helped a small town find its heart. It is a story about people and books, and how together they create community.” Publishers Weekly said “The whole narrative exudes enormous charm and the value of dreams and lives truly lived,” while Kirkus called it “An entertaining book with a full cast of eccentric characters.” Read more

Why You Need a Literary Agent: Novelist Bernadette Pajer Interviews Her Agent, Jill Grosjean

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Emerging writers often ask me if literary agents are necessary in today’s publishing world. I say, emphatically, yes! Why? Because after the current turbulent evolution of publishing stabilizes, traditional publishers will continue to exist and play a vital role in the production of books. And why do I believe that? Because most writers want to write. Just write. We know we must help market our books, and that is time-consuming enough, but most of us don’t truly want to do the job of a dozen industry professionals. Read more

On a Positive Note: 5 Ways To Get Good Revision Notes From Others

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2. Careful Who You Ask. Just because you want to seek other readers of all shapes and sizes, that does not mean that you should ask just anyone to give you feedback. It’s really important to rely on people whose opinions you trust (seems obvious, but it’s easy to make the error) and who don’t have baggage about you or writing in general. Complicated relationships can be just fine in life, but they’re not a good basis for exchanging notes. Make sure you rely on friends or fellow writers from whom you can comfortably take criticism and not “frenemies” or critical family members. Read more

Picture Books Are Not Just for Children: 10 Reasons Why

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2. Picture book language is often more sophisticated than the first chapter books that children read, and therefore an excellent way for children to learn language. It is here that children, and others, can learn vocabulary, imagery, rhythm, shape, structure, conciseness, emotional power.

3. The picture book is the most flexible of all literary formats. You can do almost anything in a picture book. This flexibility encourages creativity, in both writer and reader. It broadens the mind, and the imagination. And given today’s challenges, we desperately need more creativity, broadened minds and imagination. 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

Are You Ready To Be Published? Here Are 5 Things You Need

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Create a pitch. When I spent my years writing novels before I published my first medieval mystery, I also spent a lot of time planning what would happen when one finally was published. And part of that planning was, of course, the nuts and bolts of completing a manuscript. Not only do you need to have it finished, but once it is, you need to sit down and complete the business aspect of the writing and write a synopsis. You’ll need the 25-word pitch, the paragraph, the one page, and then the full. All of these are handy to have. The pitch is for queries and for networking when you answer that inevitable question, “What’s your book about?” Know it. Memorize it. Use it. Read more

Why You Should Reach Out to Successful Authors For Advice

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Need the advice of a master? Have you tried asking? You wouldn’t listen to a record by Bob Dylan and then drop him a note, tell him what a fine record it is, and that you, too, write songs and are wondering if he has any advice for a struggling musician.

It’s preposterous, of course. But you can write to writers. There’s even a fair chance—and what more can you ask than a fair chance?—they’ll read your notes and write back. They’ll look over your scars and show you theirs, and in that way spur you on like no one else could. Read more

9 Things That Will Help Get Your Novel Published

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1: The Elevator Pitch. As I write this post, my first novel, The Promise of Stardust, is about to find its way into the world. It’s about a woman who suffers a devastating brain injury, and just as they are about to take her off life-support, they realize she’s pregnant. Oh yes, there’s more. The story spans twenty years. It’s a love story. It’s a family saga. It’s many things. But for an elevator pitch, it important to know what your story is about and to refine it down to a sentence or two. Read more

5 Tips on Writing First Drafts

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Set a deadline. A Violet Season was written over four summers—each summer, another draft. This was a crazy schedule, I know, but in some ways it was perfect. There was a clear end to the summers (sadly), and to my drafts. If you don’t have a deadline, you run the risk of one draft spilling into the next, and you may never feel a sense of closure or accomplishment. This is really important in a business in which we often work alone and without recognition. When you finish your draft, celebrate! Then start the next one.

GIVEAWAY:Kathy 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: Edwina 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

5 Simple Things Agents Can Do To Make Writers’ Lives Easier (and 3 Things Writers Should Do Regardless)

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1. Set up an auto-responder email letting writers know that their query letter was received. By doing this, agents will cut down on the number of repeat queries they receive from writers unsure if their e-mail went through correctly. For those agents whose policy it is to only respond if interested, writers won’t wonder if their queries were received in the first place or send a follow-up e-mail just in case. Read more

How Far Should Writers Go to Sell Themselves?

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Recently, I put on an event called The Literary Gong Show at an infamous watering hole in Portland, Oregon called Dante’s Inferno. I was the host of the event, and had dressed myself in a tuxedo and a floppy-collared, bright yellow, pleated tuxedo shirt that I unbuttoned to the navel. This was intended as an impersonation of Chuck Barris, the host who fronted the 70s TV program “The Gong Show,” but I think I just looked like an aging writer in a cheap, untailored tuxedo who didn’t know how to button his shirt and couldn’t afford a bowtie.

The Gong Show event was the end of a string of such events. In a bookstore in Portland, I orchestrated a doughnut ring toss. In San Francisco, I ran a game of Jeopardy. In Santa Fe, I reenacted a scene from my book. Sometimes I simply read, but at odd venues: cafes, bars, even a high school. At one point I found myself on top of a safe, sandwiched between an Elvira pinball machine and a vintage photo booth, reading to a crowd of people turned the other direction, as they waited to order pastries… Read more

Is Your Book Your Baby?

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If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard how a book is the writer’s baby, I wonder if it would take the sting out of having written for all these years for nothing but hope and heartburn? Probably not. But no matter, the question is: is it true? Is each story a spawn?

In a word, or three – not at all. Not for me, at any rate.

This has less do to with what I think of my writing than it does with how I think of my children. From the moment I knew they were there, they were never mine. Even earlier than that, before I had any symptoms and before I realized that everything was about to change, the DNA had already merged; the match was in the tinder.

GIVEAWAY: Jamie 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: Laura won.) Read more

How to Write While Managing a Full-Time Job: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Time

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2. Take advantage of small moments. Let’s be realistic. If you work a full-time job and have any kind of life, sometimes small moments are all you’re going to get out of a day. If you’re in the doctor’s office (okay, that may be a large moment), or waiting for your kid to finish his/her oboe lesson, or chilling during halftime of your NFL team’s latest victory, you have time to write. Remember: It’s like eating an elephant. Case in point: I’m writing this in the lobby of the high school where my son is trying out for the mid-state orchestra. Read more

How to Bring Subjects to Life in Your Nonfiction Writing

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When you write nonfiction characters, you have to be vigilant and observant (this leads to good fiction writing, as well). People consist, for other people, of four things:

1.what they look like
2. where they are
3. what they say
4. and what they do.

Ask any actor. It’s all about: costume; setting; dialogue, and movement or action. It’s also about “business,” as actors call it. Business is the daily buzz and thrum of a person’s activity, the little things a character does: picks up a bottle, drums a finger, turns on a light, fiddles with the phone, slides her shoe on and off. Read more

Agent Mary Kole Teaches “Picture Book Craft Intensive for Selling in Today’s Market” — Feb. 21, 2013 Webinar

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If you are writing and/or illustrating picture books for kids, then this updated webinar with literary agent Mary Kole is for you. This updated webinar (one of our most popular of all time!) teaches writers winning practices for composing books, explains how to pitch your work to agents/editors, and reveals where many submissions go wrong. Mary will also devote a portion of this session to answering attendees’ candid questions in a Town Hall-style format! The event happens at 1 p.m. EST, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, and lasts 90 minutes. Read more

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