Archive for February, 2012

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Writers Conferences: Editor & Agent Appointments

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Now that you have absorbed the lessons learned from Johnny Cash in the movie Walk the Line and developed your elevator pitch through the original idea you don’t need to worry about your editor or agent appointment. And really, you don’t.

Prep at Home

We often see writers who have well developed pitches, get to the conference, start having group ‘pitch practices’ and before they know it, they have no idea what they are pitching anymore or it has become so rehearsed the excitement has left the building.

If you have your original idea, you have the foundation for your pitch. Take that, sit down with your fellow writers and brainstorm it out. When you hit the perfect idea, the entire group will feel it.

Take a Class on Pitching

Many writing groups have monthly meetings where they bring in speakers. Jennifer often volunteers her time to a couple local groups right before the summer push for National Conferences to work on pitches. There are on-line groups, such as many of the workshops we offer at Write It Forward.

Bob spends a good portion of his Novel Writer’s One-Day Workshop and in his Write It Forward Workshop developing Idea and Pitch.

We also recommend that you attend a pitch workshop at the conference, although we highly recommend that you don’t go stressing over your pitch and start reworking it. It might be a good idea to take this workshop during a conference where you are not pitching.

Also, it doesn’t have to be a pitching class. Workshops on developing idea, character and plot can be helpful to developing the perfect pitch.

The Pitch is Really a Conversation

TNWIFConference(6)Remember, your editor or agent appointment is a two-way conversation. So, after the introductions are done, and you give your one-sentence, pause. Take a breath. The one sentence you worked so hard on with your group is meant to entice, intrigue and make the person on the receiving end want to know more. At this point, the editor or agent might have a question.

If not, you move on. This is where Jennifer’s idea of having at least five sentences that, while they are not a rehearsed pitch, they are a natural progression in the conversation comes in.  It’s also good practice for back cover copy writing and the foundation for the rest of your query letter. One thing always leads to the other.

For example:

  • What if your mother hadn’t been murdered, but she was alive and well and living sixty miles away?
  • Katie Bateman has spent her entire career finding lost love ones for other people, but she can’t find one missing body, her mother’s, and give her a proper burial.
  • Now the man accused of murdering her mother is out and Katie’s world is turned upside down by a rash of break-ins, threatening letters and a mystery woman who has the same red hair and green eyes that Katie has.
  • Could Katie’s mother really be alive? If so, then why did her uncle go to jail, almost willingly for a murder he didn’t commit.
  • As Katie unravels a legacy of lies she must choose between the mother she always wanted the uncle who gave up his life for her.

If Jennifer were pitching this story, she would start with the first sentence, and then pause. If the editor did not ask a question, she would continue, pausing after each sentence.

Nine out of ten times, we don’t have to go past the one-sentence because when we pause, the person to whom we are conversing with often asks us something. Answering a question is always easier than having to ‘tell’ someone about your book.


Know your Genre

Understand the type of book you are writing and which publishing houses would be interested. This not only helps in picking who to pitch to, but often editors and agents want to know you have a good handle on the industry and know your genre.

Have Questions

Often writers view editors and agents as the be all end all of publishing and they are an important aspect of the publishing business, but this is YOUR career. Bob has had 4 agents and Jennifer has had 2. The agent/author relationship is a business relationship and you have to make sure the person is the right agent for you.

Some of these questions might not be appropriate during the actual pitch session, but some will be. If they request material (and they most likely will) you need to know how to get it to them. Many have moved into the digital age and want only email submissions.  How long does it take to respond to a partial? A full?

Often you can find these answers on their websites, but it doesn’t hurt to discuss them face-to-face. While they are deciding if the book is something you can sell, you are deciding if this is a person you can do business with.


You are going to be nervous. That is a given. The editors and agents know and understand this and try to make you feel comfortable. They want to find the diamond in the rough. They want you to be the one they buy and say “I met this person during a pitch session at such and such a conference.”

When you are in line, waiting to go to your pitch session, help ease your mind, and the mind of other writers by asking other authors who they are pitching to and about their books. It will help you relax before your pitch. This is the only time we give you permission to practice at the conference.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 by Sasha White
Ramble and babble…my process

Can you believe it’s almost the end of February? Yeah, time flies and all that. I’ve been keeping busy, yet I still feel like I’m not getting anything done. I’m sure you know what I mean, right?

Id o have to admit I’ve also done a lot of reading lately, and tv watching. I’m not normally such a tv ho. I don’t even own a tv. However, I’ve discovered that some of my local stations run shows on their websites, so I’ve been watching online. PLus, I’m huge DVD fan. I love getting a full season of something, then watching it all in a week, or even a weekend sometimes.

The one’s I’m watching right (online) are 2 Broke Girls. Love that show. Max could easily be my buddy, and the timing of the lines, and the constant innuendo is hilarious.

I’m also loving The Voice, and Shark Tank. I’m not normally a fan of reality shows, but those two I love. I wish I could go on Shark Tank and get one of them to invest in me as an author. What do you think? Could I convince one of them to give me enough money to pay off my mortgage and my truck, and live stress free for a while? :mrgreen:

About 2 weeks ago I watched the first season of Spartacus, and I’m definitely hooked on that. I also watched the full series (was 1.5 seasons) of Jericho. Loved it too.

Then last week I read Skinwalker, Blood Cross, Mercy Blade, and Raven Cursed by Faith Hunter. Yes, I read all of them, in a row, one each day. I’m hooked. And after reading them all in row like that I thought about how much I hated waiting for the next book in a series, and how when I write, I tend to write all at once as well.

I have a few writer friends who can work on multiple projects at once, or edit one project while writing another and it completely baffles me. I can’t do it. The same way I can’t read more than one book at a time. I get too into it, and just want more of that one thing until I’m finished. It does’t matter if I’m watching a series, reading a series, or writing a story. Is this weird?

Okay, I don’t care if it’s weird, I’m just happy to finally understand, and accept, that is simply the way I am. It’s my process, and I’m going to quite trying to change it, or alter it, (by plotting or trying to do more than one thing at a time).

Honestly, I have no idea if this post makes any sense…but I have hope that some of you will get what I’m saying. *g*

And now…
Last week I forgot it was Tuesday and was late posting, so I did a giveaway. The random number generator picked #11, so Seabrooke, (comment #11 because I don’t count my own comments) you’re the winner of the $15 Amazon gift certificate. Please use this CONTACT link to email me to claim your prize.

Monday, February 27th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
My Quest to Avoid Burning Out

If you want to write commercial fiction, modern publishing schedules require you to be prolific — writing a book a year at the very least.  Many publishers want books in an ongoing series every six months.  Every four months isn’t unheard of.  Most genre authors I know are so grateful for the ability to make a living (or near to it) writing fiction, they throw themselves into these schedules, working as hard as they can to be able to keep on making a living.  You don’t say no, you write as much as you can, you network and self-promote like a demon.  You’re constantly hustling for the next contract, the next gig.

Which leads me, inevitably, to a discussion about burnout.

2009 – 2011 were busy, traumatic, amazing, awesome years for me.  My series established itself as consistently bestselling, I branched out into YA and stand-alone novels, my short stories appeared in prestigious markets and got a ton of recognition.  I switched publishers, traveled extensively, went on my first real book tour, and wrote a Kitty book every six months.  And the whole time, I could feel myself burning out.  When I blew out my voice out last summer, that clinched it:  I couldn’t keep up this pace and stay healthy and/or sane.

It takes awhile to get into a burn-out situation — if I say yes to every anthology invitation or writing opportunity I get right now, I’m not going to feel the crunch until six to twelve months later, when all those stories come due.  Signing three book contracts in a year seems great, until two years later when you have a rough draft, a revision, a set of copyedits, and a set of galleys for four different books on your desk at the same time.  All due the week you’re supposed to fly off to a major national convention.  (This has happened.)  I actually set myself up for burnout around 2007-2008.  Kitty hit the NYT list for the first time in 2008, and that opened a lot of doors — and I walked through almost every one of them, because I couldn’t bear to pass up those opportunities.  If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t do things any differently, but I did learn a lot about how much work I can actually take on.

A burnout situation doesn’t happen overnight, and by the same token it takes awhile to get out of it.  I feel like I’m just now reaping the benefits of my plans to keep myself from burning out, which I started putting into place over two years ago.  2009 was around the time I added “learn to say no” to my annual goal list.  Last year, when I negotiated the contract for new Kitty books, I asked for spacing the deadlines out every ten months instead of every six months.  Happily, the publisher didn’t argue.

The payoff:  I think it’s working.  I gave myself two months off in December and January — which I could do because I have an extra four months to write the next Kitty book.  I didn’t write much of anything — revised some short stories, put together a new novel proposal, messed around with some ideas.  I went on a vacation that didn’t involve books or conventions or anything, and the trip seems to have actually de-stressed and recharged me.  Looking at my list of commitments does not (at the moment) freak me out.  At the end of my “break” about a month ago, I started the next Kitty novel — and I’m already about 30% finished with the rough draft.  I also revised a novelette for a collaborative project during that time.  And I feel good! (knock on wood…)  This is way up from my usual pace of production, and with much less gnashing of teeth than I’ve felt at this stage over the last few years.  I’m torn between thinking A) something must be horribly wrong with the book, or B) maybe I really did manage to hit the reset button and get myself out of that burnout situation.  My friends have noticed a difference in my mood and general amiability — and they’ve informed me I’m not allowed to work on four books at a time anymore.  Word.

I’m taking notes and paying attention to what I’m doing so I can keep this up and have a strategy in place for if I start burning out again.  I’m not taking “learn to say no” off my goal list anytime soon.  I’ve learned that writing a book every 8-10 months rather than every 6 months is a much more sustainable pace for me.  We’ll see how this goes over the next year or so, and if I’m feeling as good at the end of the year as I do now.  Tweaking and adjustments to my schedule will be ongoing, I think.

If I had to offer advice on the subject, I’d say this:  like so much else in this business, listen to your gut.  If something feels wrong, figure out what you need to do to make it right.  Making it in this business is tough and requires a huge amount of constant effort.  But if you burn yourself out, especially to the point of making yourself unhealthy, you’re not doing your career any favors.

Saturday, February 25th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Short Stories for Fun and…How? (Part the Third)

Howdy Folks and happy Saturday to you.

Last week, we talked a bit about what a short story was.  Here’s a bit more on that before we jump into how to find stories all around you.

Usually, a short story is going to be about a significant event in the character’s life.  Not always.  But when you’re writing short stories, you don’t really have time to meander about.  Everything you do needs to serve the story and you have a relatively short amount of time to hook your reader into that story.

Okay.  That said, let’s talk ideas.  They’re all around you and there are LOTS of ways to trick yourself into finding them.

Remember last week’s trip to the library?  That’s a great place to find ideas.  Wander the stacks and pull down books you normally wouldn’t.  Grab the paintings of Van Gogh, the poetry of TS Eliot, and one of those Time Life series — maybe the one on Gunslingers from the Wild West collection they did.  Jot down notes and let your imagination run wild with what happens if those bits of Different are mixed on your palette into one story.

Pay attention to the people you see.  Who are the people in your neighborhood?  The people that you meet each day?  I remember once seeing Jesus in a tracksuit dragging a big wooden cross that had a wheel attached to it.  He was short-cutting through a Safeway parking lot.  There’s absolutely a story there.  Maybe a dozen.

Keep an eye out for found objects.  You never know when you’ll run across something that just begs to tell a story.  A little bead monkey that looked like it had three eyes, combined with a conversation with an unemployed clown and  a  bookstore customer named Kamal led to “Making My Entrance Again with My Usual Flair” — the story I had to write in 24 hours during my Writers of the Future workshop.

Another great place to find ideas is the anthology market list over at  I’ve pulled down a lot of short story ideas from just thinking about the various themes attached to different editor’s visions.  I’ve found a lot of ideas that turned into stories there…and sold a good amount of them after I’d gotten enough practice at it.

And then there are prompts.  “The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall” was a product of Rachel Dryden daring me to write a story based loosely on the word slinky.  Her dare was grapes.  And “Summer in Paris, Light From the Sky” came from three randomly generated words — Hitler Leads Whiskey — in Ken Rand’s class From Idea to Story in 90 Seconds.  That story got me the closest I’ve been, I think, to a Nebula award.

I think you get the idea.  Heh.  Bad pun.  So I’m going to wrap up with a list of a few of my other stories and what idea(s) brought them about.

“Last Flight of the Goddess” was a product of me playing Fable (where your character ages, some what-if’s about D&D characters falling in love, getting married and retiring to raise a family.

“Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk” was brought about when a coworker in 1991 re-ignited my love of Pooh, which led to me re-reading the stories sometime in 1994, which led to me wondering about how Pooh would fare in a SF setting, at first piloting a starfighter…until the story gelled more.

“Grail-Diving in Shangrilla with the World’s Last Mime” was just a title that I cooked up one day and it absolutely begged me to write a story that would serve it well.

Next week, we’ll start talking about how to organize your ideas into a story.

Until then, Trailer Boy out.


Friday, February 24th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
On Comparisons, Apt and Otherwise

Last night, I watched my first episode of the TV show GRIMM.

Well, to be perfectly honest, I watched half an episode. I was curious, because I had seen so many comparisons of GRIMM to ONCE UPON A TIME, which is my favorite new show of the year. They are both, ostensibly, about fairy tale creatures living in the real world. They both feature main characters who are cops.

And…. there the comparisons end. While ONCE UPON A TIME does, in fact, star fairy tale creatures, it’s actually more of a small town/family drama show. I described it to someone recently as The Gilmore Girls meets LOST. Grimm, on the other hand, is a police procedural with a paranormal element.

I’m not a fan of procedurals, which, judging my the TV listings, makes me different than 99.9999% of the population. It doesn’t matter if they are law procedurals or medical procedurals (a’la HOUSE). It doesn’t matter if the people solving the mysteries are cops or Naval investigators or crime scene investigators or fake psychics or famous novelists or private investigators suffering from OCD or people with amazing powers of total recall or whatever other procedural on the air right now. It’s not my thing. And I have tried. The guy on NCIS? Loved him on The West Wing. The guy on Castle? LOVED him in Firefly.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are people out there who love Grimm *and* Once Upon a Time, purely by dint of their fairy tale connectivity. Which is why comparisons don’t always work. How often has someone recommended a book to you after you said you loved XYZ (mysteries, vampires, cowboys, small-town romances). Because what you discover, upon reading the story, is that the quality that so appealed to you about your favorite book was not, perhaps, that the hero was a blood sucking vampire, but that the hero was a WISECRACKING vampire, so instead of flitting off to the next vampire book, you find you’re really drawn to a book that has, say, a wisecracking carpenter in it.

For me, the appeal of Once Upon a Time is not that they are fairy tale characters living in the real world (because most of them don’t even know they are fairy tale characters, to start with). I’m much more drawn in by all the machinations of small town life, and the long histories that are binding and manipulating all the characters’ actions. (Tellingly, the cop character is the one I care about least, though she’s supposed to be the lynchpin of the whole setup.)

A lot of times, I get letters from folks who have read my secret society books and want to know what else they can read that will give them the same experience. Often, these are folks who don’t want to read fantasy novels, which is the rest of my CV. So my suggestion that they read, you know, my other books, is not helpful. I often recommend they try E Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks for more girl-causing hijinks in an all-boys secret society or Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss for a sweet contemporary romance about a girl at boarding school, and though these titles are remarkably different, they do appeal to readers who enjoyed my books for those particular reasons.

(Now, the ones who say they can’t read YA novels, and aren’t there any other adult books like mine — they’re out of luck.)

Sometimes, you don’t even know what it is you like about something, and seemingly outside the box comparisons nail the secret ingredient that makes you a crazed fan. One day, maybe I’ll find the procedural that appeals to me. After all, I used ot watch the X-Files, and that was pretty proceduralish. You know, with aliens.

I understand why the media focused so strongly on the comparisons between Grimm and Once Upon a Time. It’s unusual to suddenly have two fairy-tale inspired shows on major networks, and that’s an easy headline to write. But for an actual audience member, it’s an entirely different viewing experience.

How about you? Any “never thought I’d like this” recs that hit all your unexpected buttons? How about shows, books or movies that you thought would be right in your wheelhouse but didn’t quite get there?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
A Moment Of Unsolicited Advice

Often while playing on twitter (otherwise known as “researching”) I see someone post a piece of writerly advice that is deemed The Truth. This is a nugget of wisdom you MUST follow if you want to sell, succeed and so forth. Half the time I see the advice and think I’d never do what the person says is a requirement. Other times I agree but have a caveat. Most times my reaction is: Oh, if only there were one right way to write a book and run a writing career. Alas, no.

That’s not to say there aren’t authors out there with good ideas and concepts worth thinking about. There are a few publishing people I follow on twitter or visit through blogs because their sentiments seem to mostly match mine. I think that’s really the answer. We gravitate toward folks who are saying what we believe or want to believe.

One of the people I follow is Chuck Wendig and his Terrible Minds blog. He recently gave some advice to aspiring writers. Most of it made me nod in agreement, but I specifically liked these two parts:

Nobody respects writers, yet everybody wants to be one (probably because everybody wants to be one). Point is, you want to be a writer? Good for you. So does that guy. And that girl. And him. And her. And that old dude. And that young broad. And your neighbor. And your mailman. And that chihuahua. And that copy machine. Ahead of you is an ocean of wannabe ink-slaves and word-earners. I don’t say this to daunt you. Or to be dismissive. But you have to differentiate yourself and the way you do that is by doing rather than be pretending. You will climb higher than them on a ladder built from your wordsmithy.

There exists no one way toward becoming a professional writer. You cannot perfectly walk another’s journey. That’s why writing advice is just that — it’s advice. It’s mere suggestion. Might work. Might not. Lots of good ideas out there, but none of it is gospel. One person will tell you this is the path. Another will point the other way and say that is the path. They’re both right for themselves, and they’re both probably wrong for you. We all chart our own course and burn the map afterward. It’s just how it is. If you want to find the way forward, then stop looking for maps and start walking.

I might tack that last part to my office wall because I constantly fight the temptation to compare my career to those of my author friends. I know this is self-defeating and not smart. I know their careers are completely unrelated to my career path. I know all of that and generally have common sense. Still, I lose sight of it and slip into wallowing now and then.

And then there’s his sort of wrap-up point:

Write better today than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than you did today. Onward, fair penmonkey, onward. If you’re not a writer, something will stop you — your own doubts, hate from haters, a bad review, poor time management, a hungry raccoon that nibbles off your fingers, whatever. If you’re a writer, you’ll write. And you’ll never stop to look back.

I’m thinking we all, aspiring or published, can benefit from that one.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Writers Conferences: More on Pitching

Excerpt from The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Original Idea and Pitching

The original idea is also critical when it comes to pitching your manuscript. Guess what the opening line of your pitch is?  In fact, we think it might well be your entire pitch.  This is also the basis for your query letter and will most likely be the first thing an editor or agents reads.

The goal of a one-on-one with an agent or editor is to get them excited and asking you questions.

There are good questions and bad questions.  Good questions are:  That’s really interesting, tell me more about X?  A bad question is:  I don’t get it.  Tell me what you really mean?

We understand you may think this is terribly unfair. You may feel that taking four hundred pages of brilliant manuscript and trying to sell it on the basis of just a sentence or two is a travesty, but here is something to consider–how do you buy a book? Most people buy because they know the author and like reading him or her. But if you are a new writer, then you don’t have this option. So how do you buy a book from an author you never heard of? Do you stand in the bookstore, read the entire book, then go and pay for it?

Go to your local bookstore or even better, local supermarket. Stand near the paperback racks. Watch how long each person peruses the books on the shelves. How many seconds do they give to each book? Then, when they pick a book up, how long do they spend looking at it?
 Why should it be any different for agents and editors?

You have even less time to grab the attention of a reader during the on-line shopping experience.

Remember, this is just our collective opinion and experience, which is also what you are getting when you pitch an editor or agent, plus we try to take their additional issue of not only do I like it, but “Can I sell this?”

Tips for the Elevator Pitch

Have an anomaly for your protagonist

Often we give clichés.  You’ll see where we point this out below.  Give us something we don’t expect from that type of character.  Regardless of what you think of Twilight (Bob only saw first movie, sorry but Jennifer read all four books and she liked them) it worked.

The first book had two anomalies:  no sex despite intense desire, and sunlight doesn’t kill, it makes them sparkle.

Russell Crowe in LA Confidential is a thug.  But he always protects women in peril.  You want to know why.

Writing Series, Pitch First Book

We recommend you focus your energy on the first book.

TNWIFConference(6)You should know your common concept (for Bob—West Point, for Brockmann—SEAL teams, for Susan Wiggs—a town, etc) and common theme (for Bob—Honor vs Loyalty).  And roughly what the follow on books are going to be (for Bob’s Duty, Honor, Country, 1st book 1840 to Battle of Shiloh, Book 2 Shiloh to Vicksburg, Book Three Vicksburg to Gettysburg, etc).  Also, writing the second book in a series when the first hasn’t sold could be fruitless if the second book relies on the first book to have been sold.


In 45 books, Bob had only one title changed without his consent.  Jennifer was asked twice to change a title. The first one had been because the publisher had another title come out the same week with a similar name. The second time the editor just didn’t like the title.

Bob also changed three titles after discussing it with his editor.  Bob secretly wishes he had changed a lot more following this advice:

  • Title should do one (or both) of two things:  Invite readers into the book by giving them have an idea what the book is about.  Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy.  Area 51 (by Bob—which was originally titled Dreamland which means nothing) has sold over 1 million copies with the Area 51 title, but would have died a quiet midlist death with original title.
  • Or the title should be a juxtaposition of words that don’t belong together and intrigues you:  Lovely Bones.  Bottom line, when your book is spine out in store, the title must make the casual buyer reach out and want to see what the heck this is about.

Don’t be a Secret Keeper

We sometimes believe that by withholding something we’re intriguing the agent/editor and making them want to know more.  Nope.  We’re just irritating them.  Flat out tell them the secret.  Let them know what’s at stake.  What’s at the core of the book.

Never tell an editor or agent they will have to read the book to find out what happens.

Focus on Protagonist Goals

What does your protagonist want to achieve?  A goal is an external concrete thing.  Motivation is why they are trying to achieve that goal.   You want to steer away from a protagonist goal where they are escaping, surviving or running awayFirefly was interesting, but failed ultimately because the people on the spaceship had no goal other than survival.  It wears on the reader/watcher after a while, because there’s never an end in sight.

Say Something about Character

Names mean little during a pitch session. Give the editor or agent something tangible about your character. Who are they? What do they do? What do they want? Remember the pitch should say something about your characters goal and their conflict.

Perfect the Pitch

A disjointed pitch is a problem.  If words are so far out of synch it jars the reader in a negative way, you’re disjointed.  The example, “love, mayhem, and possibly the apocalypse.”  The third is so out of the league of the first two, you might as well forget about them.

Book Goal

What goal is pulling the train?  Sometimes in the pitch there is a laundry list of goals.  You have ONE goal for your protagonist.  That’s the key.  Everything else is subplot so focus on the one main goal. Ask yourself who is your story about, what do they want and why can’t they have it? That should help keep you focused on main goal for your main character.