Archive for the 'Tips/Advice' Category

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Candace Havens
Different is Good

I’m going on the record here and telling you that different is good. What makes your book unique is your voice, and it’s okay if you don’t sound like all the other voices out there. I remember when I sold my first book. The editor called me a few weeks later to tell me how much she loved it. She didn’t have any revisions, and she said, “This is the freshest thing I’ve read in a year.” The only thing she hated was the original title which she changed to “Charmed & Dangerous.”

I’m going to admit that at the time, I didn’t even know what kind of book I’d written. I had no idea where it would go in a book store. I just wrote a book I would want to read, and that is what I continue to do. I don’t follow trends, because by the time you do, that trend is done. So I write things I want to read. I’m lucky in that other people seem to like them too.

I tell you all this because of something that happened to me a little while ago. I was sitting in a class taught by another writer who was talking about writing description and giving prose that POW it needs to keep the reader’s attention. The instructor used a something from an original draft, and then read the finished prose. The second one was beautiful and descriptive, but I tuned out the last half of what the instructor read. I liked the first one better. I skip over descriptive prose when I’m reading. If it takes you more than a sentence or two to tell me what something is, I’m probably going to skip to the next bit of action. That’s just me.

Now, I know there are many of you who relish every word of descriptive prose, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I prefer tightly written prose, and that’s what I write. It probably stems from my journalism background where space is a premium.  I’ve had to teach myself to be okay with being a writer who likes her stories tight. If that other writer wants to use tons of metaphor and simile, hey more power to them. It’s not my style.

There’s room for everyone in the book world. I have a friend who has to write 600 pages to get 400, and anguishes over every word. I don’t have time for that. I tell my story. I flesh it out. I make sure what’s in my head is on the page, and I move on. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes anguish over words, but it’s usually that I need more, not less. I also write like I talk, which may be why when people pick up one of books, they always know it’s me, even without looking at the cover.

This is important for new writers, who take tons of craft classes. Don’t let other people tell you what to do. I’ve seen writer’s lose their original voice, because they were trying to be something that they weren’t. There’s a caveat: You do need to hone your craft and learn. Classes are immensely helpful in making you better at what you do. Just make sure you are writing your book with your voice.

And don’t be afraid to do something a little crazy. I think it’s in that first book I had a ghost possess one of the major characters. It worked for the story, and revealed some key points. When I wrote it I thought people would think it was dumb.  I read that passage in my critique group and people were laughing. (It was supposed to be funny.) They told me it was the funniest thing they’d heard in a long time.

I teach a ton of writing classes, and I always try to remember to tell people, “This isn’t THE way to do it. It’s A way to do it. Take what you can from it and make it your own.”

I had someone I admire recently tell me that I write a great story, I just have trouble with the mechanics. But the truth is, we have different styles. She likes wordy descriptions and I don’t. I used to think her way was better and aspired to that, but not any more. Though, I will readily admit to a problem with commas, but I’m working on that.

I like being different. :) You should strive for originality in your story and the way you tell it. Learn from those around you. Then take what they have to say and make it your own.

Saturday, April 10th, 2010 by Sasha White

As someone who has always been a pretty mediocre student as far as classrooms and schooling went, the idea of critiquing someone elses work never really sat well with me. I always worried that I’d give the wrong advice, say the wrong thing, or worse yet…have nothing to offer as a critique partner. However, after years of writing and working with many different authors as both giver and receiver of feedback, I’ve learned a things or two. This little post is something I wrote up on the art of critiquing a while ago, and I thought I’d share it with you today.

Critiquing is a delicate thing. But I believe it’s a critical step in the process of improving your writing. For one thing, it can help you to build a rapport with other authors and a strong support system that is about more than the technical aspects of writing.

Receiving a critique is also a good way to find out how others view your work. You can see if the story in your mind is coming across loud and clear on paper, and find out where your stories need more development, more plot, less description…all sorts of things. Beyond that, giving a crit not only helps out a fellow writer, but it also help’s you to develop a more discerning eye towards your own work.

When you’re ready to open up your work to others for feedback your first step should be to find a critique partner that you feel comfortable with. Someone that is familiar with the genre that you’re targeting, who is willing to take the time to look at what you have, and that you trust will offer an honest opinion.

Writing is a very solitary thing. It’s also a very personal thing. Not matter what you’re writing; you put your personality, your effort, and a bit of your heart into every piece. It’s not easy to hand that over to someone and ask “Tell me what’s wrong with this.”

That courage needs to be respected.

Everyone has strong and weak areas when it comes to writing, and it’s important that we recognize this. And very important that we take care in the way we express our opinions of another’s weakness. It’s often easier to see mistakes in another’s work than it is in our own. But spotting the errors in another’s writing isn’t all there is to giving a critique.

When you take another person’s baby, (Don’t ever doubt that that’s how they think of it) and are given a red pen to do with what you will, be kind. But also be honest. You’re not doing that person any favors by telling that that they have written a fantastic story when you can see areas that need to be improved upon. Trust me, they’d rather hear it from you, than in a rejection letter from an editor or agent that will not give them a second chance to present their baby for consideration. However, there is no need to be overly critical, or superior, in the way you highlight those areas.

The key to giving a good critique is to be honest about trouble areas you spot, and equally honest about the good. Everyone enjoys a pat on the shoulder for a job well done and writers are no different.

You need to have the same strength of mind when receiving a critique. You need to know that no matter what anyone tells you about your story, that it is your story to tell and that the critique you receive is only suggestions for you to take or leave.It’s up to you to use or reject their advice. The most valuable tool a writer has is individual voice and that is something that you should fight to maintain.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re surfing around the web today, be sure to drop by my new Messageboard for the launch party. There will be guests, excerpts, doorprizes and giveaways.

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by Rosemary
The wind up and the pitch: Conference season begins

I’m speaking this weekend at the DFW Writers Conference in Dallas. I’ll give it a plug, even though this year’s conference has been sold out for awhile, and there won’t be any admission at the door. It’s an exciting, growing conference, and this year they (which is, in the interest of disclosure, actually “we” since I’m a member of the hosting organization, DFW Writer’s Workshop) have 10 agents attending to take pitches and speak in breakout sessions.

I’ve noticed this thing happens when some writers anticipate being around agents, especially if they have a finished book to pitch.  Their eyes glaze over with a sort of panicked fervor.  I hear them in the halls, muttering their 30 second “elevator pitches” over and over, like a mantra.  They get all wound up with a sort of desperate-and-dateless-the-day-before-the-prom energy that goes beyond nerves.

The key to making the most of an agent-attended conference is to present yourself as a professional. Here are some things to keep in mind, whether you’re pitching your work, or just networking preparatory to querying and submitting later.

  • Be friendly, but not too familiar.  A formal pitch session is a combo job-interview-slash-speed-date. You want to be personable (smile, sit up straight, don’t chew gum, ask how her day is going), but you don’t want to come off like that skeevy car salesman who uses your first name too often. And even if you’re Twitter friends, don’t assume you’ll be besties when you meet in person.
  • Be temperate. A social setting is a great place to let them meet the real you, as long as the real you isn’t a loudmouthed bigot or a sloppy drunk. Don’t be that guy. Watch how much you drink.
  • Be passionate about your project but not desperate. Do I need to explain what I mean by desperate? Yes, we love our books, but let’s not turn into a pack of rabid hyenas. Trust me. “What do you write?” is the “What’s your major?” of writer’s conferences.  You don’t have to push.
  • Be confident, but not arrogant. Your book may well be the next Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye, or Lord of the Rings.  But don’t tell them that. Pitch your book, and let them discover its brilliance for themselves.
  • Be prepared.  Familiarize yourself with the books in your genre, know what’s out there that your book is akin to, and also what makes your book different from all those others.  Have an idea where it would go in the bookstore, or who the audience will be.
  • Be professional about rejection. If the agent doesn’t see the brilliance of “When Harry Met Sally meets Alien vs. Predator” accept that even a great agent and a great project may not be a love match.  Que sera sera.  It doesn’t mean she’s stabbed your metaphorical baby. Nor is she a stupid shrew. And even if she is….
  • Be silent. Never, ever bad mouth other agents, editors, authors published or unpublished, either in your pitch session  (i.e., “Jane Smith rejected this, but it’s clear from her client list she just doesn’t know good literature.”), in the bar, in the hall, or even when you THINK you’re alone in the bathroom. You never know who is in the stall. Publishing professionals all know each other, and they all talk to each other. And they never, ever forget.
  • Be open to the full conference experience. You may have picked a conference because your dream agent is there, but don’t forget the rest of the conference. Networking with other writers, attending breakout sessions and just absorbing the energy of a bunch of creative people in one place, is just as, or more, important than blurting out your “Dungeons and Dragons meets Steel Magnolias” logline. (I totally stole this from Kristen Lamb, because she’s right.)

Anything to add in the comments?  If you want to dish on horror stories, keep them anonymous, okay?  Remember ‘don’t badmouth people’ applies online doubly. (Unless, of course, you chose to tell tales on yourself. I could let you learn from MY fail, but this post has gotten long enough.)

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 by Candace Havens
Conventions and Workshops: Investing in You

I’m teaching at a conference this weekend in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area. The conference is held by my critique group the DFW Writer’s Workshop and they set it up so that just about any writing class you want to take is available. They also give writer’s the chance to meet with agents, and sometimes editors, one-on-one and at social events. My mentor Jodi Thomas is the keynote speaker, and I’m looking forward to taking some of her classes. I never learn enough from her. The conference is sold out, and I have a feeling it’s because they brought in great agents, and authors to teach and share their knowledge.

So why am I telling you this? I see conferences and workshops as a way for writers to invest in themselves. But you have to be careful where you spend your money. Often it’s easiest to go to ones that are near you. It cuts down on travel expenses and you can sleep in your own bed. This isn’t a bad thing, as long as you are getting your money’s worth out of the convention. In the Dallas area alone there are tons of great events where writer’s can learn their craft and network like crazy.

As writers we need to be aware of where every penny goes, and we need to invest in our careers wisely. I had someone on my Write Workshop loop ask if I thought it was a good idea to go to a very expensive pitch conference in New York. My answer to him, if you think you’ll get something out of it that will move your career/writing along, and you can afford it go for it. But I also cautioned him to look at who was going to be there, what besides pitching did they offer, and was this something he felt he really needed at this point in his career.

What conventions/workshops you go to, may also depend on what you need at the time. If you aren’t finished with your book, or you have but you’re struggling with certain elements, then a more educational centered workshop may be what you need. If your book is polished to perfection and you’re ready to sell, then you need to be talking to agents and editors.

But the most important thing you can do at these workshops and conventions is network with other writers. I can’t tell you how invaluable this is. You need people who are going through the same things as you, and you should build a strong support group so that you and your writer friends can help each other through the rough times. And so that you have someone there for the exciting times. No one gets success in the publishing business like another writer. They know what you’ve gone through, and you need those people in your life.

I had a friend I met at a writer’s retreat. I was teaching the two-day workshop for them, and she picked me up from the airport. She was incredibly shy, but I’ve been a journalist for 22 years and I can always get people to talk. :) She told me she’d gone to RWA the year before and was so intimidated that she would go to the classes and then run back to her room. She ate all of her meals in her room, and didn’t meet a single soul, even though there were 2000 writers there, during her five-day stay.

I told her she missed out on the best part of RWA (it’s a great convention even if you don’t write romance, tons of classes on craft and business related topics) – the people. She said, “I don’t know what to say to people.” That made me laugh. I told her any writer you meet you say the following, “So what do you write?” We can’t shut up about it once we start talking about our work. I’d told her to call me at the next convention after she had her agent/publisher appointments. She promised she would. At that convention she not only aced her agent/publisher meetings, I introduced to her friends of mine. She also attended the lunches and used the question to meet folks, and now she has tons of writer friends. Oh, and her first book comes out this year.

A couple more stories about workshops/conventions. My friend and mentor Jodi Thomas was teaching at a conference down in Austin. It was my first conference to attend, and I was wildly nervous. Jodi saved me. She kept me down off the ledge, and she introduced me to the woman who would eventually become my first agent. Two months later she introduced my agent to the woman who would become my first editor  at Berkley (four months later). Yes, these events can be incredible networking tools for writers.

A few years later, I was at that writer’s retreat I mentioned before. I shared a lakeside villa with an agent I didn’t know. She was on the bottom floor and I was on the top. We chatted over the weekend and ended up becoming friends. I had an agent, who I was happy with at the time, and didn’t even think about making a switch. We kept in contact, and she even helped with some classes I was teaching. A year later, after a series of unfortunate events with the other agent I happened to chat with Elaine again. She had come into to the DFW Writer’s Workshop to do agent appointments. Through some funny circumstances, which makes too long of a story here, she became my agent a month later. And I couldn’t be happier.

If you can’t afford the travel expenses then invest in GOOD online classes. I have a free workshop you can get to through my website, where you can network with tons of writers who are in the same boat as you. I bring in authors, agents and editors to teach and it’s all free.

I encourage you to invest in yourself. There’s no other business you can go into, where you don’t have to put a little money forward. This is your career. Your life. Treat it like a real business and give yourself the best tools possible.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010 by Candace Havens
Expectations: Looking Back

I honestly had no idea what I was in for when it came to writing fiction. I’d been a journalist for 20 years and decided one day to try my hand at fiction. I loved it and for the next year I took every class, attended critique groups, went to conferences and did everything I could to prepare for this particular journey.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t have a clue. I’d read stories about Nicholas Sparks who received $1 million contract for his first book. I’d attended enough classes to know that probably wasn’t going to happen to me, but I still had high hopes. But money isn’t really what I want to talk about here. I want to discuss expectations.

I thought when I sold that first book that was it. The truth is, that’s when the work really begins. Berkley has been great about getting my books out to reviewers and into bookstores. I have many friends with other publishers who haven’t been so lucky. But it didn’t take long for me to discover that it was up to me to promote “Charmed & Dangerous.” I gave myself the title “Book Ho” and I promoted my book everywhere I went, including with my feet in stirrups at the OB/GYN’s office. So knowing you have to promote yourself is a big one.

The second thing that surprised me was the money. It comes in on a slow boat from China, and while I’ve been lucky with the contracts, it never seems to go as far as I expect. Case in point, when it came time to pay taxes last year. My friend and mentor Jodi Thomas ( had advised me to put a large chunk aside for taxes. You need to do 10 percent at least. I didn’t do that the first go around, but I learned my lesson. 😉
The third thing were the reviews. While most of the big guns gave me great reviews, I had a few mean ones on Amazon that I took very personally. I try to pretend that those people are obviously idiots, but it doesn’t take the sting away. You must have a tough hide in this business and that’s been a process for me. I was used to editorial critiques, but reviews are a whole different baby.

The fourth thing is to be smart and never assume anything. Don’t just assume your books will land in bookstores, ask which ones and how many. Don’t assume they are going to do ads in magazines or other publications. Don’t assume they are going to do bookmarks or provide other promotional materials. Don’t assume they will consult with you on cover or book titles. (They do now, but not in the beginning for me.)

The fifth thing is rights to your work. We kept all of our rights except for North American publishing rights. So if/when the book sells in foreign markets, television or film, I’ll be the one who benefits. This isn’t something I knew, but something my agent was smart about.

Something that wasn’t as important six years ago when I was starting out, but is now, is social media. You need to be connected. You need to build a fan base before that book ever comes out.

You also need to understand that life isn’t fair. Sorry, but it’s true. There will be someone at your publisher who gets endcaps (those special boxes at the end of the shelves with books), ads in magazines, book tours, and you get nothing. That’s the way it is. Publishers decide quite carefully where they are going to put their money, and sometimes it won’t be with you. That just means you have to work a little harder.

The other thing I wish I’d know was how much time it takes to promote your book. You need to be smart about that. I say anything you can do online is good, as long as it doesn’t cost much. I used to do a lot of book signings, but not so much any more. A publishing publicist gave me some great advice one time. She said to always make a book signing an event. Now I only do one per city, and we usually wrap it around a class I’m teaching. Use your time wisely. If at all possible try to keep those weeks before your book comes out as free as possible, so  you can work 90 hours a week on promotion.

The best advice I can give you after that first sell, is to expect the unexpected. Assume your publisher isn’t going to do anything, and plan on doing it yourself.

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Candace Havens
Over Used Words

I taught a class on my Write Workshop loop last year and the discussion came up about over used words. People began listing theirs and I tried to keep a list. I’m curious about this again as I go through the final draft of the new YA I’m working on. I find myself using the same action tags and many of the same words to describe things. Boring. That’s okay for a first draft when you’re trying to get the words down, but never for a final draft.

That’s the most time consuming part of me, and I have to thank my Thesaurus for most of the help. Many times the words below are an easy out and keep us from giving real detail, even if it’s one word, in our story. I’m horrible about saying, “THING.” It’s driven every editor I had crazy, and my professors at school. So I’m working on my THING problem. :) I also use “felt,” which doesn’t express anything at all. It’s a “telling” word.

There are many people who contributed to the following list, including my friends Rosemary Clement Moore and Nikki Duncan, as well as members of the Write Workshop loop. I hope you’ll add some of yours, and if you have any ideas for action tags that don’t include the the words, glance or look, please share. I can use all the help I can get. 😉













small smile


began to

started to

as she

as he








the fact that


















Smile /smiles /smiled





Stepped back




















turn into questions:



was curious







Absolutely no colons whatsoever.

Watch excessive name use, especially for POV characters.

All but eliminate direct address.

Eliminate waves of “some feeling.”

No grimaces. Ever.

OK should be okay.


















There may be some dupes, because I compiled them from different people. But that should get us started. Oops, I think that’s one of those words. 😉

Saturday, March 20th, 2010 by Sasha White
Get your imagination going…

Sometimes when I’m stuck for a story idea I turn to magazines for inspiration, and I’m not reading them. Yes, I admit it. I just look at the pictures.

What I like to do is flip through them and when a picture catches my eye, I stop, stare, and try to figure out the story of the person within.

Perfume ads are my favorites, maybe because they’re designed to elicit emotion.

Take a look at the one below, doesn’t it make you wonder about her? I mean, where’s she going? Or is she coming form somewhere? A date maybe? Maybe with a guy who was so not her type. Yeah, she probably gets lots of dates, but they don’t seem to go anywhere, when is she going to find Mister Right? Maybe she’ll find him when she opens her eyes and takes a better look at the guy who’s been her best friend since childhood- the guy who sees her for who she is, and not just how she looks.

Now this one…MUSTANG, so many possibilities here….Not sure which one to run with.

This ad makes me think of a very adventurous couple. One that’s been together for a while, and likes to spice things up every now and then, especially with a bit of exhibitionism. See how he’s looking at the camera? It’s like he wants to be sure that all eyes are on them.

Now these ideas come to me because erotic fiction is my genre. I’d love to see what ideas one, or all, of them inspire for others. Please share any ideas that come to mind in the comments…I’m curious.