Monday, August 29, 2016

Step One To Finding An Agent: Know what you need

One of the things many writers seem to miss when querying agents is understanding their own personal needs and desires. It really seems that the only thing many writers look at is whether or not the agent acquires your personal genre. While this is obviously a good starting point, you need to do much more to truly be successful.

Although agents are all doing much of the same things, we still have different approaches to how we do business and how we work with our clients. Because this is really a marriages of two minds, you have to find the best fit for you.

What are your needs as a writer? Here are a few to consider:

  • Do you need someone who is there for you 24/7 for constant feedback?
  • Do you need someone there to help you with editorial feedback?
  • Do you need someone to always keep you updated with every single nugget of information they get from the editors they send it to?
  • Do you need an agent with a hands-off approach. You write and they market?
  • Do you need an agent who will spend a lot of time helping you with marketing?
  • Do you need an agent who is all about business and can be a tough person when it comes to negotiating?
I think you can see where I am going to with this.

The thing is that with the agents out there, one size does not fit all. Your critique partner might have a great agent, but that is not to say the agent will work for you.

Before you even start sending out queries, take the time to really make a list of your personal desires in this person who will represent your work. You have to consider everything down to personalities of the agent. Don't be shy about your list either. It has to be pretty comprehensive. I know it will seem that you will not be able to find an agent who meets all of those needs, but the right agent is out there who can probably meet 90% of those needs.

Once you do this, then take the next several months researching and stalking those agents. Learn all that you can about that person. Get to know the agent well. Once you do this, you can better personalize that query letter because you know exactly who that person is.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Adding "Stuff" Is Not Adding Depth

We've probably all experienced this before. You sit down for dinner and your are hungry. Your plate is served and it looks good. When you next look down the plate is empty, but something is missing. (No, it is not your fork). You aren't hungry. The meal was fine, but the meal was lacking in some way. What you are experiencing is what we talk about in writing as depth.

A lot of you have heard many editors and agents talk about adding depth to your stories and your characters, but for too many authors, this is a concept that is really difficult to comprehend. What I often hear from authors, after I pass on a project due to depth issues, is that the author will go and add a few more scenes. "There is still room in the word count area to make those changes."

This author doesn't get it.

Just adding more stuff often creates a mess. It's like those darn packing peanuts some wonderful person created. I get that playing in this stuff may be fun at the time, cleaning it up is not something any of us enjoy. In fact, you often spend the next several month cleaning the darn things up.

Adding depth is not just about adding more stuff to your story. It is not about adding more scenes, or more to your word count. While adding depth may increase your word count, this is really an issue of creating a more three dimensional experience for the reader. You want to immerse the reader in the world of the characters and the lives they are living.

When we think about your characters, a lot of this depth comes from the concept of Goal Motivation and Conflict that we first heard about from Debra Dixon. What is really driving these characters? What makes them tick? How do they react in given situations? When the heroine in a story finds out that the hero has been playing her for the whole time, and yet she has really fallen for him, how is it that she is going to react? What emotions will she experience and see?

Think of the movie, CAN'T BUY ME LOVE... Remember this scene?

We all remember what happens with this? Her reaction when he reminds her this was all an act devastates her. The facial expressions, the look in her eyes and her short, and yet emotional comments agreeing say it all. That is depth.

Where many writers would take this to is not adding depth. They would often add a full chapter, or at least pages of her going back through the whole relationship in her head. They would have her crying in her room, or screaming about it with her friends. Taking this approach is really about telling and not showing.

Now, I get that movies are different because you have the chance for the characters to say a lot without using words due to camera angles and so forth, but in reality, the same can happen when you are writing.

It is a matter of word economy. It is a matter of making the most of every scene you have and every line your characters speak. This can often be done by replacing a full scene of action with just a couple of lines that get us into the characters head for a few minutes. Another approach would be, instead of sending the characters out to vent privately, have those emotions come out while the characters are in the middle of the heated exchange. Blending in that introspection and giving us the reason why they are angry or hurt.

I should also add that increasing the depth of the story is not an issue of putting in a lot of back story for your characters. I have written about that in the past her on the blog. We don't need a story where the heroine had to come from a poor family, an alcoholic father, a mother who was a prostitute and then falls into a marriage where the ex not only was found in bed with someone else, but she finds out he was gay.

Not depth. Just too much.

Go back to what drives this person. If there is a reason she doesn't want the relationship, keep it simple. The depth comes from just having the character express those emotions. Make sure the reader knows it.

So, your homework for the weekend is to work on that depth!

Have fun!!!!!

Using Multiple Approaches Works To Get the New Out

I have attended several workshops at writing conferences where I have heard authors speak of finding other ways, other than social media to get the news out about their latest releases. Some of the authors have commented that things such as Facebook are just not effective.

I have some news for you....

Social media does work!

A friend of mine works in the area of social media and emergency services with the Virtual Emergency Management Association and the Clackamas County Communications. This last week, they unrolled the latest addition to their 9-1-1 program, allowing people to text in their 9-1-1 call if necessary.

This is what she posted in response to those who don't believe in social media:
    Naysayers of social media often tell me that social media never reaches those without online accounts. And I smile.
    Earlier today, my mom called to tell me about text-to-911. She heard about it because my Cousin Ian boarded a bus in Scotland and ran into my Aunt Barbara who told her what I have been up to. She returned home and called my mom, who lives 20 minutes away from me.
    That, my friends, is why I smile at the naysayers.

For authors, you have to find multiple ways to get the news out to your readers. You cannot just rely on one approach. You have to attack the market on all fronts. Sure, Facebook might not be your friend, but it is for other people. Sure, you might not be interested in Twitter, but others do like it. Others like Pinterest so use that.

If you think about how you have found out about books, movies or other new things, a lot of that comes from word of mouth. You know what I mean - A friend tells you that he read something on a Twitter post, that connected to Facebook, that someone else heard on NPR.

That is how the world works.

Look, I get that adding in all of these other approaches can be a pain. I also know that it is going to suck up some of your writing time. But, if it increases your sales, then I say go for it!

Just a real world example to think about for a Friday

    Thursday, August 25, 2016

    Writer's Block

    I thought I would share some of what one of my writers was going through during the last several days, although I think the picture above says a ton.

    We have all probably heard the expression, writing with blinders on, or something similar. If you are not familiar with this expression, it is referring back to the the device equestrian people put on horses known as blinders or blinkers. The idea is that the horse cannot see things on either side of their face. It is used to keep the horse from being distracted. Now while this sounds great for the horses, this is not an expression that works well with people. 

    When people are operating with blinders on, they tend to only see things one way. Obviously, if you want to be focused, it might work great, but when those blinders are preventing you from seeing a better path, then you are going to run into serious issues,

    That is where my writer has been.

    She is in the early stages of prepping a proposal for a new line. The initial premise of the story sounds really good, however, after she gets past the beginning of the story, things fall horribly apart. The plot line starts taking off in multiple directions. Every time she adds a plot twist to it to fix the problem, it creates multiple issues. For you mythology people - think hydra here. 

    It was not pretty.

    And get this, we have only been working with the synopsis and the first three chapters.

    So, after the first read through and I saw a lot of the issues, we attempted to tighten the story up. In other words, we tried to cut off that mess before it occurred. I made some recommendations for the changes, gave her some focused, re-aimed her in the right direction and she was off and writing. 

    I had a feeling things might not be going the right way when I got on Facebook yesterday and saw images such as:

    But with this author, she has always worked through it, so I went back to my own work and figured it would just take care of itself.

    And then I get the new version of the synopsis. I get reading it immediately and the first half was great, BUT THEN..... here comes the Hydra again. This time that monster was uglier and really taking over. What happened!!

    Sure enough, the author was writing with blinders on. We had fixed the issues in the middle that would have taken care of the problems, but because she saw the ending involving certain plot elements, everything she did would lead to that mess. She couldn't see the solution on her own.

    For this author, she would often go to other critique partners and work out the issues, but this time, she was doing it on her own. There is nothing wrong with that, but the outside help had to be there to potentially talk her through it.

    After I sorted out the mess, that sort of looked like.

    I gave her a call and we talked it through. Sure enough that ending was the issue. We eliminated it (something that was fairly easy) and everything worked out fine. 

    The point of this tale is simple. Writing is not a solitary activity. You cannot expect to write a great novel and do it entirely on your own. You need critique partners. You need outside help. You need those editors and agents to see things you didn't see the first time. Trust these people and save yourself some time. 

    Wednesday, August 24, 2016

    Conflict vs. Complication

    This is a repost from earlier, but after the round of submissions I have been reading this morning, I felt it was a good reminder.

    I have been seeing a lot of this lately in submissions. Authors are confusing the idea of conflict vs.
    complication. I am constantly asking myself, "so why don't they fix it?' or "so why aren't they together?" Instead, the author goes on and on, making up excuse after excuse to keep the story going but there still is no real conflict.

    Let's start with the basics. A complication, which is the one we see the most of in stories, is simply a bump in the road. It's easy to see a complication with real life issues. 
    • You are driving down the road and a road crew has a flagger stopping traffic to allow that digger to move dirt.
    • You need to bake cookies and realize you need an egg or two.
    • You are getting ready to set the table for Thanksgiving dinner and realize you forgot to turn on the dishwasher so you have no clean dishes.
    These are complications. These are issues that have an easy solution. Each one simply requires you to do something different, or to take one additional step to fix the problem. With the flagger, you wait an additional 1-2 minutes; with the cookies, you run to the store, or even easier, run next door; with the dishwasher, you go "old school" and wash what you need. See? Easy fixes.

    When it comes to stories, I am seeing the exact same thing. Authors are going on for pages and pages making a big deal out of something that could have been easily fixed. When you have the heroine worrying about getting the paperwork filed to open up her cupcake store - solution, fill the stupid stuff out and turn it in; when the hero and heroine want to get together but are worried what the other person might think - solution, they talk. Again, these are all easy complications.

    I recently read a story where I spent the first part of the book wondering just why this relationship didn't happen. The heroine had been engaged to one guy for several years (they planned on it in their early days of college), but now that guy is away on business, and keeps saying, we will get together eventually after, after, after.... She really has fallen out of love with him a while ago and doesn't really ever think they will get married. She wants out. The hero, who happens to be the best friend of the jerk fiance has always liked and probably loved the heroine but never did anything about it. When the heroine wants to break up with the fiance, the hero spends the time trying to convince her not to. Of course she realizes that she has always liked him. Solution is easy, but nooooo, the author tries for 2/3 of a 100,000 word book to make this a conflict.

    This book simply drags because there is no conflict. Everyone wants the same thing but the author doesn't want them to have their solution because she has a 100,000 word count to make for her editor and the book could have been finished in easily 50,000-60,000 words:
    • Heroine says she wants out of engagement.
    • Jerk hero is fine with it since he has been fine with it for some time.
    • Hero uses this as an "in" to the girl he likes.
    • Heroine already liked the hero.
    • And they lived happily ever after.
    A conflict, however has a lot more at stake. The characters will be faced with a solution that is not that easy to make. The stakes are so high that there is a chance someone will have to lose out on something, and that something will be much more than a sense of pride. 

    Let's say that we have a hero and heroine who are both in the corporate world. Their jobs might be in the same general profession but nothing has really stood in the way of each getting what they want as well as having a relationship. But now one of the two has a chance for a job that is what he or she had always been dreaming of. This is money, prestige, advancement and everything. The issue is that it will be with a rival company with a no fraternization policy.
    • Take the job and the relationship has to end.
    • Take the job and the other person has to quit his or her job.
    • Keep the relationship and turn down the work 
    This is not something that can easily be fixed. This is a conflict. In this case, it is an external conflict but it does stand in the way of the characters moving ahead with what they want to achieve - their GOALS. 

    When an author works with a real conflict in the story, the readers now have an invested interest in the characters and the plot. They want the two of them together and are now working hard to find the solution to the problem WITH the characters. The readers keep turning the pages wanting to know how the character will really get out of this mess.

    There is one word of warning here. If you make the conflict so hard to overcome, and your only solution is to bring in an "act of God" to fix the problem, your readers will be very disappointed in you. They want the characters to figure their way out of the mess, and they don't want that "surprise" solution to just pop out of thin air. An example of this would be a family who is about to lose their home due to finances but mysteriously, a distant relative in another country, who they didn't know about, dies and the one of the characters is the only relative left so the 5.5 billion dollars is now their money. Um, yeah, right! That's believable.  Keep your solutions on planet Earth. Make the conflicts tough and make the characters fight for it, but make the conflicts real.