My new book stinks. Or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. You might be wondering why I’d even try to write a book if I can’t tell if it’s good. Or you might know exactly how I feel.
My critique partners are in agreement that it’s coming along fine. And I can’t exactly explain anything that’s wrong with it. But I’m pretty sure my agent will shriek in horror when she reads it. Not that I have a reason. It’s more of a feeling.
Do all authors have doubts? I haven’t heard of any who don’t. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King admits that his wife rescued the first pages of Carrie from the trash. Without her support, would he have quit writing? Or would he have persevered, and perhaps found Carrie again later waiting patiently for her story to be told? I have to believe it would have been the latter. As authors we have too many characters with too many stories to ever think of truly giving up.
So, I for one, am pushing forward, often fighting a daily battle of wanting to scrap this draft entirely and start something new. Of course all of the same undefinable problems might be hiding in the new plot too. So where would I go from there?
Have you already written the dreaded second book? Did you have doubts while writing? Did you work through them? Take a break? Start over entirely? Please share in the comments, because there must be a secret to chasing away the doubt and getting back to the business of writing.
2016 Pitchwars mentor blog-hop is only a week away! If you’re an author and you’ve never heard of Pitch wars, check it out here: http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-wars/
Here’s a quick preview of how it works. On July 20th the mentor blog hop is released. Hopeful authors will have until August 3rd to browse the mentor’s blogs to choose the 4 mentors who are the best fit. Applications are accepted until midnight on August 6th. Mentors start reviewing applications immediately, and mentees are announced on August 25th. If you are chosen by one of the mentors, you get to work with a talented editor or author until October 31 to produce the best version of your manuscript. (Very busy, super-fun time!) The agent showcase starts November 3rd and works as follows. Adult and NA entries will post Nov. 3. MG entries will post Nov. 4. YA entries will post Nov. 5. Participating agents will browse the entries until Nov. 9th, the last day of the showcase.
What you need to enter this contest: A complete manuscript. That’s it. This isn’t a Twitter contest, or a contest for already published authors. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never submitted any manuscript to anyone. This is your chance to get your book in front of a lot of agents at one time. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain!
Are you in? I hope so. Pitch Wars changed everything for me, and I’m not the only one. Fifty of the 2015 mentees have found their agent since the agent showcase since last November. And we have formed countless new writer friendships. If you’re itching to get started here are some links to keep you busy until the blog hop is posted.
http://www.brenda-drake.com/ Brenda Drake (a talented author/genius who started this contest) Blog. Lots of goodies here. Take your time and browse the advice and mini-interviews being posted daily.
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/6-reasons-why-every-writer-should-enter-pitch-wars-next-year Not convinced yet? 6 reasons you should enter.
http://askauthors.tumblr.com/ More questions? The 2015 mentees have created a place for you to ask!
https://twitter.com/hashtag/pitchwars Here’s what people are saying about it on Twitter.
http://www.totheshelves.com/ A blog created by 2015 mentees.
http://www.lanapattinson.com/pitchwars-2016-pimpmybio/ Instructions for an interesting way to get noticed by the mentors!
http://www.katejfoster.com/ Website of the amazing MG Mentor Kate Foster, who picked my manuscript in 2015 and will be a mentor again this year. If you write MG you MUST check this out. Since Kate read my manuscript, I’ve gained a wise mentor, a lifetime cheerleader, and most importantly a wonderful friend.
I loved this story—This is all I can see without opening the email in my inbox. The email comes from an epic super-agent. The subject is, of course, my query. After the hyphen will come one word that will change the whole letter- but. I know it’s there. She’s only had my full for three weeks. At least this time there will be feedback.
There is no but. After the hyphen comes the amazing words – did not put it down. Can we talk next week? Um… YES! Of course! I will find a way to be available every minute next week! Okay, I promise I actually crafted a more professional response than that.
One week later, I was talking on the phone with Sara Crowe! Sara loved my mystery and wanted to represent me! A dream? Oh, yes, definitely, but a dream come true. Can this dream happen for any author out there who is willing to keep working until their manuscript is perfect, and keep querying until they find the absolutely right agent for their book? Yes. Below is an explanation of why this is true.
My last encounter with any type of writing instruction was 12th grade ELA. And it’s been more than a few years since then. I actually spent most of my adult life without a computer. My first novel was written in a spiral notebook. Over the course of the last three years, I’ve made priceless writing friends and critique partners online. The writing community is filled with people who want to help anyone trying to realize the same writing dream they follow.
My stats for the novel that attracted my agent? I spent a little over a year and a half writing and revising. This includes the time I was in Pitch Wars (If you’re unagented and have never heard of Pitch Wars, look here- http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitch-wars/) Over the course of the next five months, I sent out 30 queries. I sent these out in batches of 5 or 6 at a time, and changed the query three times. At the time I was offered representation, I had 19 form rejections, 2 full requests, 2 partial requests, and 7 agents who hadn’t responded yet. An important note: Every rejection I received in response to the initial query was a form rejection—agents use them because they need to save time. Don’t let them discourage you. When I contacted the remaining agents with my offer, the response was divided pretty evenly. About half requested the full, and every agent responded with congratulations. Ultimately, one more agent was interested, but passed due to her own time restraints.
So, there it is, how I got my agent, and a reminder that you can do it too!
A Pair of Docks by Jennifer Ellis
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy
Abbey Sinclair loves science and math. They make sense. She can trust them. When an accidental discovery leads her to time travel with her brothers, Abby’s perfectly sensible world is thrown out of balance. Time travel is real but it’s completely unpredictable. And very dangerous. Abbey vows to stay away—until she realizes that not seeing things through could be even worse. The future is ever-changing and the decisions Abbey makes now might decide whether she and her brothers even have a future.
A Pair of Docks is a mystery wrapped in a fantasy/sci-fi adventure. It reads a little long for middle-grade, but non-stop action keeps you turning pages. The book is the first in a trilogy, but can be read alone. It has a satisfying conclusion with a mysterious hint of what comes next. If you like science fiction, fantasy, or both, you’ll enjoy this book. Well done!
You did it! Your novel is finished. It has a gripping plot, all of the right characters, and the word count is perfect for your chosen genre. Still, something’s not quite right. Your story hasn’t come to life. It’s realistic, sure, but it’s lacking.
This is where characterization comes in. You’ve already created well-defined characters that stand out from each other, but what drives their actions? In answer to that question, you might be tempted to point at your plot. However, your characters weren’t born into this plot, the consequences of their lives shaped their actions before the story ever started.
I know what you’re thinking (or at least I was). That’s backstory, which leads to an ugly info-dump right at the beginning of your novel. It could be—unless you change the way the information reaches your reader.
Perhaps I need a character who’s a leader. His name is Christian. He makes decisions, stands up for his friends, and doesn’t back down from anything. He’s a bit stereotypical, so I give him a little quirk. He’s afraid of spiders. I could introduce this fear two ways.
Christian pressed his back against the cool blocks of the basement wall. His eyes had already adjusted to the dim light.
Brittany lowered herself to the floor against the opposite wall, and snuggled up next to David. “You’re
right. This would be an awesome place for the party.”
David’s answer was lost under the thunder of Christian’s heartbeat. The spider had left the corner and was creeping towards his outstretched foot. His mouth went dry. It was brown. Probably a recluse like the one that bit his cousin Will. Will’s leg has swelled up like a balloon, but he’d begged Christian not to tell. Christian kept his promise and eventually Will’s leg was amputated below his knee. Christian had been terrified of spiders ever since.
The creature crawled closer. It was eight—no, maybe six feet away. He jumped up. “This place is lame. I’m going home.”
Consider this instead.
Christian pressed his back against the cool blocks of the basement wall. His eyes had already adjusted to the dim light.
Brittany lowered herself to the floor against the opposite wall, and snuggled up next to David. “You’re right. This would be an awesome place for the party.”
David’s answer was lost under the thunder of Christian’s heartbeat. His friends faded into the background as his gaze spotlighted on the creature he knew he’d find. The spider crept out of its dark corner toward Christian’s outstretched foot. His mouth went dry. It was brown.
He’d never seen the one that had bitten Will, but it had been brown. His cousin had sworn him to secrecy before he lifted his pants leg.
“It looks like you have an extra kneecap.” Christian had barely managed to get the words past the bile rising in his throat. “A gnarly gross one. That spider must have been poisonous.”
“You can’t tell, you promised.” Will’s eyes were strange that day. Too bright, and a sheen of sweat covered his forehead. “The game’s tomorrow. You know I gotta play. If it’s not better after that, I’ll show it to Mom.”
Another giggle from Brittany lurched him back to the present. The creature was eight—no, probably six feet away. He jumped up. “This place is lame. I’m going home.”
That’s probably enough to give the reader sympathy for Christian’s fear. Maybe later in the novel, a connection could be made from Will’s shining eyes to the disappointment in Christian’s dad’s eyes when he explained the amputation could’ve been prevented if they’d known sooner. Perhaps his shame in relation to his dad’s disappointment is why he’s never told the story to anyone.
The fear gives Christian another dimension, making him a more relateable character. Looking for something a little less dramatic? My eighth-grade character Olivia was starting eighth grade with a whole new look. Not used to being in the spotlight she’s feeling nervous.
Olivia’s fingers tightened on the strap of her backpack. Was her new look too much? Her heart thudded against her ribs as she made her way to the back seat. Would people make fun of her?
After revision, it looked like this.
Jenna pulled the bag closer to her, and tilted her head, her gaze picking apart Olivia’s new hairstyle and her clothes. Olivia swallowed. Would Jenna say something? Some insult disguised as a compliment? How should she answer?
The revision put us in Olivia’s head where we understand she made a big change and feels insecure about it. Later, she’ll have to face more scrutiny at school.
If you know what drives your characters, let it leak a little into their actions and see them leap off the page.
Blues Bones by Rick Starkey
Genre: Middle Grade Horror
A great book for middle-graders!
Rodney Becker is on his way to becoming a star. His online music video “Unplugged” has already received over 1,000 hits. There’s only one problem. Well, actually two. Problem number 1: the video was posted by none other than Eddie Reed, Rodney’s worst enemy. Problem number 2: “Unplugged” is a humiliating showcase of Rodney unplugging his guitar and running off stage without playing a single chord.
If Rodney has any hope of winning the music competition only a month away, he has to get over his stage fright. When he notices a rabbit’s foot attached to the guitar strap of a famous rock star, he realizes he needs a good luck charm. An internet search leads Rodney and his best friend Max to Voodoo. With a simple spell, Rodney will be cured—unless something backfires. Then he’ll have to deal with the power of return, which will bring him three times more bad luck than he started with.
Things get crazy fast. Soon Rodney is stealing, sneaking out, and talking back to his mom. When he jams his finger, and his dad “borrows” his guitar, Rodney begins to worry. Is it the power of return or a weird coincidence? Everything is spiraling out of control and Rodney suddenly has more to worry about than his reputation. He could lose his best friend, the girl he has a crush on, and even put his family in danger. Rodney has to find a way to fix everything before it’s too late.
The only reason I gave this book four stars is because I don’t think it’s scary enough to be classified as horror. However, it’s a great book where everything that can go wrong does go wrong for Rodney Becker. The author does a great job portraying original characters with a spot-on first person narrative from an eighth grade boy. There are also many guitar/recording references that any music lover will appreciate. All in all, this is a wonderful debut, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Have you written your query and studied hundreds of agents but still wish you had a little bit more information? Don’t you wish you could just talk to an agent and ask him/her all the right questions? What would you ask? What they like to see in a query? What makes them request pages, or what makes them stop reading your pages? What’s on their wishlist? What happens after you sign a contract?
Well, you could probably contact agents and get all of your questions answered, but agents are busy people. Besides, some bloggers have already done it for you. The following websites have long lists of agent interviews. Some have helpful links. Some have wishlists. They all have great information to help you find the agent who will love your manuscript as much as you do. Where possible my links lead you directly to the page with a list of agents. If not, I’ve added simple instructions in parenthesis. Good luck and query on!
http://www.michelle4laughs.com/ (query questions list on right side of your screen)
(Spotlighted agents list on the left side of your screen)
Winell Road by Kate Foster
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci Fi Adventure
Twelve-year-old Jack Mills lives in the most boring place in the world. At least, that’s what he thinks until he sees a spaceship hovering over his street. Strangely, no one else saw the UFO, so Jack is forced to keep silent or look like he belongs in a nut-house.
A few days later, due to unfortunate circumstances, Jack ends up meeting his new neighbor Roxy, wearing only his underwear. That night, his room is invaded by three small aliens who need his help. Soon, Jack and Roxy are plunged into an underground world they thought only existed in science fiction movies.
As he works to complete his new mission, Jack realizes nothing in his life is what it seems. More importantly, there’s no one he can trust. Secrets are revealed that can never be forgotten. Is this exciting new life really worth the consequences?
Winell Road – Beneath the Surface has a great movie-like quality that will appeal to readers of all ages. Packed with action and an inventive cast of alien characters, Winell Road is Men in Black meets Indiana Jones for middle graders. This is a great read with the promise of an exciting sequel soon to follow.
For me, December was a month spent mostly away from my desk. Here’s why.
I leave my bed at 5:30 on a Wednesday thinking Walking on the treadmill yesterday DEFINITELY didn’t help my back. At my bedroom door, a very sharp railroad spike is driving into my lower back. When I reach the freezer, I’m holding my breath while I retrieve the ice pack. The spike is knifing its way down my left leg and my foot’s throbbing. I spend fifteen minutes face down on the couch before I can stand long enough to take some pain meds and turn on the heat. I know this pain. I’ve been here before.
The days that follow don’t show much improvement. I stand very little, and sitting at my desk is out of the question. I’m praying that somehow although the pain is exactly the same, I haven’t herniated a disc. Surgery could be much worse the second time around.
Days before Christmas, I see my doctor. He schedules an MRI, and I leave with three prescriptions and little hope. A week later, the MRI tech looks at my chart. “I’m not allowed to tell you anything. Is he going to call you after he gets the results?”
“I have an appointment on the eighth,” I answer. She assures me someone will call me sooner. This isn’t good news, and she’s right. I get the call the following morning.
A few days later I’m looking at a scan of my herniated L5 disc. The doctor explains that it’s big and the steroid injection might not yield any more results than last time although he plans to administer it a little differently. I’m offered a sedative which I decline. I wasn’t allowed to eat before the procedure and the idea of this medicine making me vomit fills me with terror. Besides, I did okay last time.
Facedown on the table, I get the sting of the needle which holds the numbing agent. Then the slightly nauseating pressure in my lower back as the medicine starts.
“This is the medicine. You’ll probably feel some pressure.”
I nod. This will be over in a few—Oh my GOSH!!! This doctor has somehow reached into my spine and is crushing my spinal cord! The pain travels the nerve down my leg and into my left foot. The sound coming from my mouth isn’t a scream only because my breath is locked in my lungs and my teeth are firmly clenched.
“I’m going to give you a minute and then inject some more.”
Unable to speak, I nod.
The procedure is repeated twice more to administer all of the steroid, and when it’s finished this grown woman is reduced to a child crying in the doctor’s office after a shot. Two nurses help me from the table and the pressure begins to dissipate. Only one nurse is needed to escort me to recovery where my very worried husband suggests I should have taken the sedative. I agree.
Fifteen minutes later I rate my pain at a five. Down three points from when I arrived. Four days later, I rate it at two, resting pain zero. My surgeon doesn’t try to hide his surprise. His advice? If I’m not experiencing significant pain, I should avoid surgery. If the pain increases, I can schedule another injection. If I have weakness or debilitating pain, I need to call him immediately. For now, I should listen to my body. If it hurts don’t do it.
How much writing did I accomplish in those weeks? Very little. In fact, for the first three weeks, the only thing I did was send a very late critique to a wonderfully understanding member of my crit group. However, on New Year’s Day, I received a surprise in my inbox: My very first full request from an agent. I was shocked – and completely unprepared. I spent two hours on the couch reviewing my manuscript on my tablet. It took two tries at my computer before I got everything ready. It was about five hours after I checked my email when I clicked send.
Could I have done more? Definitely. Should I have? I think so. I know you might be thinking—Wait! Not at the expense of your health! I agree. But I could have used my tablet to work on revisions, to continue building my agent list, and to keep working on my WIP. It’s not like I was getting much else accomplished, and I certainly managed it after getting that jump start from an agent. According to my MRI, I shouldn’t be feeling better now. I’m blessed to be feeling wonderful today, but none of us know what the future holds. I’m not confident doing all of my work on a tablet, but I’m learning. I hope to one day have deadlines to meet, and fans anticipating my work. When I need to I’d like to be creative about getting things done, because no matter what, this isn’t a job I want to give up.
So what about you? Have you had an illness or injury keep you from your desk? Had the flu the week of an important deadline? How do you get things done when it seems physically impossible? Please share your experience in the comments. Or if you suffer back pain and have a secret weapon (cushion, chair, back brace, exercise) please share those too.
There are a number of websites and blogs dedicated to writing, but some I visit again and again. This is a list of my favorites, and the reasons they keep me coming back.
The Institute of Children’s Literature http://www.institutechildrenslit.com/ is my favorite place to go. Maybe it’s because this is the place that got me started. If you’re thinking this site isn’t for you because you’re not interested or can’t afford to take classes, you’re missing out on everything else they have to offer. Right under the home button, you’ll see Rx for Writers. Not a student? Doesn’t matter. This section offers a free weekly newsletter, the ever helpful Topical Index, and my personal favorite The Writer’s Retreat. Many of the things I’ve learned have come from the helpful authors there.
Writers Helping Writers http://writershelpingwriters.net/ holds more information than you could get through in a day, so pace yourself. You don’t want to miss anything. You can get another helpful newsletter here. Resources for Writers is a beautifully organized list of helpful links. My personal favorite part of this one is the Thesaurus Collections.All you have to do is browse the contents to see they are worth their weight in gold for creative inspiration.
If you’re interested in writing for magazines or the educational market, Evelyn Christensen’s website http://www.evelynchristensen.com/index.html is the most complete up to date list I’ve seen anywhere. Just click on the little crayon on the left that says writers, and prepare to be amazed. These newsletters have up-to-date tips and links to each website. Your complete search all in one place.
It goes without saying that every writer needs a thesaurus http://www.thesaurus.com/ When you skim your page and realize you’ve used the same word four times, but for some reason, can’t think of a single word that means the same thing, go here. You might end up saying “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” but at least you won’t be thinking too long. You’ll be writing instead!
Literary Rambles http://www.literaryrambles.com/ is priceless if you’re searching for an agent. While this site has plenty of juicy information about new books and authors, Agent Spotlight is my favorite here. The agent list on the left of the page can save you hours of time, because the searching has already been done for you.
Kathy Temean’s blog https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/about/ is another one I like for finding agents. If you scroll down the page, and look at the Categories header in the side bar, you’ll see there is tons of interesting information for any children’s author. The reason I love her agent posts? They’re very up-to-date. These are agents looking to build their list right now. So if you have what they’re looking for, it gives you a bit of a leg up.
Kidlit 411 http://www.kidlit411.com/ is another place filled with information. Are you interested in agents? Critique groups? Picture books, middle grade, or YA? Submissions? Contests? Revisions? All of this and more can be found at here. You might need more than a day to look this one over.
Brenda Drake’s blog http://www.brenda-drake.com/ is a great place for contests. I was hesitant about this one at first, since I’m not on Twitter, but there’s plenty here for everyone. If you are a twitter fan, PitMad occurs four times a year. That is a lot of opportunity to get noticed. But check this blog often. There is almost always some kind of contest in swing, and many of them don’t involve Twitter.
So, if you’re looking for inspiration to get started ... or to keep going, there’s plenty here. If you know of a great website I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for more information.
Growing up, I was the