Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Submit already!

I sent a few manuscripts to an agent today. I hope it leads to something good (an agent contract, a book deal, fame, riches...ha ha), but even if it doesn't, it's good to get those manuscripts out there. My tip for you today: Don't doubt yourself. You can only edit and revise so much. Once you've polished that manuscript to the point where YOU are happy with it, send it out! Agent, contest, book publisher--doesn't matter, as long as you're submitting.

Unless you're happy with writing stories that sit in a file folder for years on end, never to bless anyone with their literary genius...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Guilt-free writing

Sometimes I feel a little guilty when I lock myself away to work on a manuscript. But that same guilt keeps me away from my manuscript(s) for days at a time. I may steal 30 minutes here, an hour there. But it is hard to write a novel in stolen moments! And even harder (yes, even harder) to write a picture book that way.

So I say, no more guilt. And the same should go for you. Take the time you need to be with your family, but let them know that you also need to take time for your writing. One good way to do this is to create a schedule for your writing time.

My family can count on me spending a couple of hours writing on Saturday morning while the kids watch cartoons. And of course, there are my Wednesdays, which I have all to myself. If you don't have that luxury, try writing one or two evenings each week while hubby (or wife) plays with the kids. Or write once they're in bed or early in the morning.

Whatever your preference, let your family in on the process, and once your schedule is set, be firm! There should always be room for flexibility, but you'll get so much more done if they know you're serious. And best of all, no guilt!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Talking about Writing

Yesterday at work, someone asked me what I do on Wednesdays.

Oh my, I thought. What do I say? Laundry? That's only partly true, and not really the reason I requested Wednesdays off in the first place.

I was caught. I had to tell her the truth. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

"Umm...I try to work on my manuscript," I said, then added hastily, "and do laundry."

"Oh! You're writing a book?"


"What's your book about?"

How much do I tell her? This isn't exactly a passing-in-the-hall conversation! "It's a novel-in-verse," I said. "Sort of a fantasy story."

Lame, I know. I'll turn around and you can kick me now.

I went on to tell her that I'm focusing on getting an agent. And she really did seem sincerely impressed. And today, when we were sitting in the lounge at lunch (just three of us, thankfully), she turned and said to me, "Tell her (a co-worker) that fun thing you told me yesterday." The woman sitting next to her perked up, at least pretending to be interested.

Oh my, again. "I write children's books," I said.

"Oh, have you had any published?"

I smiled. "Not yet."

"Have you sent them out?"


"It's cool that we know you, because maybe some day we can say 'we knew her when...'"

I smiled and laughed along with them, but my time for lunch was over, so I didn't say much after that besides, "Enjoy the rest of your day."

I'm not really a wordy person. But should I have said a bit more? I could have told them that my dream is to spend my days writing stories that people will want to read. Stories that will make kids want to save up their allowance, just so they can buy my next book. But, I confess I am a little cautious when talking to people about my writing. I can't help but wonder if they secretly think I'm a weird writer wannabe. And maybe I am.

But maybe some day, my friends really will smile and say, "I knew her when..."

Tuesday Tip: The Dreaded Synopsis

If you've written a novel, you can write a synopsis. Say it to yourself: I can write a synopsis. I can write a synopsis. Believe me yet?

It may seem like a daunting task, but writing a synopsis is not as hard as it seems. You've written the novel, so you know the story. A synopsis is simply your novel's story--but much, much shorter. The trick is knowing what goes in. Here are a few things I kept in mind when I wrote my synopsis for my first middle grade novel:

  • Start at the beginning. Who is your main character and what problem does he/she face?
  • From there, include only the major plot points, not every little twist and turn.
  • Likewise, include only major characters. Who gets in your main character's way? Who helps them along?
  • Ask yourself: Is it ESSENTIAL to the summary to include this? If not, leave it out.
  • Keep it short, probably two pages or less for middle grade novels (some publishers may ask for only one page, so shorter--tighter!--is better).
  • Don't just list events. Keep it interesting. A synopsis should have drama and voice (the same style as your novel, but always in third person)!
  • Don't leave out the ending. If your main character dies at the end, say so. If all of his/her wildest dreams come true, say that too. A synopsis is not meant to be a teaser.
  • Have your critique group look it over for you, especially if they've read the book.
  • Relax and enjoy the challenge!
For more help on writing a synopsis, check out these links:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

It's about time I did this: Books I read in 2009

Here is a list of the books that I read in 2009, in no particular order (* by those that I recommend, ** by those that you absolutely MUST read):

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins **

Septimus Heap Book One: Magyk, by Angie Sage *

Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godsister, by Liz Kessler

Inkdeath, by Cornelia Funke *

Brisingr, by Christopher Paolini

The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech **

The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart *

How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O'Connor

The Road to Paris, by Nikki Grimes *

River Secrets, by Shannon Hale *

Witness, by Karen Hesse **

House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer **

Full Tilt, by Neal Shusterman * (for those who like thrillers)

The Dark Side of Nowhere, by Neal Shusterman *

Aleutian Sparrow, by Karen Hesse **

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry *

Hate that Cat, by Sharon Creech **

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynn Jonelle *

Pilgrim's Progress, retold by Gary D. Schmidt *

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star, by Brandon Mull *

The Emerald Tablet, by P.J. Hoover *

The Shadow Thieves, by Anne Ursu *

Savvy, by Ingrid Law **

The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis **

I could be forgetting some, but if I remember, I'll promptly amend this post. ;-)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Tuesday Tip: the Art of the Blurb

Can you summarize your book in just a few sentences? Whittle it away to its most basic core? It's not an easy thing to do. But if you can do it, I believe it is a sign that you truly know the story you are writing (or have written).

If you've not attempted to write one before, consider this a challenge to do so. There are several reasons you should do this. First of all, if someone asks you, "What's your book about?" you'll want to give them a short answer without stumbling around and saying "ummm..." fifty times. Also, using these short hooks is a great way to start off a query or cover letter once you begin submitting. As if those reasons aren't good enough, it's also a fun challenge that, once accomplished, will leave you with a swelling sense of accomplishment.

When writing your blurb, you need to answer the following:
  • Who is your main character?

  • What is their goal?

  • What is in their way?

Unlike a synopsis, a blurb (your hook) doesn't tell the whole story. It is a teaser that is meant to snag your reader and reel them in so that they want to know more. Here's a little blurb I wrote for my verse novel, SHARRA'S WAR:

Sharra is on the run, hunted for her ability to compel animals to obey her will. During her flight through the wilderness, Sharra finds friendship in surprising places. These alliances give her the strength to make her way home, where she must face the leader of the invading warriors and use her gift to save her family and her country.

Have fun blurbing! If anyone would like to post one here, I'd love to read it. Tips that help you write them are welcome too!