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Heartbeat Intern Contest for beginning writers

HEARTBEAT INTERN CONTEST for Pre-Pubbed, Pre-PRO Romance Writers

Accepting entries starting January 1, 2007!

This is a brand new contest aimed at beginners. In other words, if you’ve been published in any format at any time, or have achieved RWA-PRO (Romance Writers of America) status, you’re not eligible.

CATEGORIES & JUDGES
Romantic Suspense: Patience Smith - Silhouette Suspense.
Erotic Romance: Alicia Rasley - Red Sage
Anything Romance w/ Medical Elements: Sheila Hodgson - Harlequin Mills & Boom Medicals
Inspirational Romance: Melissa Endlich - Steeple Hill
Series Romance (long & short): Scott Eagan - Greyhaus Literary Agency
Single Title Romance: Hilary Sares - Kensington

First place winners in each category will receive
a critique from Lois Winston, Agent with Grayson Literary Agency.


TIMELINE

1. Entries accepted from January 1 - February 1 (Entries with a postmark of February 1 or before will be accepted until February 6).
2. If a deadline falls on a Saturday/Sunday, the entry is …

Dialogue—exclamation points

Oh, goodness! Sara’s heart pounded in her chest. “Josephine! I didn’t even see you there!”

While just 10 years ago, books had tons of exclamation points all over the place, these days, most editors prefer limited use of exclamation points, especially in dialogue.

They typically suggest using them only if someone is screaming or shouting, rather than just a raised voice.

Some are nazis about it, some aren't. I would suggest getting rid of as many exclamation points as you can just in case you come across someone who's picky about it.

Dialogue—distinct voice

Separate from your own unique writer’s voice is each individual character’s voice. Sometimes writers will not make each character’s own dialogue distinct enough to be able to tell characters apart.

Many times, if you remove the dialogue tags and action beats from a scene of dialogue, the two characters will sound exactly alike, whether it’s two men, two women, or a man and a woman.

Each character should be so individual that even their speech patterns are distinct. I’m not talking about dialect or slang.

Lots of things can contribute to character voices--pacing and rhythm, word choice, grammar, sentence length, casual versus formal. Don’t cop out and give one person a lisp or a dialect—try to make them unique just by their words alone.

You, as the writer, know who is who as you hear each character talking in your head. The challenge is to convey the distinction on the page to the reader.

One exercise I like to do is to take an incident and have different characters tell it. Often, I can se…

Dialogue—necessary

When reading contest entries or manuscript for critiquing, sometimes dialogue goes on for too long. This can affect pacing, and it can also disengage the reader if the dialogue isn’t necessary to character development or the plot.

Look through your own manuscript to see if a few interchanges in a scene of dialogue might be unnecessary. Sometimes things like that are needed to set tone, or reveal character, but look through your dialogue to see if anything can be cut. You as the writer have a good feel for what's vital to your voice and the tone, and what might be just fluff.

Most writers say that anything that can reduce word count will usually only make the story better. Anything that can speed up the pace a bit during action scenes (dialogue) will help glue the reader to the page.

Dialogue—online articles

Rather than listening to me talk, why not read a few good articles on dialogue:

http://www.jamesscottbell.com/Site/Dialogue%20Tips.html
http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/artdialogue.htm
http://www.pammc.com/dialogue.htm (good examples of proper punctuation for dialogue)
http://www.charlottedillon.com/Articles.html
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/index.shtml

These last two are websites with several articles on various topics, including dialogue.

These links were current as of the publishing of this blog post. If any are broken, please e-mail me or leave a comment to let me know.

Dialogue—read plays

Mark Goodyear made a great point that one way to learn to write good dialogue is to read good dialogue, and one of the best resources are good plays. Specifically, the Tony winners, since aren’t those the best plays written in America?

If you go to his blog post about it, he gives the website of the Tonys and how to search for plays to read.

Plays can be found in your local library. They might also be in the drama department of your local high school and available for loan, so send your child on a recon mission. Another good resource is online stores where you can buy cheap used copies (which you can then flag and mark up with notes).

Look for dialogue that moves you, then look through it again to discover why. Look at pacing, sentence rhythm, word choice—especially word choice specific to certain characters. Judicious use of sentence structure and sentence length also make up good dialogue.

Once you analyze good dialogue, you’ll find you’ll be more critical of your own writing as you wo…

Dialogue—no tension

All dialogue should have some type of conflict. Exchange of information or small-talk is boring and slows the reading flow. The characters don’t need to be fighting with each other, but there should be something one of the characters is fighting FOR. Fighting to hide information, fighting to obtain information, fighting to right a wrong, fighting to convince the other.

In the words of Randy Ingermanson (Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine), “Dialogue is war.” A dialogue with two strong forces has the energy to propel the story forward. It tends to be highly emotional, but at the same time very simple and direct (unlike actual conversation in real life). The best way to have both emotion and simplicity is to lay the dialogue down first and then go back later to refine, cut, clarify.

Because dialogue is emotional, it also tends to be more give-and-take, more back-and-forth. In our modern publishing industry, it’s rare to have a character go on and on without the other character responding. E…

Dialogue—too many action beats

“I know you did it.” He slammed his fist on the table.
She fingered her long necklace with manicured fingers. “I never said I did.”
“We have you on tape.” He reached out to touch the micro-recorder.
“I told you, I was only joking when I said that.” She wouldn’t look at him.
He crossed his arms and glared at her. “People don’t joke to kill someone.”
“That’s not true. People joke about killing their friends all the time.” She crossed her arms and stared him down.

Even though we vary the sentence structure and the position of the dialogue, the action beats in this conversation are a bit much.

You don't need to identify the speaker every time he speaks. You can have back and forth a bit and still know who's speaking.

Action beats should have a purpose--to show inner emotion or characterization, not just as filler in between lines of dialogue.

“I know you did it!”
“I never said I did.”
“We have you on tape.”
“I told you, I was only joking when I said that.” She wouldn’t look at him.
“Peop…

Dialogue—info dump

“As you know, Bob, your mother left you at the age of five to run off to California with the family lawyer, leaving you to be raised by your bohemian grandparents. Do think it’s affecting your judgment about this child abandonment case?”

Be careful about dialogue that’s there just to inform the reader. Bob would know what his mother did, and wouldn’t need to be told or reminded.

“You’re too close to this case, Bob.”
“What do you mean?” He crossed his arms.
She spoke with a hitch of hesitation in her voice. “You were the same age as this kid when your mom . . .”
She didn’t have to say it. As a child, he’d prayed for an earthquake to swallow up both his mother and the ex-family lawyer in California. Maybe he was too close to this.

Some things won’t seem like telling at first, but at closer look they might:

She spoke with a hitch of hesitation in her voice. “You were the same age as this kid when your mom left you for the family lawyer.” (Does Bob need to be reminded whom she ran off with?)

vs.

S…

Developing your writer’s voice #7

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Keep practicing.

Voice is developed by writing, writing, writing.

Try doing a voice writing exercise each week. It only takes a few minutes, and that weekly stretching and warm-up will help your writing the rest of the week.

And not just short exercises--use your manuscript as practice ground for unleashing your raw voice. Take a scene, or a page of your manuscript. Work some of the exercises with that piece of your writing. Not only will you be developing your voice, you’ll also be working on beefing up your manuscript.

Don’t be discouraged if the exercises don’t seem to be showing dramatic results. Often a writer’s voice comes out subtly, in waves or glimpses.

Some writers’ voices are loud, others are soft and more subtle. Don’t assume y…

Developing your writer’s voice #6

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Speak your voice through characters.

Like a ventriloquist, you throw your voice into a story character so that it's you and yet not you speaking. More than anything, it should be the character's voice that dominates, but your own voice will add vibrancy to your character.

Your heroine will have her own unique way of speaking, and it will also depend on her audience. She may speak one way to her mother and a different way to the hero. Through it all, don't be limited by her personality--rather, let her individuality unleash your own raw voice.

Take a persona and notice if you speak directly in his voice--in his skin--or describe him as if you're in the room. Sometimes, this can indicate a preference for first person versus …

Developing your writer’s voice #5

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Take a lesson from children's storytelling.

When children tell stories, they improvise with things connected to their emotions, urgent and important to them at the moment. The duckie in their lap, the blue carpet, the stinky smell from the diaper bag, the lint under the table. It doesn't have to make sense, it doesn't have to be polished.

What makes their stories compelling is that it's raw and free. Our writers' voices come out when we can emulate their storytelling mindset.

This is related to what we say in public and private. There are certain things we will only say to our families, or sometimes just to ourselves. I'm not talking about foul language or unpleasant bodily functions. Opinions, one-line zingers, r…

Developing your writer’s voice #4

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Discover your natural rhythm.

All of us have a natural cadence to our speech and thoughts. It's a combination of our genes and environments. For every writer, it's unique.

Write nonsense words in grammatically correct sentences, or do free-writing--keep the pen moving even if you just write nonsense or the same sentence over and over.

You'll discover things about your voice. Your sentence length, your word choice. Alliteration, metaphors, similes. Twists of phrase, dialect. Learn to be aware of these aspects of your voice's cadence.

Developing your writer’s voice #3

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Write your voice with your whole body.

An opera singer or a screaming child uses his entire body to project his voice. It's a comprehensive, total physical feat. A writer is the same. You want to use your entire being--your whole body--to bring out your writer's voice. This will mean different things to different writers.

The important thing is to discover your own all-encompassing combination of rhythm, force, and music that is your voice. The key is all-encompassing--try to involve all of you, not just your mind.

Try to imagine what it's like for you to write from your gut, from your toes, digging in with your shoulders, straining with your spine. Make it an energetic feat, requiring force and strength, pulling in aspects o…

Developing your writer’s voice #2

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find and/or further develop your voice.

(Most of these exercises are taken from Finding Your Writer's Voice: A Guide to Creative Fiction by Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall)

Unusual situations and a sense of urgency will bring out voice.

External stimuli: Create a certain setting or mood by surrounding yourself with objects that will put you emotionally in different states. Try laying on your desk several things that make you mad. Or maybe things that make you sad. Be creative and utilize all five senses. Create different atmospheres that run the gamut of your emotions--don't hold back. Explore difficult emotions, intense emotions.

Internal stimuli: Use your mind to put you in different places, at different times. A cold, lonely prison cell. A loud, crowded prison cell. An abandoned warehouse during WW2 with bombs exploding. A desolate cornfield during the Depression. What's important is to put you…

Developing your writer’s voice #1

One vital way to make your writing stand out is voice. In many of the contest entries I've judged and manuscripts I've critiqued, writers have muted their natural voice to sound bland and generic.

Writing that's alive with its own distinct vocal flavor is a joy to read. The prose is richer and more vibrant, the characters more three-dimensional--all because the writer opens herself to her own writing style and revels in it.

However, voice can also be the most difficult and slippery aspect of writing craft to discover and perfect.

Raw, creative voice often doesn't result in a polished piece. The key is to first lay down the story with your unhindered voice and polish later.

But how to unleash your voice?

Many times, a writer's internal critic is hampering the free reign of his unique style, but certain exercises can help him lift all restraints, open the cage door, and let the lion roar.

Not all these exercises will work for every writer, but some might enable you to find…

Terry Whalin's Writing Tip of the Day

Howard Books fiction editor Terry Whalin has started a "Writing Tip of the Day" where you can insert html code into your blog or website and have his writing tip automatically change each day. He has 31 tips now, and intends to write more later.

Information is at this blog post.

I've inserted it in my sidebar so you can see what it looks like. It's a terrific idea and Terry's background and expertise makes him an ideal person to write these tips for writers.

Proposals—Comparative/Competitive/Marketing Analysis

This is a page or two listing books similar to yours but different in some way. This is to show how your book would both fit in and stand out from the books already in print.

Make sure the books you list aren’t too old. List recent titles over older ones.

Show clearly how the books are similar, but also show clearly how yours differ. For example:

Embryo Factory: The Stem Cell Wars by Rev. Richard A. Humphrey and Dr. Loren J. Humphrey, ACW Press, 2003.
This Christian suspense dives deep into the complex moral and technical issues surrounding stem cell research, using a minister and a physician as protagonists. Bitter Dragon also deals with stem cell research, but takes the issue a step further into human cloning and fetal tissue harvesting for disease therapy, with a backdrop of action and adventure pushing the Asian heroine into danger.

Proposals—marketing plan

Don’t list things like “willing to appear on Oprah”—well, duh. Plus so few authors actually make it on Oprah, period.

Be specific about what you personally can do. What groups do you belong to, and what can you realistically do to use your connections to promote your book?

For example: Do you work in a school and can you influence the librarian or other schools’ libraries to carry your book? Do you belong to any national organizations and can you give workshops on your book topic at your local chapter? Do you have an active blog or website and can you utilize that to spread the word on the internet?

Proposals—your bio

If you don't have many writing credits, don't point it out. If you have a lot, point only to the relevant ones. If you wrote an article on abuse in Woman's World and an article on stretching in Runner's World, include the Woman's World but not the Runner's World.

If you belong to a national writers organization like RWA, ACFW, SFWA, MWA, then include it. Also include if you’ve ever worked in a publishing house or for a magazine.

Don't ramble on for paragraphs and pages about your family and experiences—keep it to only those things that are pertinent for your story. If the main plot of your story is about hang-gliding and you've done that several times, then include it. But if your story is about the stock market, then don't include the hang-gliding experience.

Your social connections can also have pertinence. If your story is set in medieval Scotland and you belong to a local Scottish Heritage group, then mention that. However, if the main plot or char…

Writer Beware website and blog

This is a great website uncovering various agent scams and unscrupulous practices among agents.

http://www.sfwa.org/beware/

There's also a highly informative blog.

http://www.accrispin.blogspot.com/

Proposals—synopsis

Proposals—story blurbs

This is basically the same as the story blurb you included in your query letter.

Your story blurb will either hook the editor or not. Here are some pointers.

1) Try to write it in the tone or voice of the novel. If your manuscript is a romantic comedy, make the blurb sound fun and flirty. If your novel is a dark thriller, make the blurb sound sinister and exciting.

2) It should name the main protagonists. The villain can also be named if he/she is a major protagonist.

3) The main protagonists' external goals should be clear.

4) There should be some hint of the major obstacle(s) in the protagonists' way.

5) A nice touch is to add a little info on the main protagonists' internal or spiritual conflicts.

6) Unlike a synopsis, you do not need to give away the ending, but you may if you prefer.

Example:

Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins,…

Proposals—basic structure

Not all proposals are set up the same way, but here’s a bare-bones structure of a typical one.

--(optional) Story blurb. Just a paragraph—two to four sentences—about the story. Similar to back cover copy.

--Synopsis. Should be about one to two pages long. DO reveal the ending. This is the entire story laid out. See “Synopsis” on the right sidebar to see my other articles on synopsis writing.

--Bio. Your writing credits, any experience in the writing or publishing industry, and any social connections or life experiences that have any relevance to the story.

--Hook. What makes this story unique? How is this story different from any other book that’s sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Noble? What kind of spiritual, emotional, or personal message will a reader glean from it?

--Category/genre. Make it easy for the editor/agent to know what the major genre is.

--Length of manuscript. Round to the closest 100 or 1000 words.

--(optional) Alternate titles. Expect your publisher to change your title…

PSYCHOLOGY FOR SCREENWRITERS by William Indick

Image
Psychology for Screenwriters by William Indick

From the back cover:

To make their stories come alive, screenwriters must understand human behavior. Using this book, writers can make Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, and Joseph Campbell their writing partners. Psychology for Screenwriters helps scribes craft psychologically resonant characters and conflict. You’ll learn to create convincing motivation, believable identity and development, and archetypes that produce authentic screen moments.

Camy here:

It might be because I majored in Psychology in college, but I thought this book was one of the more fascinating writing books I’ve read this year.

This book was most useful to me to explain the concept of archetypes and dramatic situations—why there only seem to be a limited number of them that are used often in drama and novels, why they’re important, the psychological theories behind them that explain their power over an audience or a reader.

As writers, we’ve read about …

Dialogue—back and forth

One thing I see often in the entries I judge in contests is long passages of dialogue.

And why not? Jane Austen got away with it. Historical romance writers—even the current best-selling ones—have long paragraphs of one person talking.

Granted, historical novels have a completely different atmosphere that’s more conducive to long stints of dialogue, but let’s face it, folks—do YOUR friends like to hear you talk for that long without stopping?

Believable dialogue in contemporary fiction, especially, needs shorter passages and more back-and-forth between characters. One person says a sentence or two, the other person responds to what they said.

Historical fiction can have slightly longer passages, but big ole’ long honkin’ paragraphs might lose your reader’s attention.

Shorter passages of dialogue also serve to pick up the reading pace. Long passages of dialogue can become ponderous to the reader and stall the story flow.

Here’s an exercise that takes this to the extreme, but can help you to …

Why do I need to trim a synopsis?

I probably should have run this post when I started my short series on cutting a synopsis. (Click on "Synopsis" on the sidebar to see all my synopsis posts.)

While I haven’t talked to every editor and agent on the planet, the majority of the ones I’ve spoken to prefer a 2-3 page synopsis.

However, every editor is different. One editor will want a one-page synopsis, another will want an extensive chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

In my experience, it’s usually better to opt for the shorter synopsis when submitting a proposal. If they want a longer one, they usually specifically mention that they do.

Another reason to have a short synopsis handy: Writing contests often have you submit a short, 1-2 page synopsis with your entry.

Here’s a little tip: when querying a novel, it doesn’t hurt to slip a one-page synopsis in with your one-page query letter. And it doesn’t cost any more in postage.

Also, when submitting a partial manuscript or a proposal (only at the editor’s request, of course)…

Picking an agent #9—Ask around

If you don’t have a chance to go to a conference and meet the agent face-to-face, or if the agent doesn’t attend the conference(s) you go to, then ask other writers about their agents.

If you belong to an online writers group, ask them to e-mail you privately about their agents. Ask about communication styles and work ethics. Ask them about their relationships, how the agent works, etc.

Also, tell them you’ll keep all their information completely confidential.

Another good idea is something a published author did (I want to say Rene Gutteridge did this, but I’m not positive)—she contacted several editors and asked them to give her the top three agents they enjoy working with. That way the editors aren’t put on the spot about any particular agent.

Picking an agent #8—Communication

All agents have different communication styles.

Some agents are more minimalistic—short, to-the-point e-mails, and not very frequent. Some of them don’t mind if you contact them often, they just won’t contact you back as much. Other agents, however, prefer minimal contact from you, as well. For some people, this type of minimal-communication agent is what they prefer—they don’t want to be bombarded by information they don’t really need, they just need an agent who will work in the background for them.

Other agents are more in contact with their clients. They e-mail and/or call frequently, and welcome reciprocal contact from clients.

Since I am a more chatty person, my agent is the latter. That simply meshes with my personality—it’s an individual choice.

For you, figure out what kind of communication the agent has. Ask questions. Give hypothetical scenarios.

“How often will you contact me in a typical week?”
“Once you send the manuscript to editors, how often will you contact me? What will y…

Picking an agent #7—Bad agents

Randy Ingermanson wrote an excellent article about bad agents in his Advanced Fiction Writing Ezine:

.PDF file

text file

No agent is much better than having a bad agent. At best, a bad agent will not push your manuscripts promptly and will waste your time. At worst, a scammer will take your money and ruin your chances with publishers through reprehensible business practices.

Anyone can print up a business card and call themselves an agent, whether they have any experience or connections with editors and the industry or not.

Don’t go with any agent who charges a reading fee or sends you to a specific book doctor or editing company.

Check that the agent is a member of the AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives). Members are required to adhere to their Canon of Ethics, which prohibits scammers.

Picking an agent #6—Multiple submissions?

Many writers worry about sending queries or proposals to several agents at once.

First of all, if you received these submission requests at a conference, it’s understood that you might have multiple requests and therefore multiple submissions.

It’s also fine to send multiple queries to multiple agents, however you should check the agent’s website to see what his/her policy is on multiple submissions. Some agents discourage it. Some agents don’t care.

Whether you have multiple submission requests from an conference or you’re just sending multiple queries to agents, in your cover letter or query letter, let the agent know that your manuscript has been submitted to other agents. It’s a common professional courtesy. Do NOT skip this bit of communication.

If an agent requests a partial manuscript or a full manuscript, e-mail or write to the other agents you submitted to and let them know such-and-such agent has requested the partial (or full). It might garner more interest in your writing, it …

Picking an agent #5—How to know if they’re interested?

For some houses like Heartsong Presents and Steeple Hill, a writer doesn’t need an agent to sell to them. Some writers who have targeted those houses worry an agent is just taking them on for an easy sale.

As a writer, you can tell if an agent is truly interested in you and your writing. Did they read your manuscript? Offer suggestions or feedback? Do they plan which specific editors to send it to because they know the editors’ specific tastes? Do they communicate with you quickly and consistently? Is their communication thorough?

And for goodness’ sake, if an agent requests your proposal or your full manuscript, SEND IT! They don’t have time to request those things if they aren’t genuinely interested in your story idea. It’s not like they have nothing to do but log in manuscripts and then send a rejection letter. They have a lot of other things taking up their time, and they’re not going to waste any of it by asking you to send something they intend to reject later.

Picking an agent #4—location?

Some authors insist that agents reside in New York so they have more opportunities for face-to-face time with editors in New York. I can see the logic of that.

So what about if your agent lives in California? Or Colorado?

It depends on which publishers you are targeting.

Let me say that again: It depends on which publishers you are targeting.

Not all publishers are in New York. This is especially true for CBA publishers. If you are targeting Bethany House, they’re in Minnesota. If you’re targeting FaithWords, they’re in Tennessee. If you’re targeting Zondervan, they’re in Michigan.

My agent lives in California, which is terrific because I can meet with her every so often. She flies to visit publishing houses every year, and she has connections with all of them that she encourages by attending various conferences.

She is the primary reason Zondervan bought my chick-lit series, because of her connection with the Zondervan editor.

So . . . New York? In my opinion, not necessarily. However, it i…

Picking an agent #3—To brand or not to brand

I’m going to flash around the b-word, so if you’re easily offended, skip this post.

Some writers agree with branding, some don’t. Some writers like finding a marketing niche, others feel it hampers their creativity.

There’s nothing wrong with either opinion, but your agent should agree with whatever your opinion is.

Some agents are heavily into branding. They not only pitch your manuscript, they’re pitching your brand, you as the writer. They’re pitching you so that the house will take you on and develop you as an author with that particular flavor of writing.

Some agents are more open to writers who want to branch out into different areas. They encourage creativity, no matter where that may take the writer. They can recognize good writing and push whatever genre manuscripts their authors put out.

There is nothing wrong with either side. But you as the author should decide which type of agent you want to target. That’s why reading their online interviews or listening to workshops on CD or …

Picking an agent #2—Do you like them?

This might seem like a dumb question, but think about it—here is your chance to choose who you get to work with. You want someone you get along with and who has the same work ethic as you do. You won’t necessarily be buddies, but you want to at least be happy to talk to them.

That’s why it’s good to research the agents you query. Read online interviews or buy CDs from conferences of workshops the agent gave, or agent panels the agent was on.

If you can afford it, go to conferences to meet them and talk to them. They don’t bite. Just get to know them, even if you don’t have anything to pitch to them.

You will get a good feel for who you’d like to work for, and which agent has the same types of goals you do in terms of career.

Picking an agent #1—FINISH THE MANUSCRIPT

Yes, I’m shouting.

Before I go into some tips on how to pick an agent (and possibly receive an offer of representation), I want to point out this very important part of the submission process.

For some people, this is a no-brainer, but I’m always amazed at people who’ve never heard this piece of advice.

Before you query that agent (or editor, for that matter), finish the manuscript. There are TONS of writers who never finish that first manuscript, and agents know this. Therefore, if they are interested in your story, they are going to want to see the full, completed manuscript.

For one, they want to know you finished it.

For two, they want to know if you can sustain your brilliance in the first chapter throughout the rest of the book. Many novels sag in the middle because the writer loses steam. If that’s the case with your manuscript, it’s not ready to submit. Period.

You want that manuscript ready to go if they come back with a manuscript request. You won’t want to make them wait for a fe…

Queries--If it's not relevant, cut it

This is a tip similar to writing synopses--if the sentence is not relevant, then get rid of it.

Each sentence, each nugget of information should pertain to:

--The main storyline. Typically, the story blurb doesn't take more than 1-3 paragraphs.

--The main protagonists. The villain only if he/she is a very major character.

--The characters' spiritual or emotional arcs, and the epiphany or realization at the end/climax. I'm not talking sentence after sentence. One sentence or phrase at the beginning about each character's emotional conflict, and (optional) one near the end about what he/she learns or realizes.

--The characters' external goals and the major obstacles against those goals. Notice I said major obstacles. Leave the minor stuff out. Again, just a sentence or phrase about the characters' external goals.

--An issue dealt with in the book. Say your heroine is an abuse victim. Then any information pertaining to that might be useful. However, don't go overboa…

Queries—basic structure

Not all query letters are set up this way, but here's a quick and dirty skeleton structure:

Date (I usually put September 13th, 2006 to make it look nicer)

For editors:
Name, title, house, address
or
For agents:
Name, agency, address

Greeting (make sure you address the person by name—for example, Dear Ms. Lawton)

First paragraph. Some people start with a hook, some people start with the info line. It's up to you, although I have heard of some editors/agents who detest the hook opener, so I usually play it safe and start with the info line.
I am excited to present my novel, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a completed 45,000 word Inspirational Christmas romance set in San Jose, California.

Story blurb. Typically they're one to two paragraphs long, and they can be similar to back cover blurb.
Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins, so she …

Queries—story blurbs

In a query, your story blurb will either hook the editor or not. Here are some pointers.

1) Try to write it in the tone or voice of the novel. If your manuscript is a romantic comedy, make the blurb sound fun and flirty. If your novel is a dark thriller, make the blurb sound sinister and exciting.

2) It should name the main protagonists. The villain can also be named if he/she is a major protagonist.

3) The main protagonists' external goals should be clear.

4) There should be some hint of the major obstacle(s) in the protagonists' way.

5) A nice touch is to add a little info on the main protagonists' internal or spiritual conflicts.

6) Unlike a synopsis, you do not need to give away the ending, but you may if you prefer.

Example:

Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall…

Query examples from Agent Kristin Nelson

Literary agent Kristin Nelson posted on her blog a few examples of query letters that caught her attention.

Shanna Swendson
Jennifer O’Connell
Becky Motew
Jana DeLeon
Lisa Shearin

Synopsis writing – spiritual arc/internal conflict

An editor will want to know how your character changes over the course of the book, so it’s important to include the character’s spiritual arc or arc of internal conflict.

It’s pretty simple. In the first paragraph or two, mention the character’s flaw, or spiritual struggle, or internal conflict.

Mary has given up on God and blames Him for her parents’ death.

Josh has always felt a need to control the people in his life, influencing their decisions. After all, it’s for their own good.

In the middle, show how the characters are coming to realize that their spiritual/internal state is wrong.

Mary is intrigued by Alice’s strong faith despite the horrible things that have happened to her. Mary rethinks her lost faith in the face of Alice’s unwavering trust in God and assertion that she has no business questioning what God has allowed.

Josh is shocked at his brother’s outburst, and wonders if it’s true that he’s trying to control his family like a set of tin soldiers.


In the climax, show how the …

Synopsis writing--voice

While a synopsis is usually not your best writing, and a synopsis is all telling and no showing, you should nevertheless try to make the synopsis sound like your writer's voice and the tone of the story.

If your story is poignant, try to make the synopsis sound that way. If your writer's voice is uniquely quirky and the story is, too, try to get that into the synopsis.

Risa Takayama has no social life because she's thrown all her energies into her wedding accessories shop in the mall. Unconventional, rebellious Risa hates the numerous family gatherings because her aunts tweak her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other.

vs.

Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins with their Ken sidekicks, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall, All the Trimmings. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for …

Tip#10 to trim a synopsis—eliminate extraneous nouns and verbs

There are some places where certain types of nouns and verbs can be eliminated entirely. Things like "He realizes", "She understands that," "He hears her say," "She sees him."

He follows her. He sees her enter the hotel.
vs.
He follows her. She enters the hotel.

He reads the family Bible. He discovers that Sally is his cousin.
vs.
He reads the family Bible. Sally is his cousin.

His reaction opens her eyes. She realizes she's always been in love with him.
vs.
His reaction opens her eyes. She's always been in love with him.

However, be aware that sometimes, these verbs can't be eliminated, so don't beat yourself up if you can't do it:

They fight. She realizes she's always been in love with him.
vs.
They fight. She's always been in love with him. (doesn't make sense)

Tip#9 to trim a synopsis—change nouns and verbs

This is similar to tip #8. Sometimes you can substitute a different noun or verb that's a little shorter than what you have. Because the format is typically left justified, even one less letter in the sentence can be enough to eliminate a line (see tip #7 about getting rid of short lines).

He sneaks up to the house.
vs.
He creeps to the house.

He needs to stay out of her way.
vs.
He needs to avoid her.

She leaves her job.
vs.
She quits.

Tip#8 to trim a synopsis—cut modifiers

Adjectives and adverbs are usually the easiest to cull from a synopsis. Sometimes you don't even need to change the noun or verb. Other times, a stronger noun or verb is needed.

She determines to win without interference from her meddling friends.
vs.
She determines to win without interference from her friends.

He is physically attracted to her.
vs.
He is attracted to her.
or
He lusts after her.

Tip#7 to trim a synopsis—get rid of a short line

When you're down to only a few lines to go until your target page number, look for any paragraphs that end with a partial line, such as the example below:

Sports-crazy Lex Sakai isn’t too worried about
shouldering the unofficial family title “Oldest Single
Female Cousin” when her cousin Mariko marries in
a few months. Her control-freak grandma nags her
about her lack of man, but it’s easy to ignore—until
Grandma bellows at her in the middle of a
restaurant that Lex can’t get a guy because she
needs breast implants. Bristling at the challenge,
Lex insists there’s nothing wrong with
her—Grandma says to prove it. If Lex can’t find a
boyfriend by Mariko’s wedding in June, her ruthless
Grandma will cut off funding to the girls’ volleyball
team that Lex coaches. And pay for breast
implants. (14 lines)

Cut words here and there in the paragraph until that last line disappears.

Sports-crazy Lex Sakai isn’t worried about
shouldering the unofficial family title “Oldest Single
Female Cousin” when …

Are editors/agents even reading my synopsis?

Some editors and agents have admitted they don't read the synopsis when your proposal or manuscript hits their desk. So if that's the case, why even bother to invest so much time into it?

The truth is that some editors and agents do read your synopsis. And if it gets taken to editorial committee, it's likely that the VP of Sales or the VP of Marketing will read your synopsis, not your manuscript. They're looking at the marketability of the book.

The synopsis is important to let them know several things:

1) The characters are likable, with faults and flaws
2) The characters learn something on a spiritual level by the end of the book, with a solid spiritual takeaway for the reader.
3) There is definite rising tension and various obstacles in the middle of the book
4) There is an exciting climax where the reader roots for the character
5) There is a satisfying ending.
6) There is an issue or theme that would appeal to readers and which can be marketed, but which isn't preachy…

Tip#6 to trim a synopsis—character names

Don’t mention a character by name unless they appear more than twice in the synopsis AND each appearance is vital to the plot. Mentioning too many names can be not only confusing, it can lengthen your synopsis. Refer to the minor character as “her neighbor” or “his old flame.”

Tip#5 to trim a synopsis—action

Don’t describe the characters’ every action unless that action directly influences the main plot:

She kicks the villain’s kneecap and runs outside. She tries to start the car, but it won’t turn over. The villain comes closer. Finally the car starts and she guns out of the driveway.

Versus

She escapes.

Be especially wary of verbosity in the ending of the synopsis:

He grabs her to force her to look at him. He tells her he loves her and can’t live without her. He’d held back while he thought she still loved his brother, but he’s done with the safe path. He can’t hold it in any longer and risks telling her how he feels. She tells him she loves him, too, and they share a passionate kiss. He asks her to marry him, and she answers yes. In the epilogue, they are married from his yacht before sailing off to Bermuda for their honeymoon.

Versus

They confess their love to each other and marry.

The editor or agent does not need a blow-by-blow version of your emotional or climactic scenes, because they are…

Tip#4 to trim a synopsis—relevance

Cut absolutely anything that does not have direct impact on the main storyline. Be ruthless.

Don’t leave things in because they pertain to a subplot.

Don’t go off for too long (more than a few sentences) on a red herring.

Don’t include character backstory that doesn’t absolutely need to be there in order to explain the main plot.

Don’t describe characters’ physical features unless it’s a vital element to the story (such as the hero mistakes a red-head for the heroine).

Tip#3 to trim a synopsis—eliminate subplots

Cut out any mention of the subplot. Be ruthless. Even if the subplot gives a bit of depth to the hero because it tells the reader about his life as a drug runner in Brazil, if it doesn’t directly impact the main plotline of saving the heroine’s ranch, don’t include it.

Some subplots do influence the main plot near the end of the book. Here you have a couple choices:

1) Pare down the mention of the subplot to the absolute minimum needed for the ending to make sense. Maybe a sentence in the beginning of the synopsis, and then a sentence at the end when it impacts the main plot.

2) Eliminate mention of the subplot completely and insert something near the end to make the ending make sense.

Don’t do more than that for subplots if you can absolutely help it.

Tip#2 to trim a synopsis—repetition

Eliminate any repetition. If you mention something once—say the hero left the heroine five years ago—don’t mention it again. For example:

After a five year absence, Ronald McDonald returns to Birdy’s life . . .

A paragraph later:

A different man than he was five years ago, Ronald is still in love with Birdy . . .

Don’t mention the five years again. Cut it: Now more spiritually mature, Ronald is still in love with Birdy . . .

(Thanks to Dineen Miller for the idea of this example)

Tip#1 to trim a synopsis—formatting

Check your formatting. Make sure all your margins are 1 inch. Make your header ½ inch from the top.

Make your header only one line with the manuscript title, the word “synopsis,” and your last name (e-mail address optional) on the left side, and then the page number (optional) on the right side. It’ll look something like this:

BRILLIANT NOVEL/Synopsis/Tang 1

You don’t have to put the word “Synopsis” at the top of the actual text. Just start the synopsis text.

Another quick tip for how to write a synopsis

Randy Ingermanson has a famous (or infamous) “Snowflake” method of plotting that I use to write synopses.

Now don’t have a coronary. It’s actually very easy, and I only use a couple of the 10 steps in the Snowflake method.

I do step two (but read step one to know what he’s talking about), then step four. That’s it. I end up with a one or two page synopsis.

For a longer synopsis, I do step six, which gives me a synopsis anywhere from 4-11 pages.

Articles?

Sometimes people insist that fiction writers should start by writing non-fiction articles first. Some have even insisted they build up their article repertoire before starting on their novel.

I don’t agree. Fiction is a different fish.

Don’t get me wrong, article-writing is good, especially to collect clips and build your writer’s resume. But articles should directly pertain to your brand, genre, or the theme or issue in your novel. That way the clips have weight and meaning when you include them in your bio in a query letter.

If your novel is a deep women’s fiction piece on alcoholism, and you have clips of articles you’ve written on alcoholism in e-zines or print magazines, an editor will feel you’re qualified to write that novel.

If you only have articles on fly-fishing or parenting toddlers, the editor will wonder what that has to do with your novel.

And don’t delay on starting that novel! If you do, it might never happen.

Quick tip for how to write a synopsis

This is a really quick, easy way to write your synopsis. This is especially easy if you only need to write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, which calls for only a few sentences for each chapter.

Go through your manuscript and write one sentence for each scene. If the scene is long, write a couple sentences.

Any significant spiritual or internal conflicts should be included, as well as major plot points, red herrings, symbolism, etc.

That’s it. Go through your entire manuscript. This should give you a synopsis of about 6-10 pages single-spaced.

From here, you cut your synopsis down to whatever length it needs to be.

What’s a chapter-by-chapter synopsis?

Some editors or agents ask for a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Not all of them do, so don’t automatically assume you need one.

However, it’s the easiest type of synopsis to write, in my opinion. It’s simply a list of each chapter number, and then a couple sentences describing what happens in the chapter.

Any significant spiritual or internal conflicts should be included, as well as major plot points, red herrings, symbolism, etc. The chapter-by-chapter synopsis will take the reader on a shortened version of the same ride you’ll give your novel reader, so include the dead ends and frustrations and obstacles that beset your characters.

Each major character should be named, and minor characters can also be named if they have a significant impact on the storyline. However, peripheral characters shouldn’t be named in a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.

I usually write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis first, then cut that down to a 1-2 page synopsis which I use for my proposals. Most proposals call for…

Pitching to agents and editors at conferences

I'm not a natural extrovert, but I force myself to be one at conferences in order to meet writers, editors and agents. I want to present a professional demeanor and make a good impression.

That's kind of hard to do when my mouth has suddenly become the Mojave desert and my legs have rooted through my Nine Wests into the floor.

These are tips for when you’re at a group meet-and-greet, or standing in the hallway, or waiting in line—any informal setting when you spot an editor/agent you’d like to talk to.

Smile

Go on, force your mouth to stretch out and up. From my psychology classes, I know that just the action will make you feel better and help you relax.

Buddy up

There's nothing wrong with asking a friend to walk with you as you approach Agent X. Agents and editors are not monsters, nor do they bite. Many of them are not extroverts, either. They understand the nervousness of meeting someone new, especially if it's someone you WANT to meet. Your buddy doesn't have to do m…

First person or third?

Synopses are traditionally in third person, but these days, there are a few in first person. It’s a matter of risk. Some editors or agents would be intrigued by a well-written synopsis in first person. Others would be turned off by it, and there’s no way of knowing what type of person will read your proposal.

I personally believe in the safer route and would suggest that unpublished writers write their synopses in third person. However, there are success stories of some writers who landed a book contract with a synopsis in first person, so it’s not unheard of.

The choice—and the risk—is yours as the writer. In this, get the opinions of your friends and other experienced and published writers. Have them look at your synopses to tell you which is better written, catchier, tighter. Ultimately, however, you will have to decide if you’d like to risk a first person synopsis or not.

The Story Sensei - raising prices

Have your novel critiqued in August! Prices for the Story Sensei will increase as of September 1st. All you fabulous writers have until then if you’d like to have your manuscript critiqued at the old prices.

Go here for more information on my services.

Novel Manuscript Format for CBA Publishers

Novel Manuscript Format for CBA Publishers

Things are a bit different between Christian publishers and mainstream publishers, so this article will mostly address the fiction guidelines of the major CBA publishers and agents. (Non-fiction guidelines may differ.)

The following instructions for changing the formatting of your electronic document is for Microsoft Word versions older than 2007. I'm not familiar with Word Perfect or Word 2007, unfortunately, so in order to change your settings to the formatting mentioned below, you will need to do a website search for instructions (for example, you can Google “How to set margins in Word 2007”). Most publishing houses use Microsoft Word, whether the older versions or 2007.

Printer: Use a good printer. Avoid dot-matrix printers entirely. If you do not own a printer, your pages can be printed out at your local print shop or office supply store for a modest price if you bring your document to them on a disk or CD.

Paper: Should be good qual…

Winners of the Story Sensei Summer Sale!

Drumroll, please . . .

BookWritingBlog
and
Caroleah

Congratulations!

Each winner received:

One free synopsis critique (up to 10 single-spaced pages)
AND
A coupon for 25% off any service (synopsis, query letter, or manuscript critique, full or partial manuscript)

Mucho thanks to everyone who entered! If you entered but you haven’t yet gotten your 10% off coupon, please e-mail me at camy [at] camytang.com.

All 10% off coupons are good toward any service, and they expire on December 31st, 2006.

I'll be holding another contest/sale in December or January, so stay tuned!

Story Sensei Summer Sale!

A writers’ summer event!

From now until July 15th, I will be holding a fabulous contest for my Story Sensei critique service.

I will draw the names of TWO lucky winners! They will each receive:

A free synopsis critique – up to 10 pages single-spaced, a $40 value!

AND

A coupon for 25% OFF any manuscript critique – whether full or partial manuscript, any number of words. For a 100,000 word manuscript, that’s a savings of $250!

In addition, EVERYONE WHO ENTERS will receive a 10% OFF coupon for any service, whether synopsis, query letter, or manuscript critique (full or partial). For a 100,000 word manuscript, that’s a savings of $100, just for entering.

Just post a comment on this Story Sensei blog to enter!

Make sure you leave some way for me to contact you—whether e-mail, website address, or blog address. If leaving an e-mail, please use this format:
you [at] youremail.com

International writers are welcome to enter, but must either use electronic submissions or pay for postage both ways.

Hurry!…