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Monday, October 30, 2006

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 characters of your story don’t have anything to do with your social groups, don’t include them.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Writer Beware website and blog

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

There's also a highly informative blog.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

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.


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. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for any help in a while.

Three weeks before the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, her non-Christian brother makes a crazy deal—he’ll go to church with the family if she finds a date for the service. Risa can’t ask family friend Ben Higashi—the entire church knows rice would stop sticking before he’d be interested in her, so they’d assume she couldn’t find anyone else. Ben suggests the mall-sponsored Speed Dating, but when she uncovers a mall shoplifter mystery, can she discover both Mr. Right and the crook as her twelve dates turn into the Twelve Nightmares before Christmas?

Monday, October 23, 2006

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.

--Completion date. If it’s already completed, say so. It’s highly recommended for first-time novelists to wait until their manuscript is complete before submitting to agents and editors.

--Audience. Don’t say “everyone.” Give a specific demographic, but not too specific—i.e., 16-year-old females living in Little Rock, AR, with two sisters, a cat and a dog.

--Marketing plan. This doesn’t have to be extensive unless you want it to be. 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?

--(optional) Competitive Analysis/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.

--(optional) Chapter by chapter synopsis. Not all agents/editors will read this, but I usually include it just in case they want to see more detail about the way the plot and character arc unfolds. I wrote a short post on how to write one here.

Also don't be redundant. If you mentioned something in one area of the proposal, don't repeat it in another section.

Everything I learned about proposals is from Mary Griffith's online workshop "From Premise to Proposal," which is in the ACFW members' section in the workshop archives.

Friday, October 20, 2006


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 archetypes and the dramatic situations, we’ve learned about the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey. I never understood exactly why they were important, why they seemed to always work.

This book explains the psychological theories behind them so that I as a writer can better understand and craft my own stories for better emotional impact.

The psychological concepts are written in such a way that they’re easy to understand. The author covers several psychological theories because each tends to build on each other and each emphasizes a different aspect of human behavior. For example, Erikson and Jung’s theories are inspired by but differ from Freud, and the book explains how and why.

The author explains these psychological theories to help the writer better understand why certain archetypes and story structures resonate with the majority of audiences. For example, it was fascinating to me to discover why each character archetype shows up over and over in stories, and why each archetype has a tendency to evoke the kinds of emotions it does.

It was really neat to understand why the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey work successfully in film time and again despite the fact they seem “formulaic” in nature. Both journeys are broken down—not just the hero’s journey. The author explains why each step and why the journey as a whole resonates psychologically with people in general.

I especially liked the presentation of the Hero's Journey. Not having read Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I found that this book gave the Hero's Journey in excellent detail with good examples, so that I was able to apply the Journey to my own novel plotting.

The Heroine's Journey is well done as applied to archetypes and psychological principles, but I prefer the Heroine's Journey as described in detail in Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 Master Characters.

I thought the book gave many excellent examples from movies, and at the end of each chapter are very useful summary points and exercises the reader can apply to their own stories.

The book focuses on popular or commercial fiction, because the reason popular fiction is so “popular” is due to the psychological resonance of these archetypes and dramatic situations.

However, several of the concepts can also apply great power to literary fiction. By understanding archetypes, literary authors can turn characters and situations on their heads to evoke the different kind of emotional response they’re looking for. They can find ideas and methods to emphasize the reader’s emotions in more unique ways, which is what literary fiction is known for.

I don’t know if this book would be as useful to a beginning writer, but a higher-intermediate to advanced writer who has read several of the basic books about plot, structure, and character will be able to fully appreciate the different take on writing techniques in this book.

I believe that as writers, we should always be learning new things and understanding our craft in better ways. For me, this book did just that. I now have a much better understanding of characters and situations, and how to manipulate both for certain emotional responses.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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 break up any long passages of dialogue in your manuscript:

Take a scene of dialogue, any scene. Rewrite it so that each time a person speaks, they can only use A MAXIMUM OF FIVE WORDS. Then the other character has to respond before the first speaker can continue talking.

It’s fun, but it’s also a good way to show how shorter dialogue can make the reading pace a lot snappier and the story flow faster.

Monday, October 16, 2006

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), most standard proposals consist of a 2-3 page synopsis, not a chapter-by-chapter.

Sometimes you can include both a 2-page synopsis and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis in with the proposal, to give the editor his/her pick of whichever length they prefer. However, I put the chapter-by-chapter synopsis at the very end of the proposal, so that the editor/agent can choose not to read it if they don’t care to.

Friday, October 13, 2006

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.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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 you contact me about, and what will you not contact me about?”
“What is your preferred method of communication?”
“If I e-mail or call you, when can I expect you to e-mail or call me back?”

Monday, October 09, 2006

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.

Friday, October 06, 2006

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 might not.

If an agent offers representation, but you’d also like to see if the other agents you submitted to are interested, then e-mail, write, or call them. Let them know you submitted to them, but you’ve been offered representation by another agent. Ask them if they would they be willing to look over your submission and give you an answer before you respond to the other agent. Be polite.

The main thing is, make sure you are clear and consistent in your communication with all the agents you submit to or query.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

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.

Monday, October 02, 2006

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 is up to you.
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