Wednesday, October 20, 2010

National Day on Writing

Today, October 20th, 2010, is the 2nd Annual National Day on Writing. Didn't know there was a National Day for writing? Me either. Until another writer friend pointed it out.

So, what should we do today?

Write something special! 

I, for one, am actually planning on sitting at my computer and...get this - writing something! I know, shocker. Lately writing has been something my heart yearns for but my reality says "wait until tomorrow". Well guess what? Tomorrow never comes! So I'm writing today.

You don't have to be a novelist to take advantage of todays National Day on Writing. Write a letter (or even email) to a friend or loved one. Write an article for a local newspaper or magazine. Write in your journal. Pretend you just won a Nobel Peace Prize and write an acceptance speech. 

If  you want to learn more about the National Day on Writing, visit the NCTE website.

Go. Write. Enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pitching Your Book

First you write.
Then you re-write.
Maybe multiple times each.

But at some point, if you want to get published, you're going to have to present your book to an agent (or publisher).

You can write a query letter *shudder*, and wait to hear back, or you can try an in-person pitch.

These pitch sessions are available at most writing conferences. You pay to have a small window of time with an agent, in which you tell them about your book. At the end of your pitch session, you just might (crossing fingers!) be invited to send in your entire manuscript. But you only have 10 minutes (usually), so you've got to make it good.


My final class at the Book Academy conference covered how to do it. Author and presenter Julie Wright has five published books, including Cross My Heart, which was just released this month. She is also an editor at Precision Editing Group.

Be Prepared!
  • Finish the Book!
  • Do NOT turn in your First Draft! Remember, this is essentially a competition. You're trying to convince them why your story is better then everyone else's.
  • Have alpha readers read your book first. (Alpha, or beta, readers are just people. Have other people read it. Readers, writers, ect. Get their feedback. Fix the problems they point out.)
  • Taylor your pitch to the person your pitching to. Know what kind of books they invest in.
  • Practice Out-Loud! Don't ramble or stutter.
  • Don't forget about hygiene. Seriously? Be presentable. Brush your teeth. Eat a mint.
What to Cover:
  • Character. Who is your hero and what does he want? What is at stake?
  • Conflict. What keeps your hero from getting what he wants?
  • Setting. Insure your setting, or at least your genre, is obvious.
  • Action. Your hook-line needs to promise excitement.

Figure out how to describe your book in three sentences or less, using the four areas above.

What? Only three sentences?

Yes. But you can do it. You're a writer!

The Pitch Session:

  • Be comfortable selling yourself. Don't sell yourself short.
  • Be confident. But not cocky!
  • Don't talk bad about other authors.
  • Prove that you are different.
  • Don't get defensive.
  • Don't be hard to work with.

Four ways to be an editor's favorite author:
1. Write well.
2. Don't be a jerk.
3. Don't be a jerk.
4. PLEASE, don't be a jerk.

  • Don't forget about hygiene. Seriously? Be presentable. Brush your teeth. Eat a mint. (I know, I put this above too. But it's pretty important!)
  • End the right way. Don't overstay your appointment.
  • Get their business card.
  • If they ask for your manuscript, submit it! And when you do, remind them that you've met.
Okay, if you're anything like me, you might be feeling more intimidated about pitching your book then you were before you read this post. But that's okay. At least you'll be prepared!

Courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway!

Thanks to all the presenters at this conference, for allowing me to blog about their classes. I learned a lot, and hope someone learned something from these posts!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Self Editing

Heather B. Moore is the award-winning author of several historical fiction novels which are set in Ancient Arabia and Mesoamerica (Book Of Mormon fiction). She also has a non-fiction book called Women of the Book Of Mormon.

Heather is the owner of Precision Editing Group, and contributes to The Writing on the Wall blog. She's one busy lady. But she also knows her stuff!

I took her class on Self Editing at The Book Academy Conference.

Did you know that non-fiction sells better than fiction? I had heard that before, but kind of forgot about it. So, if your passion is in fiction, keep at it. But if you have a nonfiction idea, you may want to get serious about writing it!

Heather outlined what to do after the first draft is done.

By the First Draft Stage you should have:
  • Selected your genre and studied your target market.
  • Selected POV
  • Researched word count for genre. The first draft should be aimed for about 5,000 words under target.
After you finish the first draft,

Take a Break!

Whether this means leaving it alone for the weekend or for a month, a break is needed so you can use fresh eyes.

Now, on to the Second Draft:

Are your hooks in place?
  1. First sentence/paragraph.
  2. End of first chapter.
  3. Why should we read to the end of the book?
Dialogue Tags:
  • Use Said! (Most of the time at least.)
  • Use "he said" not "said he"
  • Delete adverbs! "She said excitedly" "She said sadly" "She said rudely"
  • Know how to use a beat. That way you can delete some of the dialogue tags all together.
He moved the chair. "Come and sit with me."

(He moved the chair is the beat. We know "he" is the one who said "come sit with me", without being told.)

  • Don't have characters repeat what has already been said. This happens a lot in introductions.
  • Do a search for "favorite words" and see if you can change some of them.
  • Be careful about overused words. Felt, saw, knew, could, that, then, ect.
  • Be careful with name calling:
"Hello Jenny, how are you?"
"I'm fine, Sara. How about you?"
"I'm doing great Jenny. Thanks for asking"
"So, Sara, do you want to grab some lunch?"
"Oh yes, Jenny. Lunch sounds wonderful."

(Lots of repetitions, lots of name calling. Yikes!)

  • Exclamation points should be used sparingly!!!!! When the person is yelling is about the only time to use them.
  • Know the basic rules of commas. (What? There are rules for commas? I thought you should just put one in every time your fingers took a break on the keyboard. Whoops! I better learn those rules!!!!) (There I go breaking the exclamation point rule again. Man!)
Power Positions and Verbs:
  • Single word sentences are okay for impact. Seriously. (But don't overuse them!)
  • Look for more accurate verbs to bring in stronger meaning.
Walked: sauntered, strolled, ambled, paced, marched, ect.
  • Flag adverbs (ly). Take out of dialogue tags completely. Find stronger verbs, so you can delete the adverb.
Instead of saying "She walked anxiously" you could say "She paced".
  • Pay attention to the use of "was" and "were". Avoid them when possible.
  • Use spell checker.
  • Have your facts straight, based on time, period, and setting. See Research Post.
  • Actions must be physically possible.
  • Use dialect lightly or it will slow the pacing (accents/ foreign language, ect.).
Point Of View (POV):
  • Choose the person with the most to loose (in that scene).
  • Watch for info dumps.
  • Is there sagging middle of the book?
  • Do you need more conflict?
  • Make sure the overall hook is strong enough.
  • Are you excited to be reading your own story? (If not, no one else will be!)
  • Every scene must move the story forward.
Sense of Place:
  • Where are we?
  • Establish setting for each scene.
  • What are the characters doing as they talk?
End-of-Chapter Hooks:
  • Read each chapter end, separate from the rest of the chapter. Does it make you want to keep reading?

Okay, now to finish my first draft so I can start applying some of these!

Thanks to Heather, for dedicating so much time to help teach the rest of us what to do! If you haven't checked out her editors blog, do it now. You'll find help on every topic you can imagine, within the writing world.

Next up: Pitching your book. (I'm scared already!)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Know What You Write

We've all heard the saying, "Write What You Know", but this one's a little different. You don't have to write what you know, as long as you know what you write. And how do you do that?


The Book Academy Writing Conference presenter Sarah M. Eden talk all about it. Sarah's the author of several romance novels based in London in the Regency Era (her most recent is Courting Miss Lancaster). Since Sarah has neither been to London, nor has she lived in the early eighteen-hundreds, she had to resort to the painstakingly grueling job of doing research. Lucky for her, and us, she loves it, and even majored in it.

Doing research can be boring. It can be intimidating. We tend to procrastinate doing it, so we can spend our time on something fun. But we have to do it.

Feel the Research Love:
  • Every book of fiction requires some research. EVERY SINGLE ONE!
  • Don't give your readers a reason to hate you, by getting things wrong.
  • You don't want to look like an idiot (who does?).
  • While researching, you just might come across ideas for another book!
Foundational Research provides background and backbone of the setting, characterization, historical/cultural content.
  • language and wording
  • knowledge base of characters
  • words they would/would not use
  • philosophies
  • world views
  • demographics
  • geography
  • feel and time of place
Itemized Research provides specifics.
  • order/location of events
  • dates/times
  • disease/injuries/treatments
  • specific procedures
  • account of events
There are two types of SOURCES.

Primary Sources (more reliable):
  • provide firsthand accounts/info
  • this includes videos and photographs
Secondary Sources (less reliable):
  • these are at least one step removed
  • textbooks, someone who heard the story, history books
When thinking about using material you found, consider a few things.
  • Read about the author. Are they qualified to teach you?
  • Look at the bibliography. It needs to site more reliable (Primary) sources.
  • Can you back it up? Find it in at least 2 different places.
Be careful about what you use from the internet.
  • digitized libraries
  • websites run by museums, libraries, special-interest organizations
  • copyrights and citations are often ignored
  • no guarantee of accuracy
If there was one thing that Sarah wanted us to remember at the end of the class, I think it would be this:

Wikipedia is NOT a source. EVER!
(seriously, she made us repeat this out loud!)

Wikipedia is a great starting place. Don't stop there!

Tips of the Trade

Plan ahead. Decide before you start what you want to know, why, where you plan to look for it.
Set aside time for researching! The research may change the outcome of the story.
Learn (from primary sources) how the people feel about what they see. Emotionally connect, so your readers will too.
Ask People who are experts on the topic you're researching.
Keep a File or resources you used in the past. Chances are good that you'll need them again.

Sarah promised that if you do your research:

Your work will improve. Guaranteed!
(Now, who doesn't want that?)

So go, research what you've been avoiding for the past six months. (I'm talking to you Kim!)

Next up: Self Editing

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Can't Make You Be Funny!

The Book Academy Conference, continued...

Immediately following Brandon Mull's Keynote address, in which I decided I need to add more comedy to my writing, I stepped into Becca Wilhite's class. Let me tell you, she is adorable. And funny. And adorable (did I already say that?). I found myself suddenly wanting to cut my hair just like hers. That's how adorable she is.

She walked into the room with a burst of energy I can only dream about. And I do - dream about it, that is.

Becca is the author of two books (with more to come). Her first is Bright Blue Miracle, and her second is My Ridiculous, Romanic Obsessions. I have to admit that I hadn't read either of these before the class, but after meeting Becca, and seeing her personality and sense of humor, I've added them to my "To Read" list. Check out her website here.

Okay, onto the class notes.

The first thing Becca said when she walked into the room was:

"If you're not funny, I can't make you be funny."

We all laughed, and she announced that because we had, she could teach us how to use our funniness (my word, not hers. I'm not sure if is really is a word).

First thing? Read funny books! (Do you see a pattern here? Writers have to read!)

She identified Three Kinds of Humor:

  1. Silly
  2. Sincere
  3. Sophisticated
Silly humor is things like puns. She used the movie Shrek as an example.

Sincere humor is everyday funny.

Sophisticated humor is a little more complicated. First, she said you are required to be British to pull it off. (Jane Austen, for example.) This type of humor is intellectually demanding. You have to understand the back story to understand the humor. No one-liners here.

Testing your humor:
Not sure if your stuff is really funny? Test it by having three different people read it out loud to you. Not just any three people though. Becca provided a formula to make sure you cover all the basis.

Person number one: Someone who reads like you.
Person number two: Someone in your target audience.
Person number three: Someone with no sense of humor.

After listening to all three, you will have a better feel for how it reads. Did they understand? Did they laugh? Did they stare at you like you're an idiot? (That might be okay if person number three is the one staring. But on a personal note, I think you need to find someone who is more fun to hang out with.)

Sometimes swear words are used for humor. Sometimes they work. (For me, most of the time they do not.) Whenever you are tempted to use swear words, think of them as cliches. And as writers we want to avoid cliches like the plague! (Did you get that, or are you a person number three?)

Lastly, make your story funny for different age groups. If your writing children's books, add something that the parent will laugh at. If it's for adults, don't forget to include humor that a teenager will get.

For example: One of my daughter's favorite movies is Toy Story 2. She loves the part at the very end, where Jessie skateboards down the loopty-loo ramp, flies across the room, and opens the door for the dog. Buzz Lightyear watches in amazed awe, and... (do you remember?).

She laughs every time. I laugh too, because she has absolutely no idea what it means. She's three. When she's older, I won't think its funny anymore.

Check back tomorrow to learn about Research! (Seriously, come back. It's not that bad. Every writer has to do it!)

Now go. Write something funny.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Write What You Love

The keynote speaker at last weeks writing conference, The Book Academy, was New York Times Best-selling author Brandon Mull. He wrote the Fablehaven series, The Candy Shop War, and has a new series coming out soon, called Beyonders.

Since he became an author, he's become many more things. He's become a public speaker, a teacher, a reading advocate, an entrepreneur. He's in marketing. He's also a professional "liar", although he corrected himself and changed it to an illusionist. And maybe worst of all, he's become a murderer. He says it's amazing how many people come up to him disturbed, and demanding to know why he "killed so-and-so". I don't hold it against him.

Who knew that becoming an author meant doing so much more than just writing?

Brandon posed two questions that writers need to ask themselves.

First: What makes a story worth telling?

This is something inside you. You either have it, or you don't. You, the writer, has to love what you are writing. If it doesn't interest you, no one else will care either.
The Characters are the life of the story. The reader has to love (or hate) them. They can't just be there. We have to care! We need to get to know them. What do they do, how do they think? Show us their personality. Write characters you love!

What are the Relationships between your characters? Who are their friends? Family? Pets. What is the relationship between the "good guy" and the "bad guy"?

What kind of Trouble does your character get into? This is also called change/conflict, but Brandon likes the straightforwardness of the word trouble. There has to be trouble. There has to be conflict!

What Decisions will the character make? Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. But they have to make decisions. They have to figure things out for themselves.

What are the Consequences of their decisions? There has to be consequences. Our characters cannot always get a free ride. (That would be boring!)

The story does not happen with the words on the page.
The story happens inside the mind of the reader!

Second: What is the best way to tell your story?

This is technique. Unlike the first question, where it resides inside of you, this can be learned. It's the rules of writing. It takes time. It takes effort.

Go to conferences. Join a critique group. Read books about writing. And maybe even more important than all of that:

Read a lot


Write a lot!

But the most important thing of all?

Write what you love!

During Brandon's speech I had to ask myself, what do I love to write? What do I love to read?

The answer?

I love to laugh. I love books that make me laugh right out loud.

Lucky for me, the workshop I attended immediately after the keynote speaker was about

Using Humor in Writing!

Check back tomorrow for that post.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Yesterday I attended the Book Academy writers conference. I suffered from a major sinus headache the entire day. It wouldn't go away! I tried to be social, to make conversation. Mostly, I failed. It's just not fun to be overly friendly when your head feels like exploding.

Besides my headache, I was freezing! Seriously, I couldn't keep the goose-bumps off my arms. I tried to suck it up, but caved while eating a cold (but delicious) salad for lunch. Off to the bookstore I went. Maybe it's a conspiracy - between the conference committee and the bookstore manager - to keep the temperature down so low.

I wonder if anyone else had to spend their novel-buying book-money on a stop-the-shivering sweatshirt? I'm now the proud owner of a UVU zip-up hoodie. At least, because of a Back To School sale, I got a $40 souvenir for only $25!

But even with a couple of personal complications, I rate the conference a success!

It was just what I needed to recharge my muse. I learned some new things. I was reminded of some things I already knew. I met a few new people. I ran into one of my cousins (in the restroom, of all places!). I even approached someone from the virtual blogging world, and introduced myself (Hi Don!).

There is nothing quite like a writers conference to lift your spirits and get you re-motivated.

And just in time too! Today is the beginning of Tristi Pinkston's quarterly writing challenge. I SO need to do this. If you want to push yourself a little this month, check it out here.

Stay tuned for more posts about the wonderful things I learned!