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10 Minute Mentor: Learning How to Write

23 Apr

I was a member of RWA since the second I decided to start writing. Ok, the day after the second I decided to start writing. It’s a funny story. It’s on the blog somewhere and one day I’ll dredge it up again.

But, not the point.

The point is, as soon as I decided to start writing again, I joined one of the most reputable writers’ groups out there.

RWA immediately started giving me the tools I need to get to the next level (and helped me define “the next level”) as well as the support to get me there. I did a fast list once on what I got from RWA HERE. That’s the off the top of my head list, but you get the point.

I just started listening to the RWA 2011 conference MP3s. I thought there’d be a lot there for me to skip. I mean, I’ve heard it all before, right? It’s stuff I’ve learned. Those first, entry-level talks that I thought I could skip? Well, they’ve been gems. Amazing.

I find myself saying, I knew that. I knew that, right? a lot. Some of it I’m already doing and hadn’t realized it had become second nature. Some of it I’d started doing and forgotten. Some of it had never penetrated this thick skull of mine.

And so, as you grow, do not forget that no level is behind you. When you climb that ladder to the next level, every wrung you climb is held together by the one below it as much as the one above it. By looking back, you’re making a stronger base. By looking forward, you’re making a stronger plan.

You can’t move up without both.

Writing Your Query

16 Apr

This is often the last step before your manuscript goes out the door.

Let’s be honest, by the last step of anything you’re typically ready to be done with it. Because of this, when you hear people talk about query (and synopsis) writing, the conversation typically sounds more barrier focused than marketing focus.

And that’s exactly what your query is: The first step in your book marketing.

With the whole re-boot of the 10 Minute Mentor, one of the suggestions was to discuss query letters.

Last year I did a blog on the similarities between reading cover letters/resumes and query letters/partials. If you ever follow my twitter #getthejob hashtag, you know I’ve got this down to a science. I trust that agents have their sourcing down to a science too. The secret is to getting past the first two glances (which studies on the resume end show are typically done in under 6 seconds. I assume it’s pretty darn close for agents as well) and into the third look.

Here are my suggestions:

ONE: Content

Just like the book, info dumps are bad. When people ask me to look at their query before they send it, that’s typically the first thing I notice. It’s also typically the first thing I do when writing my own.

That’s 1000005.7% okay for the first draft. You need to get it all out. But, it’s not going to fly for the final query.

After writing the info dump, I put each piece of information on an index card. Then I play the hierarchy game. Cards get weeded out as “secondary” or “important, but not a selling point” or “detail” — that’s my own personal demon. The Detail. And I see it in a lot of queries too.

If the detail isn’t going to sell the book, set it aside.

This might be something you do in reverse. Don’t know how to start the query? Grab those index cards (or if you’re a plotter, your summary/outline) and start highlighting!

TWO: Process

After working your content, set the query aside just like you would a manuscript. You need fresh eyes for this just as much as you need it for any other writing.

When you come back, you’re definitely going to tweak it. If you don’t, question that.

Then ask people who have read/discussed this project to read it. Incorporate any feedback.

This last step is one I think too many people skip: Have at least 2 people who have not read or discussed the project read the query. Remember, agents won’t have sat around sipping coffee and discussing your work with you. They come in blind.

Good questions to ask those blind readers:

    • What do you think the hook is?
    • What do you think the book is about?
    • Is there anything that was confusing or unclear?
    • Do you think I should play something up more?
    • Did it flow?

These are your most valuable readers. Listen to them

THREE: Set up (not the blind date kind)

LEVEL ONE, the open: Make sure you have your salutation correct. The name is correct. It’s spelled correctly. If you’re doing Mr./Ms. you have the right gender.

LEVEL ONE-A, the secondary open: In the opening paragraph, I’ve heard a lot of agents say “personalize it so I know why you’re querying me.” A note about this: Unless you really have a reason to personalize it, I’d jump right to the good stuff. Also, be careful how you personalize it. This can bite you in the bottom. If you never met the person, don’t claim you did.

Whatever you do, do not invoke one of their writer’s names (see #AgentRec). Trust me, if the writer gave you a recommendation, the agent knows before your query hits their in-box.

LEVEL TWO, The previously mentioned “good stuff”:  Dive directly into your query. Don’t ask a question, or soft step into it. Line one: Your Hook.

Agent’s know why they’re receiving your query. You don’t need to tell them. It’s like pulling up to the Wendy’s drive-thru speaker and saying, “I’m here because I know you make and sell cheeseburgers. I’d like to purchase a cheeseburger. Here is the cheeseburger I’d like to purchase” before telling them your order.

LEVEL THREE, the bio: Yes. Have a bio. Include any pertinent information, writing group memberships, previous writing experience (You’re querying a YA but you used to write for a newspaper? Still valid.) This should be one paragraph unless you a previously published author.

If you are previously published also include links to your listed books’ sales sites. Save them the google.

LEVEL FOUR, the sign off: Thank them for their time. Don’t make any assumptions you’ll hear from them. Make yourself easy to contact:

Sincerely,
Real Name
Writing as: Pen Name (if applicable)
Website
Phone Number

They have your email (they’re looking at it) and they’re most likely not going to snail mail you anything. Leave the sign off looking clean.

FOUR: Mailing it

Follow the directions. Follow the directions. Follow the directions.

If you set it up ahead of time and it’s been awhile, recheck the directions.

Then follow the directions.

Don’t attach anything unless your query is in response to a pitch request and they ask you too (or, if that’s what’s in the directions.)

Also, follow the directions.

Personally, I BCCd myself on all my queries and put them in a special folder. This allowed me to check things quickly if I was somewhere I couldn’t get to my tracking spreadsheet but needed to respond to a follow-up question. It helped twice.

FIVE: Forget about it

Work on the next thing. This will keep you from being Crazy Refresh Woman. It will also be awesome when an agent calls you and one of  the questions she asks is, “What else do you have” and you can honestly answer that you’re currently working on ABC.

Remember, querying is just the first step. You’re going to get a lot of No Thank Yous. I hear about people giving up all the time after a small number (like 7 or 8). Start preparing yourself to not care. Yup. Do Not Care. A no is someone saying you aren’t a good match. That means, she’s not a good match for you either.

Wanting one of those agents to sign you is like wanting to marry that guy you’re really, really glad broke up with you…but you only realized it a year later.

So, good luck and don’t panic.

kk,
~Bria

10 Minute Mentor – Talk the Writer Talk

9 Jun

People throw abbreviations around like crazy in the writing world. Some were obvious, but so many needed to be explained. And who wants to be the girl asking what those letters that everyone else seems to know mean. Here’s a quick run down of some of the first you’ll see tossed around:

 

ARC - Advanced Readers Copies. These are copies of a book that come up before it’s release date for promotion. Typically used to gain reviews and as giveaways.

Beta – A reader. Depending on the writer/reader relationship the type and amount of feedback varies

Black Moment – The Oh No! This has all gone terribly wrong! Now they’ll NEVER be together/Save the World/Solve the Problem! moment

CP – Critique Partner. Depending on the relationship, these people work on one another’s books critiquing and cleaning them up to make the manuscript the best story and product it can be

Deep POV – This is a whole lesson. Deep POV is sliding so far into the POV character’s head that you’re almost in first person in some ways. When I’m having problems with my 3rd person POV, I actually do write in 1st person for a while and then flip things and clean it up.

GMC – Goal, Motivation, Conflict – the most important things your story and characters need. Deb Dixon wrote the book on this. No, literally. She wrote the book. Go get it.

h/h – hero and heroine

HEA - Happily Ever After. As in, they’ve been through everything and overcome it and are a strong couple, they’re going to last. This is one of the tenets of Romance, so you’ll see this often.

HFN - Happy For Now. This is especially popular in books for teens as most teens are not going to live Happily Ever After with their high school prom date

MC - Main Character — not the guy at a wedding with the microphone ;)

ms - Manuscript. Some people use this in place of WIP, but typically a finished project

mss - Manuscripts plural

POV - Point of View. Which character are you seeing the story through

WIP - Work In Progress. This is something you’re working on right now or that isn’t done.

YA - Young Adult. You’ll see people fighting the age bracketing on this, but I was taught: 12-18 (ignore the 65 year old women reading Twilight)

For a great dictionary of publishing terms, check out BookEnds blog. Jessica Faust keeps updating this source.

10 Minute Mentor: Organizing Your Agent Hunt

7 Jun

I’m refresthing this from the agent series because so many people asked for agent search info for the 10 Minute Mentor Series :) 

I’m very visual – I need a logical way to look at information or it might as well be street graffiti. At first everyone laughed at me, but now they’ve started asking for the Bria Agent Search Spreadsheets for themselves (maybe I should start charging!)

I won’t lie. It is time consuming in the front-end. But later, when the querying begins, it will keep you on track and organized. Another plus à it will stop your focus from drifting to time wasting (and embarrassing) querying of agents who don’t rep what you write.

So, breaking this down in very easy steps, here we go:

Step 1 – Decide what you write.

My main passion and focus is YA Fantasy, but I also have ideas for a RomCom and a historical (which may be YA, Women’s Lit, or Romance – depending on who you ask) so my focus groups are: Fantasy, YA, Romance, and ChickLit. You’ll have your own, but we’ll stick with mine for these examples.

Step 2 – Create an Excel Spreadsheet

This is very easy if you’ve never done it before. Open it up and then save it as “Agent Search.”

Across the top create a column for each of the following: Agent Name, Agency, Solicit?, Email, YA, Fantasy, Rom, ChLit, RWA, P&E, Exp, TOTAL, Authors, Notes

Step 3 – Link to: http://www.agentquery.com/search_advanced.aspx

In place of my genres, put all your writing genres

Step 4 – List Creation: This is the longest part. Cut and paste each page into your spreadsheet and then line up the information with columns. Put an “1” under each genre the agent reps. You may want to consider weighting one genre heavier than others – for example, my future agent MUST rep YA, so that column gets a “2” instead of a “1.”

Step 5 – The remaining columns are weighted columns

So you may have notice that you still have RWA, P&E, Exp, and TOTAL, left.


RWA (Romance Writers of America)
is a very reputable group. Whether you write romance or not, you should consider joining. The group is highly focused on Craft and many agents have said they can often tell a person is an RWA member from their clean manuscript and professional queries.

If the agency/agent is RWA certified, add another “1”

P&E (Predators and Editors) as another amazing resource. They list everyone in the industry they’re aware of. If they give an agency/agent a “highly recommends” add a “2” – a “recommends” add a “1” —— they’ll also let you know if they “highly don’t recommend (“-2″), “don’t recommend” (“-1″), or if they are listed on “Writer Beware” (“-3″)

Exp stands for “Experience.” The longer you are in the publishing circle as an unpublished person, the more opportunities you’ll get to interact at conferences and workshops with agents. You’ll also meet some wonderful people who are already represented or have met agents (note: make sure these people are 100% reliable in your book and not just out to bash or praise to feel “in the know”).

Personally, I looked at blogs, talk to other writers, read articles, followed people on twitter. One of my top 10 agents (for book 1) was bumped off my list completely because of her attitude toward her clients and potential clients on her blog. You want to know this ahead of time. Use the same rating system as P&E.

TOTAL – create a sum total column for each row and then sort by the TOTAL column.

The last two columns are just as important. You should always be familiar with the authors an agent already reps. It lets you know what they like and where they succeed. Also, it allows you to ‘sell’ yourself better

The Notes column should be for things like industry updates, reminders about appearances (online and in person) you’d like to attend, site updates (agents sometimes stop taking queries for a short time), contests they’re judging, etc.

Then, on QueryTracker.net sort the agents into folders. I did them as Top 20, 1.5, 2.5, etc Sent, Rejected, Requested.

All this information comes together on one page to let you judge and weigh the agents to see if they’re a potential fit and if you’re a good fit for them. Don’t forget, this is a business decision…not just for them, but for you as well!

Starting this organized with this much info up front is a great step in running your writing career as just that – a CAREER.

ETA: Anyone who sends me your email or requests it in the comments — I’ll email you the blank Agent Search Template page

10 Minute Mentor – Self-Permission

2 Jun

So you’ve formatted your manuscript and decided the who and when of telling your story. You have the mechanics down for punctuation and you’re ready to write!

Right?

RIGHT?

Well, this is where we all get a little bit fluffy sometimes. And the first time is the worst for some people. I was lucky because I knew all the basics from my undergrad (I was an English major, Writing minor), BUT  not enough to cause me trouble. I hadn’t been hanging around writers when I started. I hadn’t heard all those “rules” and “dont’s” and “that won’t sell”s. Because I hadn’t heard those, I was lucky enough to just write my first book.

And let me tell you, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!

I didn’t know that I needed to be a plotter or a pantser. I didn’t know that I needed turning points or a dark moment. I didn’t know I had to write in order… or I had to write out of order. I didn’t know about not head-hopping (Ok, that one I wish I’d known, but surprisingly I only did it once!) I didn’t know that I should block out time OR write when the muse moves me. I didn’t know I should research the market and write something hot. I didn’t know I had to customize my books toward a publishing house. I didn’t know that I’d spend so much time editing so it was okay if the first chapter made almost no sense. I didn’t know I need a CP or a beta reader.

I didn’t know all the advice I learned the next year. Advice that ruined my flow or had me doing things that did not work for me. I didn’t know the advice that would work for me either.

Hmm… It’s looking like I didn’t know much of anything. 

Wait! I did know I shouldn’t write at work, but that didn’t stop me from locking my door during lunch and getting a few pages down :)

All I knew is that I had a story I had to tell. That I couldn’t wait to get on the page. Characters who became so real I talked to them.

That’s what I knew about me. About writing, I knew that you told an escalating story about people you love or love to hate.

Period.

Did I mention how fun it was?

So, if you’re new — heck, even if you’re not — give yourself permission. Permission to just have fun writing. Permission to do what works for you. Permission to say, this is going to be really messy, but I’ll clean it up in the edits.

Go. Go have fun and tell an amazing story however it is you work best. Listen to writing advice but know, none of it is set in stone. HOW you write your book is up to you in the end and that’s exactly where following your gut will get you: The End.

10 Minute Mentor – POV

31 May

Point of View (POV)  is a great place to start when considering how to craft your manuscript. It’s one of the primary “HOW” questions to ask yourself when tpreparing to tell your story. Often, your story and characters demand you write the story one way. But sometimes there’s more to consider than that.

Here is the fast and dirty on POV.

First Person

First person always includes the teller. If you’re writing in 1st Person, you’ll writing as if you are the character telling the story:
I went to the mall to meet up with Micah. Later, we grabbed an ice cream on the way home.

Notice how both pronouns came from the teller. – That’s her point of view. She’s telling the story from her point of view.

First person singular is I. First person plural is we.

Second Person

Second Person is a lot harder. Imagine you’re telling a story to someone about themselves. You’ll hardly ever see this POV used.
You went to the mall to meet up with Micah. Later, you grabbed an ice cream on the way home.

The pronoun “you” creates a story which the reader is the character. Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? You did stuff and then made the choice of where to go next — that was an interactive Second Person story.

Both singular and plural of 2nd person is “you.”

Third Person

Is probably the most common POV outside of YA (Young Adult). Third person is as if the teller is talking about a story that happened to someone else.
He went to the mall to meet up with Micah. Later, they grabbed an ice cream on the way home.

The singular for 3rd person is he, she or it. The plural is they.

Omniscient

The reader takes a kind of bird’s-eye-view of the story. There’s no “from so-and-so’s vision”  – an omnisicent narrator can know everything.

~

Now, when are you going to tell your story?

We’re going to use the Cell Phone Medium as our way of discussing this.

Past

This is how you’d tell the story if you got home from an exciting adventure and then called a friend to tell her about it.

Present

Imagine you were on the phone when it happened tell the story as it unfolds.

~

Head Hopping – A POV Warning

Very often you’ll hear people talk about how your “POV slipped” or that you’re “Head-hopping” – Don’t worry! Not only are these easy mistakes to make, but they’re standard mistakes.

If someone says your POV slipped, it typically means that just for a moment (or a line or two) you left your POV and used a different character’s OR went omniscient in an attempt to give the reader information you want her to know that your POV character wouldn’t know. This is when you have to get creative. How do you let the reader know things becomes a fun writer game to play in order to keep pure POV.

Head-Hopping is slightly different. Head-hopping isn’t a slip or a moment, it’s a pattern. It’s basically (when not done well) POV Whack-a-Mole. So many new writers will slip into this because they want to tell the whole story of what’s going on. What everyone is knows and is thinking and feeling and considering. There is a big difference between a well done POV switch mid-scene and head-hopping. Head-hopping is like when everyone in the room is trying to tell you a story at once. POV switches is like that in a way, but everyone is taking turns and telling just their part in an orderly fashion.

POV switches can work, but a warning: You will hear a lot of people say NO NO NO to them. No matter how many big name authors you see doing them, people will tell you they can’t be done. Here’s why. The people who can pull them off (like any other talented professional in other fields) makes it look seamless and effortless – Well, if it’s easy, we can all do it, right? Wrong. They make it look that way because they are the best. I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying, if that’s the way you want to write, you need to perfect it past perfection AND be prepared to deal with the naysayers.

~

That is, as I said, the fast and dirty. This is a topic a lot people grapple with…and then, just when you think you’ve got it down, someone tells you your POV isn’t “deep enough” – that’s a whole other 10 Minutes :)

10 Minute Mentor – Dialogue and Punctuation

28 May

For me, dialogue is my default setting as a writer. My Fast Draft has tons of unpunctuated dialogue scenes that read almost like a blind script and need all the details put in later. The more you know the basics and automatically do them when throwing the first draft on the page.

And so, here it is, Dialogue and Punctuation – otherwise known at college who linked to my old blog as “the blah blah blah” post.

Making a statement:

If the tag is first, a comma should be placed after the tag, before the quotation mark,  and the period inside the quote. If the tag appears after the statement, there is a comma before the second quotation mark.

She said, “blah blah blah.”

“Blah blah blah,” she said.

 
Middle of the statement tags:

If your tag is in the middle of the sentence, same rules basically apply.

“Blah blah,” she said, “blah blah blah.”

OR

“Blah blah,” she said. “Blah blah blah.”

 
Asking a question or exclaiming:

When you ask a question or exclaim with tags/beats, the entire thing is written as one sentence. The question mark stays within the quotations and the tag is still part of the sentence just like with a statement:

“Blah blah blah?” she asked.    OR   “Blah!” she shouted.

She asked, “Blah blah blah?”    OR   She shouted, “Blah!”

 

These are the basics of dialogue mechanics. Also, if you EVER have a chance to attend one of Julia Quinn’s talks on dialogue, RUN, don’t walk, and get in line – it’s fabu! Seriously, she really dives deep and every writer, no matter their genre, can learn a ton in a short day with her.

10 Minute Mentor – Formatting

26 May

Formatting seemed like a brilliant place to begin the 10 Minute Mentor adventure. Personally, the first few chapters I slam down on the page hard and fast – no formatting at all, just words. Often it looks closer to a realllly poorly written script than a manuscript.

But, some people like to set things up ahead of time…have a nice clean format to work with. And so, welcome to the first installation of the 10 Minute Mentor: Formatting.

Formatting your manuscript correctly may not be a make or break to a book deal, but it does show the professionalism and preparation that everyone desires in a business partner. These guidelines are what I’ve been taught are the “standard” from several authors and sites for print publishing submissions. E-publishing guidelines are often different. For example, I’ve been told most E-pubs would rather have italics actually be italicized where most print pubs still wish to have them underlined. Also, always check that there are not guidelines listed wherever your sending your manuscript to. Obviously submission guidelines always trump the elusive “standard” for more than just formatting.

So, open your Word document and let’s get started with the basics. 

 STEP ONE: Margins 
  • Under ‘File’ on your tool bar, click ‘Page Setup’   
  • Click the Margins tab at the top   
  • Ensure that you’ve selected ‘Portrait’   (Landscape turns the page sideways)
  • Enter ‘1’ in the drop down boxes for Top, Bottom, Left, and Right (this gives you 1 inch margins all the way around)
  • Hit ‘OK’ at the bottom, right-hand corner 
STEP TWO: Font 

Personally I use ‘Courier New’ size 12 or ‘Times New Roman’ depending on the project. It’s easy for pages/word calculation. 

Anything you wish to be italicized in your manuscript, should actually be underlined. Do not italicize in your manuscript. 

There is a difference between hyphens (within a word) and em-dashes (outside words). For an em-dash, Word will turn 2 hyphens into an em-dash  

STEP THREE: Page Format 
  • Under ‘Format’ on your tool bar, click ‘Paragraph’
  • Next to ‘Before’ and ‘After’ enter ‘0’ – ‘Auto’ will NOT do what you want it to.  
  • In the drop-down box under ‘Space’ click ‘Exactly’
  • In the selection box next to where you just picked ‘Exactly,’ type ‘25’ – DON’T type ‘lines’ as was previously there. Typing just ‘25’ will do the trick
  • At the top of the Paragraph Formatting box is the tab ‘Line and Page Breaks’ – click this
  • Ensure that all the boxes on this page are unmarked
  • Hit ‘OK’ at the bottom, right-hand corner 

Also, you need to set your ruler at the top of the page so each paragraph is indented. This will simplify things and make sure that your tabs aren’t lost in some programs. To do this , move the top marker on the ruler in to the .5 point. This is the first major line on your ruler.

STEP FOUR: The Header 
  • Under ‘View’ on your tool bar, click ‘Header and Footer’
  • When they pop open, in the Header Type: 
    BOOK TITLE IN CAPS / Last name (on left hand side)                                                        Click the “#” sign in toolbar (on right hand side to number your pages)
STEP FIVE: Page Set-up

Each chapter should begin 1/3 of the way down the page.  Center the chapter heading, whether it’s “Chapter 1″ or “Emily’s Exciting Entrance To The Novel” or a quote… Whatever the kick-off for each chapter is, center it. Personally, I put 6 hard-returns. This is roughly 1/3 of the page once your manuscript is formatted. The standard answer to “why do this”  when I asked around —>It helps editors and agents calculate book length.  

Now your manuscript is set up to look pretty… well, as pretty as Times New Romans gets. The creative part is up to you!

REMEMBER: The work is in the writing, the formatting is the gift wrap.

10 Minute Mentor

17 May

Not long ago, a friend on Twitter announced she was ready to start her revisions again. Trying to be encouraging, I said, “You’ve got your list and you’re ready to go!”

Only, her response wasn’t, “Yup! Can’t wait!” It was, “What list?’

We jumped together to DM and started a conversation on revisions: what they are, what they aren’t, and how to do them. It was a *great* conversation – really made me personally think some things through a little deeper and solidify my thoughts and processes.

When she thanked me, I asked her to just do it for someone else some day.

That weekend, Darynda Jones and I were doing our monthly 4-hour drive to our writer’s meet and I mentioned the great conversation I’d had with the Twitter friend. We realized, that information, the stuff we’d been DYING for people to just tell us and explain the “why” also had probably taken (if we were talking constantly instead of tweeting and working) about ten minutes.

It hadn’t killed me, actually it helped me probably as much as her. There’s a wonderful saying that basically states if you want to learn something, teach it.

And, it was exactly what I’d wished someone had done for me a few years ago.

And so, The Ten Minute Mentor sprung to life in my mind. We’ll see how many topics I can discuss in the 10 mins timeframes and make them make sense…and helpful :)

Let me know, what’s a topic you wish someone had just given you the quick and dirty on when you started writing?

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