Angi Morgan: Week One: The Journey to SOLD!

Hello everyone and thank you for having me as a guest. A special thank you to Lateia for the warm welcome. Feel free to ask me questions, especially if I use an abbreviation that you may not know.

Although I’ve been writing a long time (with a few breaks), the journey to SOLD this year was rather fast. Or it seems fast. A couple of things changed in my writing life to help me.

FIRST: my kids have left home. I was a volunteer for 21 years all the way through graduation. I still help with the local girls fastpitch organization (believe it or not I’m an umpire). And I have the support of my husband to write as much as possible.

SECOND: See Jane Run won a contest in late 2008 and received an editor request for the full. At that time, the full manuscript had already been rejected by Harlequin. So why submit it again. Right?

THIRD: I attended a chapter retreat last November and RITA nominee author Candace Havens yelled at me. Okay, she didn’t raise her voice, but she picked on me all weekend. She finally got me alone and said, “I’ve read your work. Just write the damn book.”

FOURTH: I accepted the position of president of my writing chapter NTRWA ( And with that responsibility I had to write a column for the newsletter. Ugh. I wanted to be original but not ramble. I came up with the idea to document my journey to publication: What had I done that month to keep my writing on track.

I have to admit that See Jane Run is one of my favorite stories. I hated to see it die a quick death in 2004. A week before I received notification that I was an RWA Golden Heart finalist, I had received the second (and final) rejection.

So in January I set my goal to concentrate on revising See Jane Run. (Remember that request?) I analyzed the story with friends and made some major changes. (That’s another blog.) But most importantly, I visualized the sale. (Hokey, right?) Well, not so much. You see, that’s the FIFTH thing I changed about me. I refused to stop until an editor told me “no.” Every time that little devil voice shouted in my ear that I was going to fail, I told it to scram. I began telling people that 2009 was my year. I would sell. (I knew that selling was out of my hands. It’s a business. But my mantra was: “I will sell.”)

And in order to sell, you have to submit to editors (and agents). I made a decision to enter contests targeting final round editors where See Jane Run might fit. One contest had both the agent AND editor who were at the top of my favorites list.

There was one tiny problem. The best contest for my story: The Daphne du Maurier (sponsored by the RWA Kiss of Death chapter) also happened to be the one contest that had eluded me for nine years. No matter what I entered, I couldn’t final. But remember, 2009 was my year.

I entered in March. Fretted--I mean chanted my mantra--in April. Finaled in May. Chanted more in June. Won in July. Revised in August. Submitted in September. Signed with an agent in October. Sold in November. Mailed the final version of the book in December. Whew...

And here we are.

Some upcoming topics of discussion:
---An On-Going Behind the Scene Look at Getting Ready for Publication
(revisions, promotion, copy-edits, AA’s, character sheets, log-lines, bios, etc.)
---Contests & Critiques: The Good & Bad comments
---How I Chose My “Dream” Agent & Editor
---Targeting Your Book & Choosing Your Market

Til next time,

In Which A Very Important Character is Introduced

Carrie and I have been pouring over the annual SCWW survey. For my part, I read every suggestion on how to improve the blog and saw a common theme. Many of you said you'd like more voices and different perspectives on publishing.

Boy, do I have a treat for you!

Allow me to introduce Angi Morgan.

Like many members of SCWW, she's been trying to get published for a long time. On November 12, her dream came true. She sold SEE JANE RUN, a romantic suspense novel, to Harlequin Intrigue. Yea, Angi! The book will be on shelves in September 2010.

Over the next year, Angi will be stopping by to blog on her publishing journey. She's promised to cover all sorts of things:  how she snagged an agent, what it's like after the CALL, how she revised, reworked and edited her way into the published column. Her first installment will be posted Thursday, December 17.

She will be hanging out after her posts to chat, answer questions and respond to your comments. There are a few ground rules. Please don't ask Angi any of the following questions:
1. Who is your agent?
2. How much money did Harlequin pay you?
3. Will you read and critique my manuscript?
4. Will you recommend me to your publisher/agent/editor?
If you ask any of these, your question will be deleted. Angi is here to help us learn and better our craft, not as an envoy.

Here's her bio:
According to her mother, Angi Morgan began creating stories and characters when she was two years old. Drawing blobs of colors on a page, she proceeded to tell anyone within earshot about monsters or fairies or whatever a two-year-old could think up.

Her dream of being a paid author will come true in September 2010 when Harlequin® publishes her first Intrigue®. The sale is so recent, the editors haven’t assigned a new title yet. Known to the contest circuit as SEE JANE RUN, this award-winning manuscript sold on November 12th as a direct result of getting onto the right editor’s desk at the right time.

Angi is the winner of several contests and a multi-contest finalist, including the RWA® Golden Heart®. Her last unpublished contest win was the Kiss of Death’s Daphne du Maurier which placed her in front of her first choice agent and editor.

Angi is a former national Romance Writers of America® officer and has served on both her local chapter boards (Dallas Area Romance Writers and North Texas RWA). She is finishing her last weeks as the President of North Texas RWA but will continue as their 2010 contest chair of the Great Expectations Contest as she plots and writes her next Intrigue®.

Visit her website at or become a fan: Facebook: AngiMorgan

Stop by her Facebook page and say hello. Please join me in welcoming her to the SCWW family. Be sure to stop by on Thursday for her first post!

Tickets, Please! Life of Riley of Heartbreak Hotel?

Publishing is like a maze. It's hard to tell, from the starting block, where you might end up down the road. It's important that you take the time to get the lay of the land before you jump in with both feet and end up at a dead end.

Most of us write with the goal of being published by a large traditional publisher that has good distribution. While this is an admirable goal, it's important to realize it usually takes several steps to land a big publisher. The vast majority of large publishers DO NOT accept unagented, unsolicited manuscripts. While you can still choose to send one, it will likely be thrown out with the lunch wrappers and empty coffee cups. The big houses simply don't have time to read these manuscripts. Sure, you hear stories from time to time about how a bestseller came from the slushpile at a big house. You hear these stories for one reason:  They're a RARITY. It's like winning the lottery. Are you more likely to achieve financial security by taking advantage of business opportunities, learning to save and invest wisely, and sticking to a budget or by playing the lottery?

You'll often hear authors say landing an agent was as tough or tougher than landing a publisher. While this may be true, it's still important, if you want to write for the big boys, to get an agent. Not only so that the agent can get your manuscripts into the right hands, but also so that you have someone on your team when it comes to other business matters like selling foreign rights or audio rights.

Here's the plain truth: If you cannot, after targeted querying, get an agent, don't take that to mean you need to skip the step entirely and begin submitting to large publishers.

Instead, consider WHY you're having trouble landing an agent. Be honest with yourself about your writing and packaging. Try to figure out if your manuscript is marketable. Listen and catalog any advice you get from the querying process and THEN consider your next move.

It's possible that your book is right for a big house, but without the help of an agent, it might never make it to the right editor's desk. If you've written the NEXT BEST THING, it will land you an agent and it will land you a deal. But you still have to do things correctly and professionally.

DISCLAIMER:  Not all books require agents. If you're submitting to a small house, you may not need one. But if you're thinking Random House or HarperCollins, you need to get an agent.

Here We Are!

Welcome to our new home!

Here's a link to the old blog, in case you want to re-read any old favorites

Tomorrow begins a new blogging season, so be sure to stop by. We're going to be doing some exciting new things this year.

It should be easier to leave comments. I apologize for the glitch. I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late.

I can't wait to get re-connected with all of you. Buckle your seatbelts!

Get out Your Brooms! We're moving!

We're moving the blog. Due to some admininstrative issues, our new blog home will be

I'll post a link on the new blog that will bring you back here in case you want to re-read any of your old favorites.

Please feel free to send suggestions on blogs you'd like to see. As always, I'm open to suggestions.

I have some VERY EXCITING things planned for the blog! I know I said I was taking all of November off, but I'm ready to get started again!

A new Quill will be in your inbox soon. It will contain a link to a survey. This is a yearly thing that really helps us, the Board, understand what we're doing right and what needs improvement. Please take a few minutes to fill it out and submit. We've made it much shorter this year, so it should only take a few minutes.

Cosmic Karma: How The Mice Got the Better of Me and How it Applies to Writing

I live in an old house. A very old, lovingly semi-restored (we're working on it! :-)) house. What that means is this: lots of problems pop up with little or no warning and there are often few solutions. It is what it is:  OLD.

My house is bordered on three sides with agricultural land. When the farmers harvested their peanuts this year, a contigent of homeless mice decided to move into my house. Mr Husband and I searched out  and repaired dozens of holes, cracks and other places where a mouse could potentially slip through undetected. We screened all the vents, put that weird foam around all the pipes, and still the little boogers got into the house. My paranoia and frustration increased exponentially every twenty-four hours.

After about a week of this, I started saying, "I wish I could just line them up and hit them with a hammer."

I should NOT have said that. Carrie told me I should NOT say that. But I did. Repeatedly.

On Sunday afternoon I dropped a two-pound hammer, from counter height, on my foot. I was barefoot. OUCH. In all likelihood, Mr Husband learned some new vocabulary words.

It occured to me, sometime late Sunday night, when my foot was roughly the size of watermelon, and I was swearing the injury hurt more than childbirth, that we have to be careful what we say and what we visualize. I jinxed myself. I saw one solution to the rodent problem:  paranoia-driven violence.

Here's how it applies to writing:
If you have a hole in your manuscript a mile wide, and you say, "There's only one way to fix it." You don't listen to anyone else's input. You don't give your brain time to sift through possibillities. Instead you rush to fix it your way and you end up making things much worse.

On the other hand, if you say, "I know I have this hole, and it needs to be fixed. What are the possible solutions?" The solutions will begin to trickle into your brain. You listen to others, read books that are similar to yours and assimilate all the ideas. Then, after careful consideration, you fix it and it's perfect.

I should have listened to Mr Husband who said, "Let's shore up all the holes, trap them with those humane traps and release them in the woods where they'll have food and cover." (Did I mention he has some genius moments?) But I didn't. The reason the hammer fell on my foot was because I left it on the counter, just in case, instead of in the cabinet where it belongs.

So here's my advice: Think smart. Be careful what images you load into your brain. And be careful where you leave your hammer.

BTW, the foot is going to be fine. There are no longer any mice in my house. And none of them came to a violent end via hammer.

Bummer! or What to Do if You Had a Rough Critique

I know I promised to take the month off but I miss you guys! I've had several calls from attendees who had a rough critique and I wanted to give you a few tips on how to handle the disappointment.

First, we have to look at WHY the critique didn't go so well. There are several reasons for this: the material was not a good match for your faculty member, the material wasn't ready for the eyes of an editor, agent or publisher, or you just didn't like what the faculty member had to say.

Once you've decided the WHY, you need to figure out your next step.

If the problem is only that it wasn't the right faculty member, this is an easy one to fix. Do a little more comprehensive research on who's right for your manuscript. What agents and editors want changes all the time so be sure to keep a constant pulse of market to make sure you're targeting the right folks.

If the material wasn't ready for the eyes of your faculty member, you need to figure out precisely where you stand. Are you capable of the required edits and revisions yourself or do you need to hire a freelance editor to help you make the most of your manuscript? There are lots of professionals out there who can really help you to see what needs improvement. If you think you're past the point of needing a freelance editor, you can always find a critique group --- real or online --- to help you iron out the wrinkles.

Now, if you just didn't like what the faculty member had to say, that's a little more problematic. Again, you have to discover the WHY. Did you feel the person was flat wrong? Did he or she just "not get" your submission? Are you being pig-headed and not taking responsibility for the flaws in your work? Were you overconfident? Was the faculty member just having a hard time understanding your angle? Think long and hard about this. Talk to others who are familiar with your work AND the industry.

At some point in this business, you have to develop a thick skin. You have to understand there are all kinds of people and viewpoints. Maybe your faculty member was right. Maybe not. But don't be so overconfident in your work that you refuse to change, revise or edit. Flexibility is key.

A small word to the wise: No matter how vehemently you disagree with the faculty member who performed your critique, don't blast them on the web or in any other public forum. Word gets around in publishing circles very quickly.

Big Thanks leading to a Big Break . . .


The conference would not have been possible without our great faculty, our terrific attendees, and our tireless volunteers. A big thank you also goes to the Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort.

I hope everyone had a wonderful and productive time. I hope the conference inspired you!

Carrie and I will be taking the month of November off and then we'll be back to planning for 2010. If you have suggestions, please email them to us. We want to know what we did right and what needs improvement. Please be as honest as you can. We can take it.

I will be taking a break from the blog until December 1. But then, I'll be back along with some terrific guest bloggers and more craft and market info. Again, I'm open to suggestions. If you'd like to see someone guest blog, send me their name and stats and I'll see what I can do.

I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to meet you all in person. Your compliments made us feel like a million bucks. I learned so much from you guys! And I made some great friends.

I wish you all the very, very best!

If anyone gets "the call" as a result of the conference and wants to share it with the world, email me and I'll have you as a guest blogger and you can plug yourself shamelessly!

See you in December!

Blog Sticker Big Winner!

Sorry I didn't have time to post the name yesterday. I've been busy at the conference!

Our winner is

Danielle Dahl

Congrats! And thanks for being a faithful reader.

A Most Impartial Judge

First of all, a big, heart-felt thank you to all of you who've read the blog! I appreciate all the emails and calls I've gotten. I hope the blog has helped you understand the publishing business. I also hope it's made you laugh.

Earlier in the summer, I announced a contest for those of you who read faithfully. If you placed a sticker on your critique submission, I put your name in a hat, actually it was a shoebox, and my three-year-old son drew the winner. (See photo at top of post.) I tried to take a photo of the selection process, but it was just a blurry image of a boy, some dogs, and lots of tiny pieces of paper.
But, just to let you know I didn't forget, the winner was drawn on October 18, 2009 at approximately 7:00pm ET and it was completely random. (No dogs or children were injured, though my left eye is still hurting a bit as it was slightly damaged ---though not permanently --- in the excitement, or shall I say melee.)

I'll post the winner on Thursday night. Your prize will be at the registration desk with your name on it in case you miss the blog.

Thanks again and I look forward to meeting each and every one of you in a few days!

Weather, Dress Code and Other Tidbits

The conference is almost here! Carrie and I are looking forward to meeting each and every one of you! We've been planning since November 2008 and we're ready to start the actual event.

Here's a link to the weather:

It looks like we're going to have great weather, so be sure to bring warm-weather clothes as it's supposed to be near eighty!

As for the attendee dress code, during class time its business casual. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing; but you want to make sure you're presentable. Please refrain from anything inappropriate, as in halter tops, ratty t-shirts, stained sweat pants, skirts that don't clear the upper thigh. If there's a question as to whether it's appropriate, consider wearing something else.

At dinner, we step it up a notch. Don't feel compelled to pack your cummerbund and tails or your cocktail shimmery dress, but please wear something appropriate for a nice dinner. For the guys, slacks and a button-down is fine. For the ladies, dresses or slacks.

When considering what to wear to your critique or pitch, consider this: Our faculty members buy and sell books for a living. They want clients who also see publishing as a business. You want to put your best foot forward. Don't overdo it --- no one expects you to show up in a three-piece suit complete with watch chain. But make sure to look your business casual best. Faculty members are looking for new authors. Don't let your appearance stand in the way of an offer.

Last item: Silent Auction. Our annual silent auction is one of our greatest sources of income. We're a non-profit. There are no paid employees, board members, or conference staffers. So, please, PLEASE be generous at the Silent Auction. The baskets, crafts, and critiques are all donated items. Your generosity keeps the conference affordable for everyone. All the proceeds go directly to next year's budget and insure the continuation of the SCWW Conference.

If you have any questions, or last minute emergencies, please call or email us and we'll do our best to help!

Authorship and Egotism: Mutually Exclusive?

A note of caution for the conference: Check your ego at the door.

Writers spend a lot of time, and blood, and sweat, and tears to craft a story. It's easy when you've put in the effort to think of yourself as the best of the best. And while it's good to have confidence in your work, you need to make sure it doesn't go too far. When you're overconfident, it can easily come across to others as EGOTISTICAL and HIGH-MAINTENANCE.

Our faculty members are here to help you. They've agreed to provide instruction, feedback, and face-time to aspiring authors. They are not well-paid for this. Trust me. The last thing you want is to give the impression that you think you're the best thing since oatmeal. Instead you want to give the impression that you're open to discussion, eager to learn, and willing to accept the publishing business for what it is.

You very well may be the next Nora Roberts. Maybe James Patterson has nothing on you. But you want others to discover this about you on their own.

Being a writer should come with a thick skin, but usually it's something you have to cultivate. Listen. Learn. Evolve and grow.

Be a joy to the faculty and attendees. Make friends.

You never know where good manners and a sunny disposition might take you. If you've already got the writing down pat, make sure you cultivate the personality to make you sucessful.

How Do I Decide?

Conferences are exciting. And overwhelming. When you look at the list of classes and offerings, it can be difficult to decide what you'd most like to attend at a given time.

First of all, unfortunately, unless you're a master of quantum physics, you can't be everywhere and you can't attend every class. But that's okay. Sometimes too much information is worse than not enough. You don't want to overwhelm you body and your brain. You want to get your money's worth.

Here's my suggestion: Be honest with yourself about where you are in your writing path. Then select your classes accordingly.

Here are some examples:
---Ms. Rookie is still working on drafting her first novel. She hopes to finish it sometime in 2010.
***Ms. Rookie should consider taking classes on character development, plot and editing.

---Mr. Hadsome Sucess is polishing his second novel. It's nearly finished and he wants to start querying next month. He's freelanced for several regional magazines and he wants to move into the fiction market.
***Hadsome should considersessions on query letters, synopses and social networking. He should also be sure to attend any panels or Slush Fest sessions that match his genre.

----Ms. Got An Idea loves to read and she has a great idea for a novel. She's scribbled some notes but hasn't actually written anything yet. She loves the idea of being a novelist but she's not sure where to start.
****Ms. Idea should likely take a mix of classes: some on craft and some on the business side of things. Since she's not sure this is the business for her, it might help to hear a little about the money-making side of things. She should be sure to attend the Chapter and Genre mixers. This would give her a chance to meet other writers, in her genre and geographical area.

We all want to be multi-published, sucessful writers, but you have to start somewhere. By being totally honest with yourself about what you need to be successful you can make better choices. It's okay to be in the first leg of the race. Don't put the cart before the horse and try to force yourself to write a query letter when you're not even finished with your book. In order to produce a good book, you have to complete each step. There are no shortcuts, so don't kid yourself.

The Count is Full or The Last Word on Pitches

Pitches will no longer be available after Wednesday, October 14 at Midnight Eastern.

If you want to sign up for a pitch, make sure to do it before then.

See you at the conference!

I Don't Wanna

Today was one of those days where nothing seems to get done. On top of that, I just didn't feel like writing. Have you ever had one of those days? Not a writer's block day, but a day where the thought of putting your words down on paper or on a computer screen just isn't appealing.

I've actually spent a week with this feeling. Autumn is my favorite season, and the outside world is calling.

I'm counting on the fact that many of you know what I'm talking about. So, in the spirit of my mood, I'm going to share some tips on how to write on those days where the world, people, or things are easy distractions.

1. BIC - In case you've never seen this acronym, it stands for Butt in Chair. The best way to handle this mood is to just park it and start working. This is easier said than done. The majority of working people in the world do this every single day ... because there is someone that they must answer to. As writers, we don't have that special someone to track our actions, but we can behave like a boss is watching. Set yourself a regular schedule and follow it every day. Research indicates that it takes an average of 21 days to make something a habit, so if you do this for at least 3 weeks, you should be able to overcome the "I don't feel like it" mood.

2. Review - If you can't bring yourself to write, then print out what you've been working on and read over it. Take your favorite red (or blue, or green, or purple) pen and mark it up.

3. Revise - Look at your last few pages and start revising. Odds are, you will end up writing once you get beyond those pages. The key is to not get stuck in revision mode. Some people start revising and months later haven't written anything new. So exercise this tip with caution.

4. Research - Pick a topic from your manuscript and dig deeper. This will help you give your work flavor. Google it, go to the library or the bookstore, visit a museum, or talk to an expert. New information can inspire you and drive you back to the keyboard.

5. Rejuvenate - Sometimes on days that we don't feel like writing, we need to relax. Go somewhere where you can soak up the environment, people watch, or just be.

6. Read - This is like research, but from a different angle. Read books in your genre focusing on how the author handles issues that you may be dealing with.

Well, there it is. I didn't plan it, but it spells "Brrrrr." I guess that's because if we don't write, then our work will never see the light of day.

What ways do you fight the "I don't wanna" days?

Friday Intensives: What We Have to Offer

If you're free on the Friday before the conference, you should really consider coming to the pre-conference intensive sessions. For a nominal fee, you can attend an intensive session with a publishing professional. If you purchase both sessions --- morning and afternoon --- you'll also have the opportunity to eat lunch with faculty. We have lots of sessions to choose from but here are a couple that really caught my eye.

On Friday morning, Jackie Cooper will be teaching "It's All About Me: Crafting a Memorable Memoir". Jackie has had a lot of success with his memoirs and he can help you figure out how to distill your life, or a section of it, into book form. This class is also great for those of you who're writing novels. Remember --- Character is Character. Whether it's fact or fiction, writing dynamic, believable characters is pivotal to your sucess as a writer and Jackie knows just how to do it.

In the afternoon, Scott Eagan is teaching "Get it While it's Hot: Marketing your Book to Agents and Editors". In a tough year for the publishing industry, this class will help you market your bookto agents and editors. You want your packaging --- query letter, synopsis, and partial --- to be well-written, well-presented, and eye-catching. In this tight market, it's imperative! Spend a couple of hours with Scott Eagan and learn how to make your manuscript irresistible to agents and editors.

We have lots of other great classes, too. These two just caught my eye and made me wish I was an attendee. Check out the list of intensives at

It's not too late to add the pre-conference intensives to your registration. Call or email if you'd like to add and we'll save you a seat!

And if you hear someone trying to sneak into a class, rather than managing the conference like she's supposed to, it's probably me.

Guest Blogger: Allia Zobel Nolan

How I Do the Things I Do….Creating Books That Sparkle and Pop

Explaining what I do is really the hardest thing I have to do, which is why I don’t do it that very often. I’m not one who keeps to a strict routine. I have no set formula. I can’t account for the fact that at times, I can write a book or article lickety-split; other times, filled with sturm und drang, I sweat and struggle for weeks. What’s more, I’m definitely not one of those authors who sit down every day and the words just pour out. Ye gads! Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Yet, I’ve managed to survive (with help from an understanding husband) as a writer, and have over 170 children’s and adult books, not to mention the odd blog and on-line article, to my name.

And now that I’ve thought about my process (which is really as simple as “work like a dog when you have a deadline and work like you have a deadline when you want to walk the dog”), I’m amazed at how much info I have that I didn’t think I had that I can write up and share so other writers can do what I do as well as I can, but hopefully not so well as to put me out of business, so I can continue to do what I do well and share how I do it with others.

So, I am hoping and praying that, since I’ve finally gotten all of this good stuff (20 years accumulation) out of my brain and into seminar form….that those interested in writing your average kids’ book, inspirational titles, Bible Storybooks for kids, or novelty books for kids that slide, pop, sparkle and squeak, (or those looking for a good guffaw, some neat handouts, and free LOL cat books) will mosey on down (or up or whatever) to the Myrtle Beach Hilton this October 23-25 for this tres kewl conference.

Not interested in Kids’ or Inspirational? Not to worry—there are many other
really neat workshops on all kinds of writing with wonderful authors, plus open mic sessions, meetings with agents and publishers (I’m first, though), work critiques, the sun, the sand, the surf…. Well, but if you’re on this website, you probably already know the whole scoop. If not, check it out.

Meantime, I must get back to my piece on helping writers deal with distractions,
which I’ve been working on for a month now because I keep getting all these silly emergency tweets from my friends, not to mention a ton of Facebook fan page offers, and well, the cats’ nails need to be polished, and I have to write these blogs for the SCWW and…. See you in October.
By Allia Zobel Nolan

Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally published, award-winning author specializing in children’s trade and religious books and adult humorous books. She has written over 150 titles, and has over 2 ½ million books in print. For the past nine years, Ms. Zobel Nolan worked for Reader’s Digest Children’s Books as a Senior Editor. She became a free-agent as of April 07, and is now at work on several religious children’s books.
New titles pubbing in 08 include: One Special Me: A Book Celebrating How God Made Me from Tommy Nelson; Smelly Feet Sandwiches and Other Silly Poems by Tiger Tales, and Purr More, Hiss Less: Heavenly Lessons I Learned From My Cat from Health Communications, Inc. And there will be lots more in 09.
Ms. Zobel Nolan has been published by Workman, Andrews & McMeel, Reader’s Digest Children’s Publishing, Barnes & Noble, Adams Media, Broadman & Holman, Zondervan, Cook, Scholastic (Veggie Tales), Concordia, Kregel, Standard Publishing, and Tommy Nelson. She has won several book awards, among them, the 2005 Mom’s Choice Award for the Most Outstanding Children’s Book for Preschoolers, an iParenting Award for Greatest Product of 2005, and the 2007 Teacher’s Choice Award. She has won countless awards for her writing.

Critique Groups: Finding the Perfect Fit

I had a delighful conversation with an attendee over the weekend about critique groups (Hi, LM!) and I wanted to share some of the highlights with all of you.

Critique groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are genre specific, some are judged, some are open to all writers and all genres. Some are honest and some are not. When you're looking for a critique group, here are some things to consider:

1. How serious is the group when it comes to the writing? Are they more into cookouts and cocktails or do they really want to get the heart of the work? And how serious are you? Is writing more than a hobby, or just a part-time things for you?

2. What's the demographic of the group? Are all of the writers rookies or are some of them published? Where do you honestly fit into the group? Are you the star of the show, or are you always the one who gets picked on?

3. How honest and forthright are the members? Will they tell you the truth, as they see it, about your work? And do they know what they're talking about? Will they tell you you're the next Faulkner so they don't have to hurt your feelings? Can you give honest and constructive criticism?

Critique groups are like any other outlet: they grow, change and evolve over time. You have to expect this. People will drop-out, stop writing, get published, move. It just happens. Be aware of these changes and make sure your attendance is productive. If it isn't, find a new group.

I was a critique group regular for years. But after a long, hard look at my expectations from the group, I realized my needs were no longer being met. I still communicate with several members, but the meetings had become less than productive for me. It broke my heart to leave, but I felt I was reading and rereading the same material. And only two other writers in the group seemed to be serious about publishing.

A few months after leaving the group, I met a lady at a conference. After a long discussion, we realized were in the same place in our writing lives and we wrote the same genre. We decided to try an experiment: long-distance critiques. We made some hard and fast ground rules. No personal relationship except to ask politely about the husband and kids. No self-editing. No beating around the bush. Regular schedule. Emails preferable to phone calls. Call only if you can't explain it in an email. 100% Business. We are CRITIQUE PARTNERS not Best Friends Forever or Frenemies.

It's been a dream come true for me. (I hope she feels the same!) She's the one person who I can really trust to tell me the uncensored truth. She knows what she's talking about when it comes to our genre. And we're climbing the publishing ladder at the same time. I know this won't work for everyone, but it works well for us.

So, if you can't find a critique group that meets your needs, consider an out-of-the box solution. Don't waste time and gas attending a critique group that gets you no closer to your goal. Find one that fits.

Thanks for the idea, LM. I was fresh out of blogging topics.

Going Green and What it Means for the 2009 Conference

This year we decided early in the planning process to 'go green.' It's the buzz phrase of the year and I'm sure lots of you are wondering what it really means when it comes to the conference.

Here are some of the ways we saved paper, money, envelopes and ink.
1. All faculty contracts were completed electronically. We didn't mail a single one.
2. Faculty members were given the choice of receiving critiques via snail mail or via email. Most chose email.
3. We decided not to print a color brochure, moving to simple black and white mail-in registration forms. We sent these on request---no buckshot marketing materials. We jazzed up the website, added the blog and passed along information electronically.
4. We trimmed the notebook down considerably, including everything necessary but nothing superfluous.
5. We had everything from vendors, e.g. bags, pens, shipped in groups. We requested they not send us a new, half-full box with each item. This saved boxes, packaging materials and ink. All we had to do was order things in a timely manner.

Here are some ways we saved energy:
1. Most conference materials, including the bags, the new notebooks, lanyards, badge holders and water bottles are either recycled or recyclable. This cut down considerably on the use of new plastics.
2. We elected to offer refillable water bottles for sale. Instead of buying a new water bottle each time you're thirsty, you can simply fill up your new water bottle. They are BPA-free, made of recycled materials, and they're SUPER COOL. (Wait until you see them!)
3. The conference bags, which also look teriffic, are large. This means you can put all your things---including books or other items you purchase---in one bag. We won't need plastic t-shirt bags at The Book Nook. Not only are these bags a waste of energy to produce, they're nearly impossible to get rid of once they are produced. Our landfills are literrally FULL of these bags. You can reuse your conference tote countless times. You can't say the same about the plastic ones.

Things make look more basic this year, but it's on purpose. You will have everything you need. You will, in no way, be inconvienced by these measures. We know that you are more concerned about the writing than the bells and whistles. We're very excited about all the neat conservation measures incorporated into this year's conference. We'll post info at the registration desk and the Book Nook decribing the new conservation-friendly items. Thanks for helping us help the environment!

Even though we're only a few hundred folks, think how much we could all save if all conference were eco-concious. It's not only about the money, it's about the world we're passing on to our kids and grandkids.

The Tale of A Four-Part Harmony or I Finally GOT It!

This weekend my son and I went back to my hometown for two reasons: the Art in Autumn Festival in Weaverville, NC (check out the KILLER T-SHIRT above) and a family reunion. It was so nice to be home! My family has owned the same farm for more than two hundred years. Our family reunion has been at the same location, on the same Sunday, since 1939. As most of you know, I grew up in the high mountains lining the North Carolina-Tennessee border and I'm very proud of my Scots-Irish heritage. Family get-togethers in the Appalachian Mountains always include several staples of our unique culture: food, storytelling and music, lots of music, much of which can be traced back to Scotland and Ireland.

Even though I'm raising my son in the South Carolina Lowcountry, nearly 300 miles and several light-years, from where I grew up, I try very hard to make sure he understands his mountain heritage. I sang Go To Sleep, Little Baby to him when he was teething. I sing Keep On The Sunny Side to him when his heart gets broken. Traditional music ala The Carter Family and Bill Monroe has been part of his experience since the moment he came into the world. And he loves it. For the past several months, he's been enthralled with an old Bill Monroe song called Fox on the Run. The recording I have is a three-part harmony. And even though he knows all the words, and even though we listen to it several times a day, he couldn't sing it to his satisfaction. UNTIL. . .
At the reunion on Sunday, after a great meal, someone picked up a guitar. The banjo and the mandolin were next and soon we were well on our way to an impromptu concert. My son requested Fox on the Run, the pickers agreed on a key, decided to divide the vocals into a four part harmony, and we were off---dozens of similar voices harmonizing. I looked down at my son's face and he was enthralled. His face was aglow with enlightenment. When the chorus came along, he slid into the fourth part of the harmony like it was made just for him.
What does this have to do with writing? My son has heard, practiced and worried with this song's vocals for months. He plays it over and over. Hums it. Taps his foot to it. But he just couldn't get it right---until he heard it in a different way.

The same goes for writing. Sometimes you can work on a scene, or an entire manuscript, and you just can't get it to work. But if you keep working, learning, trying . . .eventually the missing piece will show up and everything will make sense. You have to keep at it, even if the answer or the solution is not immediately apparent. All that work equals something. It's not a waste. And sometimes it takes all that work to get to the solution.

If only I'd played a four-part harmony version of this song, maybe my son would've gotten it sooner. And then he wouldn't have worried over it so much. But maybe not. Maybe the worrying was what he needed. Now, because he had to work at it, he knows every part---the vocals, the rhythms and counter rhythms, the melody. If he hadn't spent so much time on it, he might have only known one part, not the whole song.

Writing is one of those skills that requires a lot of practice. With music, you rarely get it to sound the way you want the first time you play (or sing) it. You'll hit sour notes, forget a sharp, mangle chords. In your manuscript, you'll create flat characters, write dialogue that sounds silly, and overuse adjectives. It's okay. Really. It's okay. You've learned a lot just by virtue of spotting these problems. And eventually, just like for my son, you'll hear that fourth part and realize just what you've been missing.

More about ART IN AUTUMN later this week.

If you're curious about the song, here's a link to a vintage performance by the Country Gentlemen. And yes, it's a four-part harmony.

OR, if you require a Hipper version, in three-part harmony(or something like it), check out Bare Naked Ladies doing the same song

Guest Blogger: Rochelle Bailey

Making the Most of Your Conference
by Editor Rochelle Bailey

Writing isn't a clinical, linear sort of career. On the surface it may seem as though every writer has the same goal – publication – but the specifics of that goal and the best path to reach it are unique to every individual. So when you've made the commitment to attend a writer's conference like the SCWW, how do you know how to make the conference programming and opportunities work for you?

First, be honest about where you are. Have you written part of a book, a whole book, or a whole series of books? Then be honest about where you want to go. Do you need to see your name in print on your own bookshelf, on the bookstore's shelf, or on the NY Times bestseller stand? Your answers determine the best sessions and classes for what you need right now, and what you'll look for as you progress.

If you're just getting started, stick with classes that will strengthen your writing craft. Classes on characters, plotting, conflict, and even manuscript formatting will be invaluable and help you rise above the 'doorstop' fate of so many first novels. And by fitting in a slush fest or query letter session you'll learn a lot just by listening to the feedback.

If you've been writing and submitting those manuscripts, but you keep getting rejected without a request, it's time to hone your query and synopsis skills, double check the market trends, and renew your enthusiasm with a craft session or two. Make time to tune in to other author's who've been there to see what advice you can glean from their experience.

If you've sold a book or two already, but you want to start swimming in a bigger pond or different genre, focus on promotion and marketing sessions, visit a genre or craft session, and use your time to network professionally with agents and editors.

However you decide to spend your time at a conference, always keep an open mind, a smile on your face, and your business cards handy.

Rochelle Bailey is the acquiring editor and director of Quake, the YA division of Echelon Press. Writing as Regan Black, she is also the award winning author of the Shadows of Justice series and several short stories geared toward teen and adult readers.

Currently residing in the Lowcountry of South Carolina she balances editing and writing by managing a household of engineers of all ages and an impressive domestic zoo starring two retired greyhounds, two cats, and three quirky birds.

Watching your Ps and Qs -- on Twitter, Myspace, Facebook...

Recently, Janet Reid mused on her blog about just how public the Internet is. This is something I've mentioned in publicity and submission seminars. While Ms. Reid stated it much better than I can, here are a few points to ponder when evaluating your online image.

  • Items posted on Myspace and Facebook might show up in Internet searches.
  • Comments posted on public blogs, as well as blogs, will appear in Internet searches.
  • Agents do read blogs.
  • Agents not only Google prospective clients' names, but their own names. If you "go off" about an agent on your blog, they can see it. While you might not think much of the person or his/her decision, other agents do and probably won't side with you.
  • While your friends might appreciate your humor and slang, agents might not. It's all about context. If every post on your blog is about how much you drank, how much you ate and how many failed relationships you've had, an agent might run before they learn there's so much more to you.

However, there's hope.

  • You can set your social networking profiles to private. If you've "friended" agents and editors, there are privacy settings to filter how much of your life they can see.
  • There's always the possibility you'll be able to go back to blogs and delete previous posts.
  • The visibility of your blog is a great way to showcase your talent and the positive thoughts you have about your writing, your conference experiences, etc.
  • There's a way to keep tabs on yourself -- visit the Google page and learn more about Google Alerts.
  • Want to learn how to use the World Wide Web for good instead of embarrassment? There are sessions covering social networking at the 2009 South Carolina Writers Workshop.

One last thought, photos you and your friends post on public sites can be searched as well. So, you might want to start bargaining now to get your sister to take down that photo of you...

Pssstttt! I've Got a Secret: Advance Notice of Silent Auction Goodies

I told you earlier that the info would be posted on the main site first, but I couldn't keep it to myself any longer. Here are some, JUST some, of the wonderful items that have been donated by faculty.

1. Barbara Poelle – Query letter, first three chapters and synopsis
2. Pam Ahearn – Partial manuscript (First three chapters)
3. Chuck Sambuchino – 100-page critique
4. Jeff Kleinmann – 75-page critique
5. Nikki Poppen – Full manuscript critique
6. Rochelle Bailey – Critique of YA manuscript
7. Jim Casada – A manuscript critique
8. Jim McCarthy – 50-page critique
9. Joanna Stampfel-Volpe – 50-page critique
10. Scott Eagan – Critique of First three chapters and synopsis
11. Karen Syed – Critique

The hard and fast rules will be posted on the silent auction bid sheets on the tables. Some faculty members will have specific requirements so be sure to read the sheets before you bid.

MAN OH MAN! What an incredible list.

Please remember to thank faculty members for their generous donations to our Silent Auction. They receive NO PROCEEDS from their item(s). They donate time and energy to helping you better your craft and in the meantime keep the conference affordable for all of us. They are not required in any way to donate. They're doing it because they're nice people, they have passion for the industry and they want to help us become better writers.

Thanks to everyone who's donating something. We really appreciate your commitment to the conference and the craft.

Where Have I Been? An Update on All Things Conference

Sorry I've been so slack on posting the last couple of weeks, but Carrie and I have been swamped with last minute details. Last minute details? The conference is six weeks from now. Isn't it a bit early? Not really. For us, it's right around the corner. We started planning LAST YEAR and we're in the home stretch. (At least, we keep telling each other that.) I thought I'd take a few minutes to update everyone on what we're doing.

CRITIQUES---The submissions are going out this week! Some faculty members already have them and the rest will receive them by Friday. If you want to add another critique, call or email us ASAP so we can get your submission to faculty. There are still a few primo spots left so don't miss the opportunity to get priceless feedback from a professional.

SILENT AUCTION---Boy, do we have some FANTASTIC ITEMS this year! I can't tell you about all of them---there isn't room, but I will tell you that MOST of our faculty members have donated something and that includes SEVERAL critiques. (Think BIG NAMES, FANTASTIC AGENTS AND EDITORS). More information will be posted on the SCWW website soon. Be sure to check it out so you can start planning your bidding strategy. When it's posted, I'll blog about the details. We're still taking donations, so if you have some new or slightly used books you'd like to donate or arts and crafts items, we'd love to have them!

GOODIES---We've selected some items you're going to love! The Book Nook will be carrying a whole host of SCWW merchandise including T-shirts with this year's quote (HINT: Toni Morrison), BPA-free water bottles, recycled journals, pens, NEW & IMPROVED over sized mugs (and yes, we'll have more coffee this year thanks to a couple of Chapters), and books galore.

CARRIE McCRAY--According to our Contests Chair, Kim Blum-Hyclak, the contest is off and running. The judges have the submissions and are working hard to choose winners in each of the categories. The winners will be announced at Friday night's dinner. If you purchased a Basic, but would like to go to the awards presentation, there's still plenty of room . Email us and we'll be happy to add a dinner ticket to your registration.

ACCOMMODATIONS---If you haven't booked your room yet, you need to do it ASAP. Hilton will guarantee our discounted rate until Wednesday, September23. If you like a little extra space, consider booking a room at Royale Palms. These condos are connected to the Hilton proper---no dashing through wind and water to get to class---and they each have a kitchens and deluxe baths. (They're SUPER NICE.) They're offering great rates on these rooms. They have 2 and 3 bedroom units available, too----great if you're bunking with a friend.

All the links you will need are at

Please call or email if you need to add anything, ask anything, or donate anything. We'd love to hear from you!

A special thanks to Nikki Poppen for her blogs. I, for one, will be sneaking into her Friday Intensives. I promise to get back on schedule as soon as I get all your manuscript babies out to your faculty members.

Guest Blogger: Nikki Poppen

Hi All,

The conference is just a little over a month away and I can hardly wait to meet and work with so many of you! Fall is a fun time for me as a writer because it’s my ‘writer’s new year’ and everything is fresh. You probably have a ‘new year’ too depending on your own writing cycles. My new year is marked by two things: the start of any new contracts I’ve acquired over the year, the start of the ‘fall book’ (I write one book every nine weeks, so essentially every academic quarter). Fall traditionally has not be a time for me that is filled with revisions and finishing work from my editor, so it feels like my plate is cleared and I am ready to begin again! As proof of that, I just finished the revisions from my editor on a manuscript I completed in July, I just began writing the opening three chapters of the fall book and I just got the new contract for this year’s Undone Shorts at Harlequin to go with the three books slated to be written this year. It’s been a great week, and my mind has been on beginnings, so I thought I’d focus this blog on some strategies for great openers. For the sake of copyright issues, I’ve limited the examples to my own works.

Great opening lines and chapters are essentially held to the same criteria as an introduction in a public address or a good opening paragraph like the sorts we might have written in college English composition. Here’s what a good opening is supposed to do:

Grab the reader ‘s (audience’s) attention
Create a reason for that reader to want to keep on reading
Get the reader organized around the central plot (the reader needs to know early what is the focus of the story and I am a firm believer that happens in chapter 1).
Create a ‘road map’ of where the story is going (this can be a work in progress that spans the first two chapters).

The blog will talk about the first step, and if you’re interested in how to do the other 3 steaps, come to the ‘writing the romance’ session I’m hosting at the conference!

Grabbing attention, or how to construct exciting opening lines:
Here’s some techniques to help get that first line just right:

1. Start with a startling claim: An example might be the opening line from “The Viscount Claims His Bride,”
“Valerian Inglemoore, the Viscount St Just, had a secret, a dreadful secret that caused him to tremble in guilt and self-loathing as he stood alone on Lady Rutherford’s verandah.”

As you can see, the startling claim doesn’t have to be shocking or vulgar or even all that sensational. But this startling claim does do double duty. Think of all the things you now know about the hero in roughly 30 words.
a) The hero is a titled gentleman (so that creates some plot, behavior and lifestyle expectations on the reader’s part).
b) The hero has a secret AND we know how he feels about that secret. He is ashamed. This also builds in some anticipation. The reader knows at this point that he’s got to do something distasteful in regards to that secret, or that the secret is going to affect his life.
c) We know where the hero is.

2. Start with deductive reasoning: a large claim that is narrowed down specifically to the character in question: Check out Jane Austen’s opening to “Pride and Prejudice” and how the large claim is narrowed down to Mr. Darcy specifically (I’m not sure about copyright so I am not going to risk re-typing the lines here). I used this strategy in the book I just finished for Harlequin and I can put that opening lines here.

“Ballrooms were made for business. All the standard trappings of festivity aside, ballrooms were a gentleman’s office. They were the places a gentleman conducted the most important business transactions of his life; ensuring a place in society and arranging his marriage. Jack had already done the latter and had no intentions of doing the former.”

This provides us in just a few lines with a sense of:
1. Place and setting
2. An interesting ‘philosophical thought’
3. A brief look into the hero’s psyche. We can guess at this point a few things
about Jack.

3. Go ahead and opening with something shocking. I did this in “The Earl’s Forbidden Ward,” Here’s the opener:

“Peyton Ramsden, fourth earl of Dursley, was doing what he did best—technically superior, emotionally removed sex with his mistress of two years. Certain of her fulfillment, he gave a final thrust and withdrew to make a gentleman’s finish in the sheets.”

4. Start with the action! In many ways I’ve said the best for last. Here’s two examples. The first one is from “Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady”

“She would not be sold like a prized mare at Tattersalls! Julia Prentiss’s elegantly coiffed head swiveled in disbelief between Uncle Barnaby and Mortimer Oswalt,the lecherous old cit who had come to offer for her.”

Think of everything we now know about Julia:
1. She’s mad
2. She is probably living with relatives and at their mercy since there isn’t a father arranging this marriage for her
3. She’s a young woman of rank, as reflected in her knowledge and association with Tattersalls and her opinion of the merchant-class man who has come to offer for her.

And most importantly, there’s the action. We open up right away with a bargaining scene. We don’t start with Julia being called downstairs or with any back story about how she’s something of an orphan or that her family has fallen on hard times etc. We just start with the action and all those things get neatly inferred into the scene.

The second example is from “Pickpocket Countess.”
“Even in the darkness, he could sense the subtle alteration of the room. The room had been disturbed. Brandon Wycroft, the fifth earl of Stockport, muttered curses under his breath. The Cat had been here.”

Brandon’s home has been burglarized. Again we start with the action. If you read two paragraphs down in the book the reader immediately discovers the Cat is still in the room and there’s a glorious, passionate scramble for escape.

One great tip I picked up from Claire Delacroix a couple years ago is: Don’t be afraid to throw out your first 2-3 chapters. The action probably starts with chapter 3 and that’s where your final draft of the story should start too. This tip has never failed me! All the back story, all the exciting things we as writers know about our characters can be worked in throughout the story instead of laying tons of ground work too early.

Enjoy! Come by the romance writing seminar and introduce yourselves!
Nikki Poppen, writing as Bronwyn Scott

Critique Madness: Here They Are!

Here they are! All neatly organized and ready to transmit or mail!
Since I'm handling critiques this year, lots of you have called or emailed to ask about the process. How we organize, sort, transmit, etc. I thought it might be interesting to have a blog post that explains the whole murky process.
The manuscript you sent via email is saved on a flash drive, in folders by faculty member. This drive will be taken to the conference just in case another copy of your submission is needed for any reason. (This does NOT mean you shouldn't consider bringing your own flash drive.)

The manuscript you mailed traveled from the post office to my house, where it was stored in a large tupperware bin until all of them arrived. Then, on September 6th, I moved all the furniture in my living room to the side and sorted them. (For once, I was very thankful for my impractical formal living room---it's long instead of wide and I fuss about this constantly---just ask Mr. Husband. He knows a millon reasons why the fireplace SHOULD BE ON THE LONG WALL. But, he admits, he doesn't know WHY it isn't.) After they were alphabetized, I put them in boxes and under lock and key. If your faculty member asked for paper copies, he or she will be sent one copy and the conference will keep the other. Again, in case we need a copy once we get to the conference site.

Take heart----I take the care of these submissions very seriously. The only eyes that will see them and the only fingers that will touch them are mine and you faculty member's. They are safe with me!

What happens when the conference is over? You can pick up your copies or we will shred them. This will be done before we leave the beach. I give you my word---they will be shredded.

Faculty members chose, when they signed their contracts, how they wanted to receive their manuscripts. Some chose mail and some chose email. So, I'll be sending them out the next few days.
Keep your fingers crossed. This just might be your year!
For the record, I read Nikki Poppen's THE DOWAGER'S WAGER yesterday. Bravo, Nikki!
And today I REALLY AM working on line edits. All day. No matter what. Even if Mr. Husband wants to whisk me away to some tropical beach--HINT, HINT---I'll be here in my office.

I Know I Should Be Working. . .

This long holiday weekend would be a perfect time for drafting or for finishing that line edit I've been working on for ages.

But I'm in the mood to read. The weather is already a little cooler and I'm itching to drag my favorite chair under the Pecan tree in my backyard and travel to a faraway land. I'm not sure what I'll read----I have a huge "TO READ" stack beside my bed---but I wanted to share a few titles with you. I promise NONE of the below will disappoint! Some are new and some are old favorites. Enjoy!

Literary Fiction





Surely one of these will fit the bill. I'll let you know what I chose and tell you all about it tomorrow.

Are You Too Married?

A manuscript is an extension of you. In a way it's like a child---you create it, play with it, train it, and hope to share it with the world. But remember, you love your children like no one else in the world. You also love your manuscript more than anyone in the world.

You SHOULD love it, but. . .

It's easy to get too attached to your manuscript. After all, you've spent countless hours working to make it perfect. You've sacrificed time you could have spent with family and friends writing your masterpiece. You've weighed every word, deleted and reinserted the same scene several times, rewritten dialogue for weeks at a time. And now it's finished. And it's perfect. And YOU'RE NOT GOING TO CHANGE A DARN THING.

If you feel this way, you're too married to your manuscript. After you've spent months, or years, with the same story, it's impossible to see your own work. You need the advice of other writers, agents, editors. Change can be a good thing. Don't resist. Listen, weigh, and go back to your masterpiece. Usually you will see that at least a few of them are right.

When writers are too married to a manuscript, a red flag pops into the heads of publishing professionals. If you're unwilling to change a single word, a single scene break, they're going to think you're high maintenance. And you know what that means, right? In the words of my mother, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." If a few changes could make the difference in whether you get published, consider making those changes. Consider listening.

Here's the disclaimer: If the suggested changes mean you have to compromise a theme or change the whole concept of the book, think long and hard before you decide.

On the other hand, if the changes are mostly window dressing, maybe you should make them. After all, it's better to improve your manuscript for your readers than to get your way.

Literary CSI: Are you fingerprints on file?

I'll bet you can name a handful of authors that you simply ADORE. You buy their books in hardback, watch the bookstores for signings, search to find out when the next masterpiece will ship. What makes them so special? Why do you love their work?

I would argue that, in most cases, it's because you like their VOICE. Voice is like an author's fingerprint. It's what makes the writing unique and individual. It's a combination of phrasing, diction, dialogue, character development. It's simply what makes Faulkner Faulkner or Hemingway Hemingway.

Voice is a difficult thing. It seems like it would be an easy task. We're all different, so we should all write differently, right? Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. Sometimes you have to work at finding your voice. You have to play with composition, structure, and all the other elements that make up your work.

Think of it like this: When you bake a cake, you use the standard ingredients: Flour, eggs, oil, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract or cocoa, sugar. But do all cakes taste the same? No---it's the pinch of cinnamon, or the cup of pecans, or the helix of lemon zest that can make all the difference. And why does your wife's pound cake taste so much better than your mother's? (Or maybe it's the other way around at your house. LOL) And even though your mother has given your wife that recipe a dozen times, it never tastes the same, does it? Is it the proportion of the ingredients or the temperature of the stove?

VOICE is your literary fingerprint. It makes your book, or story, or poem special and unique. Sure, it pays to read other authors in your genre, but not so that you can copy their recipe. You should read them in order to expand your thinking, open your creative channels, so that you can create YOUR OWN VOICE. Finding YOUR OWN VOICE will make your characters leap off the page, it will make your settings tangible, and your dialogue snappy. It will also help move your manuscript from the slush pile to the center of Mr. Dreamagent's desk.

When you present your cake to the world, you don't want it to be a Betty Crocker Mix with icing from a plastic canister. You want it to be your recipe---the one you've slaved over, perfected and polished. You want everyone to say,"I LOVE THIS CAKE . IT'S THE BEST CAKE I'VE EVER TASTED!" And you want them to mean it---because it is yours and only yours.

Guest Blogger: Jenny Bent: Please Don't Take Me Personally

Please Don't Take Me Personally, and other tips for pitching agents and editors at conferences.I've blogged before about getting the most from conferences( and one of the most important things I wrote about is relying less on pitching and more on making personal connections.

Meeting an agent at a meal and chatting with her about your mutual love of dogs makes you stand out much more than pitching her a book from opposite sides of the salad bar. Later on, when you query her, and reference the conversation, she'll bring a positive memory to her reading of your work. In other words, the non-pitch ismore powerful than the pitch.

Most of the clients I've picked up at conferences I did not meet in a pitch session, but on a panel, or in a social setting, or because they had volunteered in some capacity and met me that way.Having said that, pitching your book can be valuable too. Even if it doesn't result in an immediate book deal (it's good to keep your expectations realistic), preparing to pitch is a great way to focus and think about how to pitch your book, and then get feedback from an agent or editor about not only the project, but the quality of your pitch. The pitch you create for a conference can then be used to create a really strong pitch letter.So when you're sitting down and planning your pitch, don't make the rookie mistake of writing the entire plot in teeny tiny letters on an index card and planning to sit down and read it to me for the entire five minutes of your session. I've had this happen countless times, and I understand it,because the assumption is that I want to know the complete plot of the book.But I don't, really. I want to know how you can sum it up in a few sentences. Two very, very different things.

When you sit down across from me, I'm going to ask you a few questions about yourself as a writer, andthen ask you to sum up your book in a few sentences. The last thing I wantto hear is a straight five minutes of you reading to me a detailed synopsis of every plot point. I'm not saying you can't bring notes--just don't sit down and read to me for the entire pitch. Also, sometimes I'm going to cut you off and explain to you how your pitch could be improved. Please take that in the spirit in which it's intended. Agents, after all, are all about the pitch--that's a hugely important part of our jobs--so it's not surprising that I may have a few thoughts on the subject.Which brings me to my next point.

Writing is an intensely personal processand so it is perfectly understandable that if I'm not in love with your material it feels like I am ripping out your soul. But here is what is so important to remember: 99 times out of 100, I turn down material not because I think it is bad, but because it just isn't a good fit for me. To illustrate: on a number of occasions I have turned down material even though there is already a deal attached. To me, this makes perfect sense, but I am told that this behaviour is baffling to some writers. Yet, truly, in some cases it would be entirely unethical of me to take on your project simplybecause you already have money coming to you.Think about it this way: when I read your work, not only do I need to love it as a reader, I need to understand it as a marketer. I need the love so I can stand by you through thick and thin, so I can still feel passionate about your work if you hit a career downswing as so many writers do. Even if you have a book deal now, pretty soon that contract will be done, andI'll need to negotiate a new deal. What if the books didn't work and it's areal challenge to find you your next gig? I need the love to do this in a convincing way. If I don't believe it, neither will the editors I call.That's the love part.

The marketing part is this. When I'm reading a novel that I love and I start mentally making my submission list because I knowt he exact editors that will love it, that's when I know I should sign the author. Sometimes I'll read material that's really strong, but I can'tfigure out who I would send it to, or even how I would position it in the marketplace. If I'm going to agent something well, I need to know what the competition is, what titles I can compare it to, which editors are lookingfor this kind of work, and which already have something that is too similar.There are just too many genres and editors out there for me to know how to do this for every single manuscript I read.Point being, even if it feels personal, it's truly not. And most of the time I'm going to ask to see your material regardless because a good pitch never guarantees good material and vice versa. Plenty of amazing writers are not good pitchers.

Finally, I completely understand if you're nervous. I would be nervous too.But I swear I am the most harmless person on the planet (unless I represent you in which case I am a bulldog). But mostly I am harmless if sometimes abit brusque, and you have nothing to fear when pitching me.

Now, Holly Henderson Root is a monster and you should definitely fear her, but I am a completely different story. (Kidding! I kid. Holly and I are good friends.)So please don't worry. I'm perfectly happy to spend the entire pitchtalking about shoes and I'll ask you to send your material anyway, so reallythere is no pressure.

And that, I guess, is the moral of this post. EVEN IF WE SPEND THE ENTIRE SESSION TALKING ABOUT YOUR SHOES I WILL STILL ASK TO SEE YOUR WORK. Which is to say that you have nothing to worry about. I will never hold a flubbed pitch against you; I will always read your work with an open mind (unless you insult my dog or something); and unless you throw up on my shoes or something I'm sure I won't even notice or remember any mistakes or missteps that you make.So figure out how to sum up your work in a few great sentences, come up with a fabulous title (agents and editors love fabulous titles) and then don't sweat it. Even if you can't sum it up well or can't find a good title, I'll help you in the pitch because I think that kind of thing is fun. Again,it's kind of in my job description. I'll see you soon.

In a career spanning 15 years, Jenny Bent has made a practice of making bestsellers — either by spotting new talent or developing careers for multi-published authors. Her list is varied and includes commercial fiction and nonfiction, literary fiction and memoir.

All the books she represents speak to the heart in some way: they are linked by genuine emotion, inspiration and great writing and story-telling. This includes books like NYT bestselling author John Kasich’s upcoming Every Other Monday, about his twenty years in a bible study group; the upcoming Whom Not to Marry by Pat Connor, an 80-year-old Catholic priest featured in a recent Maureen O’Dowd column; the #1 New York Times best seller The Red Hat Society; the NYT bestseller Lost and Found, a book about loss and grief and how our pets can help us to heal; and humor writing including the New York Times bestseller Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro and the many New York Times bestsellers by Jill Conner Browne of Sweet Potato Queen fame. She has made a specialty of representing Southern voices of all types.

In the realm of commercial fiction she represents many New York Times bestselling novelists including Lynsay Sands, Julia London, Sandra Hill and USA Today bestsellers Kathy Caskie and Janelle Denison.

She was born in New York City, but grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in a house full of books where she spent many lazy afternoons reading in a sunny window seat. She went on to England to get a BA/MA with first class honors from Cambridge University. After graduation she worked in magazines, bookselling and agenting, most recently at Trident Media Group. She now lives in Brooklyn in an apartment full of books and while there are not quite so many lazy reading afternoons, she manages to fit one in now and then.

Early Registration Rates End Soon!

It's hard to believe September is just a few days away! For writers who haven't registered for the SCWW conference yet, you can still get the early bird rate. Just be sure to go online and register no later than 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009. When the clock chimes midnight, rates will go up $50.

Also, Sept. 1, 2009, marks the closing of critiques. You'll be able to buy critiques through Tuesday, but you'll need to have your copies postmarked Sept. 1, and your e-mail copies will need to be in our inbox no later than 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009.

There are still critique spaces available. Did you buy one during registration and want another? Just contact me ( and I'll walk you through the process of adding it to your registration.

In addition, there are still some pitches up for grabs. There's no limit to the number of pitches you can register for, and no deadline for signing up. However, these are going fast, so you'll want to register soon to get the best shot at your top choices. If you've already registered and want to add some pitches, just contact me (

What questions about the conference? You can leave a comment below or feel free to e-mail me (conference@myscww) or the Conference Co-chair Lateia E. Sandifer. ( We're happy to help.

What's Your Favorite Flavor? A short note on subjectivity

Can you explain why you prefer red nail polish to pink? Why do you watch Law & Order instead of Desperate Housewives? Does vanilla taste better than chocolate? And if so, why?

Preference is a hard thing to put into words. You like certain things because, well, because you like them. This applies to the publishing world, too. Agents, editors and publishers like certain manuscripts better than others. Just because. Of course there are often elements one can point to---well-defined characters, evocative phrasing, tangible setting---but in the long run, these too are subjective.

Try to remember this when you go to your critiques. One person's opinion can't sink, or sail, your ship. Don't be upset if your faculty member doesn't like your work. It isn't the end of the world. Another person might love it just the way it is. Listen to the comments and criticisms, weigh them all carefully, and then decide whether to make the changes or let you work stay the way it is. But remember, it's all subjective.

You might hear something like, "It's well-written, but it's just not for me." Or, "I just don't feel strongly enough about the manuscript to represent it." Try not to press to hard to find out WHY, WHY, WHY. If there is a definable WHY, the faculty member will likely tell you. But sometimes, the WHY is just because. Kind of like when your high-school sweetie breaks-up with you and can't tell you WHY. Sometimes there's just no good answer to WHY---at least not an answer that satisfies.

When the right agent, editor or publisher comes along you will KNOW it. Just like you knew it when you discovered your spouse. You JUST KNOW. Don't try to make things fit. Don't try to MAKE the faculty member like your work if they don't. You need someone who loves your work and will support you in the lean times.

It's like that old Buck Owens song. You say tomato, I say to-mato.

To the Letter: The Importance of Following Directions

It's vital that you read, several times, any directions posted in submission guidelines. Whether you're submitting a manuscript, material for a critique, or a contest entry, you MUST follow all the directions. TO THE LETTER.

Agents, editors, publishers and contest/critique coordinators have very specific reasons for their directions. Many times you have to sit in the person's seat before you see the WHY behind the directions. Here's the main point: The why DOES NOT MATTER.

If the rules seems silly, half-cracked, stupid, oh well. You just have to cope with them. But please, PLEASE, PLLLLEEEAASSEEE follow them.

Let me give you an example:
Some agents, in fact most, state in submission guidelines that they will not accept any material they have to sign to accept. (This means no registered mail, no certified mail, NOTHING THAT REQUIRES A SIGNATURE.)

Let's say you want to submit to an agent who posts this in his submission guidelines. But you think it's a stupid rule. I mean, after all, your manuscript is the best thing he's ever read, right? There's no chance he won't want to represent it. And you need to make sure it gets there safe and sound, right? Why shouldn't the agent make an exception for you since you're going to be the next NYT perennial bestseller?


Let's say the agent has a post office box. He goes to pick up the mail after hours---keep in mind he's been on the phone with editors, other agents and clients all day, he's had to read queries, maybe look over a client's work for submission--- and he gets a nice little green card that says he has a package he must sign to accept. Since the submission guidelines SPECIFICALLY STATE no signatures, maybe the agent thinks its a special package---a gift from an author, a BIG CHECK, or a knitted scarf from Grandma back in Vermont. So he changes his schedule, makes another trip to the Post Office the following day to pick up the package, waits in line (when he could be reading queries, calling an editor, updating his website), signs in the TWO required places (once on the card and once on the credit card machine), looks at the return address and finds the package is from someone he's never heard of, someone he's never solicited material from, and guess what? HE'S STEAMED. Who wouldn't be?

Did you think of this when you slid the rule into the stupid column? And now that he's really ticked off, do you think he wants to read your stuff? Rush to offer representation? No. No. And no.

This is just one explanation for one rule you probably see quite a bit. All those other rules usually have logical explanations that most of us have never considered. So please, don't shoot yourself in the foot before you ever get out of the gate. Follow the rules. Even if they don't make sense.

Voices in My Head: Drill Sergeant vs. The Muse

On Tuesday I was invited to vist Old Santee Canal Park, near Charleston, in Berkeley County, South Carolina. Even though I've lived in this state for my entire adult life, I never knew about this place. It's home to the oldest canal in the country---even older than the Erie Canal. They have lots of interesting exhibits---including a semi-submersable submarine circa 1860s, a plantation house, and lots of cool household artifacts---and they have several nature trails. Here's the link:

While I was walking along the boardwalk that makes up part of the "Swamp Trail" I got inspired! The guide, a naturalist, was busy telling us all about a Giant Orb Spider and the outline of a story just popped into my head. For the rest of the tour I formulated characters, scenes, even a great first line. The park served as great inspiration for me. When I got back to my hotel room, I scribbled down my ideas and then started a new file on my laptop.

THEN I REMEMBERED. I am in the middle of drafting one novel, finishing up line edits on another, working on an outline for a third one. I CANNOT TAKE ON ANOTHER PROJECT. NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE PLOT SOUNDS.

This is what I call Drill Sergeant vs. The Muse. It's a constant balancing act we writers have to work at creating. The call of a new project---new characters, a new setting, new scenes----is always exciting. But, the Drill Sergeant part of the brain tells us to slow down, finish what we've started, have the self-discipline to sit down and polish the product before we start something new.

I think, as writers, we need both. You need to go places and see things that inspire you, but you also need to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Lots of people start books, few finish them, and even fewer finish and polish them to the point of making them publishable.

Think of these two voices as a good marriage----of course you need chemistry and attraction but you also need to make budgets and wash dishes. In order to be fulfilled, you need flash and substance.

Allow yourself to be constantly inspired. Keep good records. Preserve the moment. But don't follow the muse if it means abandoning a project you've been working on for a long time. Create balance. You'll be surprised how far it takes you!

And, if you're ever in Charleston, check out the park. It really is sublime!

Fiction Query Letters: The Good, Day 4

August 21, 2009

Miss Constance Writer
PO 123
Greenville, ZQ 01234

Ms. Dream Agent
Bestsellers R Us Literary Agency
123 Bleecker Street, Suite 100
New York, NY 12345

Dear Ms. Dream Agent,

My 90, 000 word novel, THE SCOTTISH LADY, is a Victorian Romance that will appeal to fans of Queenie Query and Write A. Chapteraday.

Even in these economic times, historical romances are selling better than ever. Victorian romance is becoming a big seller, all but replacing novels set in the Regency Period. Even though THE SCOTTISH LADY is a very unique story, it should fit well with your other titles, such as Ima Writer’s Rogue’s Risk and Jewel Ofabook’s Marriage Mart.

When Catherine MacGregor’s husband is killed in a carriage accident, she becomes the richest widow in Scotland. When her unscrupulous step-brother is appointed her guardian, she realizes she must leave Glenloch, the only home she’s ever known before he marries her off to some cash-poor aristocrat. Dressed as a governess, she escapes to Dundee where she plans to catch a train to Edinburgh. Her plans are foiled when the bridge over the Firth of Tay collapses, leaving Dundee with no train service.

She checks into an inn where she meets Duncan Frazier. He’s not the merchant’s son he claims to be; she can tell by the cut of his coat and the clip of his upper-crust accent that he’s aristocracy. She’s drawn to his intelligence and his dedication to helping the poor families of Dundee, but she’s not about to fall in love. Marriage is a mistake she won’t make again. Duncan needs a wife and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to capture Catherine, heart and soul.

Filled with twists and turns, THE SCOTTISH LADY, is filled with light-hearted misunderstandings, sizzling romance, and rich historical detail.

I am a member of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop and TypingDreams, a critique group. THE SCOTTISH LADY won first place in the Love Me Contest sponsored by the Greenville RWA Chapter. The contest was judged by Stellar Editor of BookHouse.

As stated in your guidelines, I have included a synopsis and the first ten pages Thank you for considering THE SCOTTISH LADY and I look forward to hearing from you.

Constance Writer