First, here’s my advice on what you should include in your critique pages:
1. A synopsis. While this is optional for you to include for an SCWW conference critique, I encourage writers have one in their materials.
2. Formatted manuscript pages. When you register for your critique, you know you’ll only be turning in 10 pages or 30 pages. You want to make the most of those pages. Don’t fall for the temptation of taking out paragraphing. Don’t change it to single spaced paragraphs. Don’t delete the page breaks between chapters. Keep it formatted as a manuscript – double spaced, correct paragraphs, 12-point type, single-sided printing.
3. Your best, edited version. You’ve gone to all the trouble of registering for a conference and a critique. Make sure yours are not the only set of eyes that have looked at the pages. It’s impossible to edit yourself. Your eyes will fill in words you haven’t typed and will automatically correct errors. Whether you ask a friend to look at your package or you hire an editor, make sure you aren’t the only one who has seen your submission.
Here are a few things to include in your pitch prep:
1. Know your genre and make sure you state it. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’ve run into many proposals that start with “My novel is a thriller, with a touch of women’s issues and a sub-genre of fantasy.” The problem is, if you don’t know what you’re trying to sell, how will a marketing guru at a publishing house pitch it to book buyers?
2. Time your pitch. With the SCWW conference, an attendee will have five minutes to make a pitch. Then, the faculty member will provide five minutes of feedback. An agent or editor might even ask to see your work, based on the pitch. Use a stop watch. Force yourself to weigh each word. Be sure you’re speaking at your normal, conversational speed. An agent probably won’t ask for a submission from someone who speaks faster than a chipmunk or slower than a turtle (though, in all honesty, they likely won’t ask for a submission from any talking animal).
3. Watch yourself prepare in a mirror. It might sound silly, but this is a good way to make sure you’re going to make eye contact. You’ll also notice if you’re smiling, if you’re excited about the project, if your body language shows how confident you are about your manuscript.
Now, a list of things to avoid in your preparation for critiques and pitches:
1. Don’t break the rules. If you’re supposed to submit 10 pages, don’t submit 12 pages. If you’re set to submit 30 pages, don’t submit 35 pages. If you’re preparing a pitch, don’t prepare a 15-minute pitch.
2. Don’t send or pitch work that isn’t ready. If you don’t feel confident about your submission, switch to one of your manuscripts you feel is ready. Your lack of confidence in a work will show. If you aren’t excited, why should anyone else be excited? Also, if agents or editors say they’d like to see the entire manuscript, will you be able to provide it within 30 days?
3. For a critique, don’t miss the deadline for submitting materials.
Remember, all critique materials must be received by September 1, 2009. Mail your critique materials to:
PO Box 503
Bamberg, SC 29003
In part three, I’m going to offer my advice on how to prepare for your one-on-one time during your critique or pitch.
Still have questions about pitches and critiques? Feel free to ask via a comment on the blog (you can be anonymous) or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cards are hosting the LA Dodgers, so we'll be going to a couple of games. (http://stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com). We've already got reservations at our favorite resturants---including The Feasting Fox (http://www.feastingfox.com) , and I plan to spend at least one day at the St. Louis Art Museum. And we may be able to fit it in Zoo in Forest Park! (http://www.stlzoo.org/)
What's the point in sharing my itenerary?
Sometimes it's great, as a writer, to take a break. See new things. Eat new food. Divorce yourself from all the distractions. It's amazing how just a few days in a different place can get you re-energized and re-inspired to write.
I've learned over the years to allow myself time to NOT WRITE. Sometimes NOT WRITING is the only thing that will push your writing to the next level. I'm not suggesting a long break---just a few days, here and there. It's kind of like being on a diet. If you deny your cravings too long, instead of having one piece of cake, you find yourself in Wal-Mart a 2am buying an entire bag of Baby Ruth Bars and eating them in the deserted parking lot. As a writer, you need a break from the self-discipline and constant brain activity it takes to be successful in this game. You need non-literary stimulation.
It's okay to take a break. It's okay to pause, take a deep breath and look around. You might find the answer to the plot problem you're having, or you may find the dynamic character that's destined to be the hero of your next novel.
Be good to yourself. You're the only writer who can write what you write they way you write it. Your brain, creativity, style are unique and valuable. Don't work so hard that you burn yourself out and never want to write again.
Stay inspired and look for me on the JUMBOTRON.
Stay tuned for the next two parts of Carrie's blog on critiques and pitches. I'm leaving you in excellent hands, dear readers.
Critiques and Pitches: Why you need these, what you should include (and avoid) and how to prepare for it all! Part 1 of 3
Here’s my advice on why writers need critiques and pitches:
1. If you crave input, feedback and suggestions, you should add a critique. Some writers are content writing for the pure joy of putting words on paper. However, most writers want to know what they’re doing right, what they need to improve and what they can do to make their work more competitive in the market.
2. If you’re ready to shop your manuscript around to agents, editors and publishers, a critique would really help, but definitely add a pitch. While you should be sending out query letters and manuscripts (while strictly following the submission guidelines of each professional you query), critiques and pitches at the conference afford you face time and reading time you can’t guarantee with a query. In 2008, about fifty manuscripts were requested by faculty members. At least one of those requests has already resulted in a published book. Several attendees from last year have shared news that even if their manuscript wasn’t a match for the faculty member who critiqued it, they got suggestions of agencies and houses to query. Some attendees even got introductions to these agents and editors.
3. If you’re tweaking your query and synopsis and need feedback on how you describe your story, a pitch session would help. Have you ever had someone ask what your book is about and it takes 30 minutes to explain? Do you dread putting together a two-page synopsis? Do you feel like you’re living in a vacuum and need to bounce your query approach off someone? That’s what you’ll be doing in a pitch session. You’ll have five minutes to describe your project. Then, the faculty member will have five minutes to ask questions and provide feedback. The faculty members won’t have any prior knowledge of your work. An agent or editor might ask for more of your work if you grab his/her attention during the pitch. In fact, publisher Karen Syed says most of her requests are based on one-on-one interactions with writers.
Next time, I’ll provide suggestions on what to include in your critique package and pitch preparation, and what to avoid in your critique package and pitch preparation.
Still have questions about pitches and critiques? Feel free to ask via a comment on the blog (you can be anonymous) or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
YOUR and YOU'RE
YOUR is a posessive pronoun. Use it when you're referring to someone's property, feelings, etc. Example: YOUR backpack looks very heavy.
YOU'RE is a contraction. It joins the pronoun YOU with the present tense of "to be"--otherwise known as "are."
Example: You're going to be sorry you were so mean to me!
ITS and IT'S
ITS is a possessive pronoun. Just like 'your', use it to denote possession.
Example: The dog chewed on its bone.
IT'S is a contraction. It joins the pronoun IT with the present tense of "to be"---otherwise known as "is."
Example: It's raining cats and dogs.
THERE, THEIR and THEY'RE
THERE refers to a place. It can be concrete (the building over there) or abstract (you don't want to go there.)
Example: Are the napkins over there by the china cabinet?
THEIR is a possessive adjective. Use it to denote ownership.
Example: The kids overcame their fear of water by learning to swim.
THEY'RE is a contraction using the pronoun they with the present tense of the verb "to be." It can only be used as a subject.
Example: They're going to a party later.
TOO, TO and TWO
TOO is always an adverb meaning "also" or "in addition to."
I'd like to go to the movies, too.
TO is a preposition used when you're talking about direction. It is also used to form the infinitive of a verb.
Example (preposition): I went to the market.
Example (infinitive): I want to play basketball.
TWO is always a number. It can't be used in any other way.
Example: Please send two pair of pants with your child.
WHO'S and WHOSE
WHO'S is a contraction of who and the present tense of the verb "to be."
Who's going to the party with me?
WHOSE is a possessive pronoun.
Whose house is this?
If you've been confusing any of the above words, check your closet. What you thought was the quiet hiss of the A/C might be something more sinister.
In general, literary fiction is more about character arc than plot. It moves a little slower, there's more subtlety. It's brain food, written with a deliberate purpose. One of my recent faves is MUDBOUND, by Hillary Jordan. It deals with racism and sharecropping in the post WWII Deep South. (If you haven't read this already, RUSH TO THE LIBRARY OR THE NEAREST BOOKSTORE NOW! You can read the blog later.) The novel is filled with evocative prose, tangible characters, and that indefinable 'something'. Jordan's style allows the reader to connect with all her characters---even the really mean ones. But stuff happens. Lots of stuff. There is a plot---there are even subplots. And there is a social purpose.
Literary fiction is NOT rambling, unconnected prose that goes nowhere. Even if it's beautiful prose. Even if the reader can taste the figs, and smell the fresh cut grass, it still has to go somewhere. The reader MUST see the evolution of at least one of your characters, and the only way to nudge a character into this metamorphosis is by using events---internal or external---to create that change.
And, the reader has to GET IT. You can't expect a sale, or a huge success, if your book is so erudite that only Ivy League professors get it. Most writers who are capable of this type of elevated writing are at Iowa Writers Workshop or in an MFA program. Not all, but most.
You're kidding yourself if you think you can pen a 80K novel where nothing happens, pawn it off as literary and make a big sale. Successful literary fiction often makes the transition to the CLASSIC SHELF. That's no easy feat. Did Harper Lee realize the social importance of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD? Would she have classified her work as literary fiction? Now, it's a classic. Every high school in America reads it. Most of us have seen the old black and white movie. Not only is it a BEAUTIFUL BOOK, it's an IMPORTANT BOOK.
If you think you write literary fiction, read or reread some of the contemporary greats: Louise Erdrich, Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Robert Morgan, Ian McEwan, Cormac McCarthy, Richard Russo, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingslover, . Make sure you're in the same ballpark. Not that you can write as well, but that you understand the genre well-enough to properly classify your work.
Here's an example. (Keep in mind I know NOTHING about street talk. I'm no Elmore Leonard, so I'm not going for edgy authenticity here---just showing versus telling.)
Jim Smith, a forty-two year old drug addict, lives in a nasty shoebox apartment. He's lost everything---his job, his wife, and his dream house. He can't kick the habit. He's tried every rehab east of the Mississippi and nothing works. He wants to quit, but he can't. He does well for a week or two after rehab, but then it's back to the same old routine. He calls the same friends, stands on the same corner trying to score. He knows the drugs are going to kill him, but he's powerless.
The above paragraph is classic TELLING. There's no dialogue, no character description---simply dry narrative. I'm spoon feeding you everything about this dude. It's not active, interesting or engaging.
Jim hung up the phone three times before he let the call go through. His hand was shaking when he dialed the fourth time. He took a deep breath and crossed his fingers when he heard the tinny ring.
"Please answer. Please, please," he said. He hated the desperate whine in his voice.
"Yo," said the familiar voice.
"It's me," he whispered. "I need. . ."
The man on the other end of the line said, "I know what you need, dude. Out of rehab again? You know it's for quitters, right?" There wasn't a trace of humor in the man's gritty laugh. "You know the place." He disconnected.
Jim brushed the fast food wrappers from the coffee table. He scoured its scratched surface for change. Finding only two quarters and a penny, he pushed back the pounding in his head and rose from the tattered sofa. He stumbled down the hall. The pulsing pain in his head was like a living thing. He just needed a little. Just one fix. Then he could think. He could get his thoughts together. And then no more. Ever.
"&*^%," he said to the face in the bathroom mirror. His eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with dark purple circles. "I've got to stop this *&^# I look like I'm sixty years old." He splashed some cold water on his face and dried it with a stained towel. He found the old cigar box under the counter. Instead of the three or four hundred in emergency funds it used to hold, he found only a tattered five some one had taped back together.
He had no choice. He had to call her. There was no one else. If the pain in his head got any worse, it might explode.
"Marcia," he paused, waiting for her to hang up on him. When she didn't, he continued, "I need a little cash to get me to the next paycheck. I hate to ask, but I'm desperate."
"The next paycheck, huh?" The bitterness in her voice made him shiver. "I wasn't aware you were expecting a paycheck," she spat. "I thought you gave those up a long time ago."
"Marcia, please. I did really well in rehab. I'm not starting again. It's just this headache. I can't seem to shake it and I have to get my thoughts together. It's just this once."
"Yeah, Jim. It's always just this once. That's what you told your boss, that's what you told the kids. And even I was stupid enough to believe it the first fifty times I heard it. Sorry, Jim. You wont' be getting a dime out of me."
In the passage above, I tried to use dialogue, character description, and setting to tell you more about what was happening. I wanted you to see the crummy apartment, feel his desperation, connect in someway to him or the wife, even the dealer. I used more several things to move the story along: dialogue, description and backstory hints.
(Keep in mind, this blog was written in less than half an hour, so this I'm not saying this work is ready for an agent, editor, etc. It's not. I'm in no way saying it's great, or even good writing. It's just a brief exercise to try and illustrate the difference between showing and telling.)
If you plan to purchase a critique or pitch session for the conference, don't wait to register! All critiques must be received by September 1, 2009 and we cannot offer critiques past that date. Although that seems like a long time, it's not. Less than six weeks left!
Here are the links:
If you plan to pay using your credit or debit card, use this link:
If you plan to pay by check, use this link:
We love it when you pay by check! Credit cards and debit cards charge SCWW a percentage every time we submit for payment. So, if you can pay by check, please do! It will mean that more of your money goes to support SCWW and the conference.
But, what if. . .maybe you said it WAS finished, and you'd love to send it, BUT. . .
"I'm leaving for Bangladesh (or some other place with unreliable wi-fi) as soon as I leave this table and I won't be able to send to you for six or eight months, it's monsoon season, you know and . . . "
"I need to fine-tune it a little. Can I send it to you next spring. . ."
"My computer crashed right after I printed theses pages and it might be a while before (insert Best Buy, Tech Support, etc right here) can recover my manuscript. The whole thing was lost and . . ."
These are all EXCUSES or BIG, FAT LIES, depending on how honest you are with yourself. Finished means FINISHED. Not just your story has a beginning, a middle and an end, but done. Finito. Mr. Dreamagent has heard all these lines before, and more besides. He'll be asking himself why you can't send it from the hotel before you leave on your whirwind world tour, why you didn't back up your work, how come finished means not really, completely finished. You are not getting anything past Mr. Dreamagent and in the long run you're only hurting yourself and your reputation.
Agents, editors and publishers are looking for something to sell. They can't sell a book that isn't finished. If your book is still in the works, admit it. Be honest. Tell Mr. Dreamagent where you are in the process and see if he's still interested. Be realisitic in your timeline. Don't promise to mail it next week if you know that's an impossibility. If you tell Mr. Dreamagent you'll mail it next week, and for some REAL reason you can't, email and explain. (NOTE: I'm NOT telling you to write a two page email re: your loved one's entire medical history, including the juicy parts---more like "A family health crisis prevented me from mailing the manuscript as planned. It will be posted on Monday.")
Lying to a person that you hope to develop a professional relationship with, right off the bat, is not the way to go. If you snag Mr. Dreamagent, you want to create a relationship that's honest, open and cordial. In order to create a good relationship with Mr. Dreamagent, you need to make sure you live up to your word, meet deadlines, and deliver as promised. Hopefully, he'll do the same. It's kind of like a three-legged race---you're in it together.
Now down to other conference business.
The instructions on how to submit is available on the website (www.myscww.org/conference) and inside the registration grid, but I wanted to post them here to make sure everyone reads them before sending submissions. I've posted the rule in yellow and my extra two cents in white.
THE RULE: All manuscripts, including the optional synopsis, must be double-spaced, with standard one-inch margins. Please include your name, the page number, and the name of your manuscript on each page.
LES ADVICE: A header is best way to do this. In MS Word, click on VIEW, HEADER AND FOOTER, then type your name and title in the grey box that appears on the top of the page. Then go to INSERT, click on INSERT PAGES and follow the prompts.
THE RULE: Write the genre of your submission in the lower left hand corner of the envelope.
LES ADVICE: Use a Sharpie or a Red Pen. Pencil will become blurred and illegible by October.
THE RULE: Send two hard copies to Lateia Sandifer, SCWW Board, PO Box 503, Bamberg, SC 29003.
LES ADVICE: Make sure to copy the address EXACTLY. We've already had issues with this---it has something to do with the way Post Office computers sort mail---I know it's stupid, but. The long and short of it is: COPY THE ADDRESS EXACTLY.
THE RULE: Email a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put your document in .RTF or .DOC format.
LES ADVICE: Make sure it's in one of the above formats. This year we will be sending many of the submissions electronically. Due to compatibility issues, they must be in one of the above formats. To do this, open your document, go to SAVE AS. Name your document and then in the drop down, below the name, select one of the above formats.
THE RULE: All submissions must be postmarked by September 1, 2009.
LES ADVICE: I will be checking postmarks. I will notify you via email when I get your submissions---both parts. If more than seven (7) business days have passed since you mailed or emailed, and you don't get word of receipt, EMAIL ME because something might have gone awry.
THE RULE: Upon arrival at the conference, you will be notified of the time, place, and faculty member for your 20-minute appointment or group critique session.
LES ADVICE: We'll do everything we can to make sure you get one of your three choices. However, if we are unable to do this, we will call or email you to discuss options. Please don't call or email and ask for a guarantee of faculty member because we're unable to give it to you. It's not that we don't want to---it's simply that there are so many variables---length of critique, registration order, scheduling---that we can't guarantee your first choice. Rest assured, we have thoroughly checked-out all of our faculty and they are all more than capable of giving you a professional analysis of your work.
Now for the INSIDER'S BONUS:
If you submit correctly, following the above rules, you'll save me lots of time. And I like that. A lot. To show you read and followed the rules, put a sticker---any sticker, even a price sticker---on the envelope and I'll put your name in a drawing for a prize to be awarded at registration. I'll make sure it's a SUPER COOL PRIZE. This is the only place the prize will be mentioned, so if you put a sticker on your envelope, I'll know two things: 1. You followed directions and 2. You read the blog. Both of which make me VERY, VERY HAPPY.
Scott Eagan is an agent with the Greyhaus Agency. He represents romance and women's fiction. If you want to see what he's currently looking for check out this link to his submissions page:
Is it all about the writing?
The submission process to an agent is always a weird and bizarre process. When you stop and think about it, the relationship you have with an agent is about personalities. It is all about teamwork and how the two of you will work together to get those books of yours on the NY Times Best Seller list and for you to have a long and fruitful career. And yet…
The submission process begins not with the personalities but with the writing. You submit a partial or a query and we work from there. This is an interesting dilemma because frankly, you might be just the person an agent would want to work with, but if you really mess up that submission, that chance is lost forever. Ugh. Not what you wanted to hear.
Today I wanted to take some time to talk about some of the things that we look at, as agents, when we are selecting clients to join our line-up. Remember that this is just one agent’s approach. Other agents may do things differently, but I do have to say, we all start from the same place.
STEP 1 – The Initial Submission – So this is where we start. You have hopefully done your research and have fired off the required submission packet to the agent. It arrives on our desk and we log it into our computers and then will eventually read the submission. At this point, we are simply looking for 2 things:
1. The quality and marketability of the writing.
2. The professionalism of the writer in the submission.
Now, obviously, if the story is not something we are interested in, for what ever reason, the process will stop here. In the case of Greyhaus Literary Agency, I am specifically looking for romance and women’s fiction and the stories must be in specific sub-genres. Along the same lines, unless the writer is specifically targeting the category houses, I am interested in only 75,000 word manuscripts.
As we look at the stories, we consider a lot of different things. Is this a story that will sell? Is this a story that I love so much that I have to push it to the top of my “to do” stack? Is this a story that I know a specific editor is looking for? We even consider if this is a story that, although might not be there now, will be something that we can do something with after a little work. The key is, we are still simply looking at the story by itself. At this point, we are examining the story from a FORMAL CRITICISM point of view. As Eugene Nassar points out that the success of a piece of writing is “in its uniqueness, its contextual pattern, its complex of attitudes which is like no other." In other words, we are looking for that story that stands out amid the piles of other submissions we are working our way through, as well as the authors we already have in our agency and those already in print.
Assuming you make it past this point and we request more from you. It is at this point that agents start to move from the writing to the writer. It is now that we start to examine whether you have what it takes to move to the professional realm of writing.
Before we move any further, I should note that we do start this process when we receive your manuscript in the mail. The cover letter, the submission packet are all representative of you as the writer. As the Head and Shoulders ® commercial states, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you fail to follow the guidelines we have set for the submission process, or you fail to show you can be professional, I don’t care how good you are as a writer, you will be rejected. If you come across as egotistical, or difficult to work with, you have shown us a lot. Remember, we are looking for the team player and that is seen so well in the submission process.
Some examples I have seen of writers really blowing it at this step have included:
· “I’m sending you the full manuscript even though you only wanted the partial.”
· “I decided to send you another project that is really better than this one.”
· Sending an email or note stating, “I want to hear back from a couple of other agents before I send this to you.”
· Sending a project that really isn’t what you pitched in the query.
· Sending an email or note stating, “Really my project isn’t finished yet but I should have it done in the next several months.”
I have a ton more I could throw at you here but for the sake of the conversation, we can keep it to this, just so you can get a feel of the problems we see. The point is, the message you sent to the agent at that point is not one that will lead you to “the call.”
STEP 2 – MOVING ON – So, let’s say you make it past the first cut. We love your story and now it is time to talk. At this point, many agents will take some time to call you and discuss what they are looking for in a writer. Although this may sound like an informational interview, this is a time to see how you react to the questions and the discussion we are having.
For myself, I am looking to see if this person is in it for the long haul. I have said this before but agents are not making money off of your first book sales (with the exception of some rare cases.). We make money from your later sales when we have numbers to show an editor. So, in my case, I will be seeing if you are a writer that has a vision (and a reasonable vision) of where he or she wants to be in the next 5 years. I have actually turned a few people down after I have really fallen in love with their story when I hear they plan on retiring after this first book. Really? In which reality?
Another thing we look for is someone that we can shape and mold. We are not looking for someone that has already reached, what I refer to as “DIVA STATUS”. You know the type – they already walk on water? We are looking for someone that can adjust to the demands of the climate, the editors, and the needs of the writing audience. This is when personality comes into play. Do you know your place in the food chain? Look, until you reach the top of the food chain, you still have to play the game.
At this point, we are really looking at the writer from a psychological perspective. Yes, this becomes subjective but it is crucial. Simply put, we have to work together.
Now, I should note that listening to pitches at conferences moves us directly to that phase. From the moment you walk in that room, we are watching you. We see how you approach the table. We see how you act before and after the pitch. And yes, we do watch throughout the conference. For example, when I am at a conference, I spend a lot of time “people watching.” I see the people that I think are giving off a bad impression as a writer. Unfortunately, if they end up pitching to me, that first impression has already been locked into my head.
Now the question, “Are there writers you would never want to work with?” You better believe there are. But before this comes across as sounding too harsh, for writers there better be agents that you wouldn’t want to work for. I have had the chance to meet a lot of writers since opening Greyhaus Literary Agency. For the most part, I like them all, but there are many that have made career and professional choices that I do not believe are part of the Greyhaus Literary Agency Philosophy. If those were to come to me with a 6 and 7 figure contract, yes, I would actually consider passing on those people, despite the fact that I may be passing on a lot of money. This is someone I just don’t want to work with, although I may like their writing. Again, we are back to the agent-writer relationship. We have to trust one another.
Remember though, this question should also be something that you as a writer considers. There should be agents and editors that you wouldn’t want to work for. It always comes across as a shock to writers when I state that really, there are probably only 3 agents out there that match your personalities. The same goes for publishers. Your story just doesn’t fit at every house. The voice has to match.
I think I have talked a lot now and hopefully have given you something to chew on. What questions do you have for me?
Greyhaus Literary Agency
 Nassar, E. (1970). Lycidas as Pastique found in The rape of Cinderella: Essays in literary
continuity. Indiana: Indiana University Press pgs. 16-27
Scott will be checking in today to answer questions throughout the day so post your comments and questions.
1. You aren't required to have a finished book to sell non-fiction. Most non-fiction is sold on proposal. A proposal is a formatted document that basically outlines the book you plan to write, the marketing niche it will fill, and a list of credentials which qualify you to write it. There are some great books and websites that can teach you how to craft a non-fiction proposal.
2. Non-fiction writers often have very long and profitable careers. It's often easier to sell non-fiction. And it's often easier to get an agent.
3. You aren't required to create worlds, characters and conflicts. Your basic storyline is already there. If you get writer's block, non-fiction might be an avenue you should explore.
4. There are more markets for non-fiction, and more ways to break into the business. Most magazines have stopped printing short fiction. However, they're always looking for freelance non-fiction articles. If you get a good publishing history in magazines, it's often easier to sell you non-fiction book because you've already proven several things: you write well, you can meet deadlines, and you are capable of meshing facts with your own style.
If writing a novel is your dream, don't give up. Keep writing. But don't forget about other opportunities that might give you a chance to improve your craft, make a little money and see your name in print. It might be a stepping stone to selling that novel.
An exterior conflict is something your characters have no control over.
Examples: hurricanes, plagues, pestilence of any kind, being hit by a bus, getting mugged.
An internal conflict is more subtle. In this type, it's something your character is trying to overcome that is not readily apparent to everyone else. Or, if the character is not trying to overcome it, it's still a motivating factor for their actions. And you may not catch it immediately.
Examples: can't trust men, paranoid, overachiever, sexist, racist, scared of Peanut Butter.
Carrie, our Conference Chair, and I are HUGE, HUGE Monk fans. Discussion of the show often adds an hour or two to conference "meetings". Tony Shaloub's character is a great example of well-balanced conflict.
The homicides---external. OCD---internal. Blackout due to an earthquake---external. Germophobe---internal.
The writers of the TV series do a great job balancing these. It's a detective show but the internal conflict(s) of Monk keep you tuning into USA Network.
You have to keep these elements in mind when you're writing. It's vital that your characters have enough internal conflict to make them interesting and engaging. If your characters are flat, it may be because they don't have enough internal conflict to keep the reader engaged. You also need external conflict to keep the plot active and well-paced. Every story has to go somewhere. Both elements define character, but in different ways.
Here's an example from a hypothetical romance I just made up---
A hot firefighter (pun totally intended), named ACE, rescues a nurse, BUFFY, who looks like Heidi Klum, from a burning building. They are instantly attracted to each other. But she won't go on a date with him---her father, also a firefighter, was a deadbeat and left her and her mother with only one pack of Ramen noodles and two weeks until her mother's next paycheck. ACE won't take no for an answer. No woman has ever turned him down. When a flaming building collapses on ACE and he ends up in BUFFY'S ER, she sees that not all firefighters are alike. (*CUE HAPPILY EVER AFTER MUSIC*)
External---BUFFY'S apartment fire, building collapse and ACE's injury
Internal--BUFFY: all firefighters are deadbeats ACE: no woman will refuse him
Think about some of your favorite books. How did the author keep you up late? What made the characters so engaging? What percentage is external conflict and what percentage is internal?
A note of caution---Don't confuse internal conflict with baggage. There is an overlap, but I'm not suggesting you take a serviceable character and turn him into a boozing, womanizing fool just for the sake of internal conflict. Some emotional baggage may be okay, but too much may kill your manuscript. Most of us read to escape, remember?
But what about when it comes to submitting to a competition? I know to circle the deadline on my calendar so I don't miss it. I double-check my word count so it stays within the limit. But until I became SCWW's Contest Chair, I paid little attention to another important piece of information - The Judge.
Judges are established writers and poets who recognize good writing and appreciate the opportunity to encourage other writers; but they are human, so they bring to the process their personal preferences and pet peeves. A judge for a recent contest wrote, "The story read well until I got to the profanity. My grandfather always said profanity is a lazy man's way of communicating." Another judge might have let the offensive word pass. Some judges target specific writing annoyances. "It needs a stronger opening sentence." "You have to grab me in the first twenty-five words." "Don't let sloppy typos ruin an otherwise good manuscript." And like all readers, judges have their favorite genres and subjects.
We can never know everything a judge likes or dislikes and fortunately a compelling story expressed through good writing will always rise to the top. But being familiar with a judge's style can sometimes explain why that compelling story garnered a second place instead of a first. Or didn't place at all.
One of the most enjoyable responsibilities as the Contest Chair is recruiting and getting to know the men and women who serve as judges for the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards. In April I begin winnowing the slate of judges looking for a diverse mix. I want to make sure no matter what you write and submit, your writer's voice is heard and I want someone on the panel who understands your genre. Each category of the competition has a 3-judge panel and each judge reads and scores the entries independent of the other two. In this way we minimize the biases and prejudices that naturally occur.
As the SCWW membership grows beyond the state of South Carolina, so does the geographic pool I draw from for judges. This year in addition to South Carolina, they come from North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Louisiana.
Every one of this year's judges is an award-winning writer or poet. Some are both. They represent a broad spectrum of ethnicity, age, education, work history and writing style. If you read their bios on the SCWW website, and I hope you do, you'll see many are teachers or professors, several are editors or publishers, one is a Cultural Ambassador for the US Department of State. They were limited to 100 words so their bios don't reveal all they bring to the competition. Therefore you won't know which one was also a forensic scientist in Washington DC.
Collectively, our judges provide a library of interesting reading. They cover historical fiction, historical nonfiction and historical romance. Some tease us through mystery and others through murder - both actual and fictional. One has written math and history textbooks, another has translated her short stories into Russian. They create worlds inhabited by vampires, fairies and quirky humans. And their poetry sings with the distinct sounds of the barrio, the islands and The South.
In October, some of them will travel to Myrtle Beach so they can meet the conference attendees. Before then, take the opportunity to meet them by checking out their books and visiting their websites.
Submissions for the Carrie McCray Memeorial Literary Awards are being accepted and must be postmarked no later than August 14th. Winners will be announced on Friday evening during the annual conference in October. First Place winners in each category will receive $500, Second Place winners will receive $100. Honorable Mentions will also be awarded. For details about entering, visit the SCWW website.
Q. I don't see pitch sessions or critiques on the schedule. When will they take place?
A. Pitch and critique sessions will be scheduled based on the faculty member's teaching schedule. When you arrive and check in at the registration desk, you will be given a card listing your appointment time. They will be going on throughout the conference, beginning on Saturday morning.
Q. When will I find out who my critique faculty is? When will I find out who my pitch faculty member is?
A. Upon checking-in at the registration desk, you will be given a card with the name of your faculty member and the time you will meet for your critique and or pitch.
Q. What if I don't get any of my choices?
A. We do our best to give each attendee one of their three choices. However, sometimes this is impossible. If we cannot assign you to one of your top three, we will call you, well before the conference, and discuss options with you.
Q. How does the faculty have time for all of the critiques, classes, meals and other time with attendees?
A. Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling. We do our best to make sure each faculty member has time for everything, but sometimes it's a squeeze. Faculty members work the entire time, so please keep the following things in mind. When your critique time is over, please thank the faculty member and move on. Don't take up the next person's time. If you make a connection and get a request, don't 'hog" the faculty member for the rest of the conference. You might wear out your welcome. And please, please, don't do anything creepy like send you manuscript to his or her room, don't stalk at the bar, don't try to hem someone up in the restroom or at the pool. Keep it professional AT ALL TIMES.
Q. What is the best way to pick my critique and pitch people?
A. Check out our website at www.myscww.org/conference and look at all the individual bios. Then google the person and find out what they're selling and what they may be looking for at the present time. Make sure you write what the faculty member sells.
Q. Who do I contact about Carrie McCray?
A. Check out the contacts link on our website. Ms. Kim Blum-Hyclak is in charge of the contest. You can email her using the link on that page.
Q. Who do I call or email if my question hasn't been answered?
A. You can call me, Lateia, at 803-671-1664 or email me at email@example.com. Or you can call Carrie at 706-564-7998. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Both of us are on the East Coast and we take calls from 9am - 9pm. Please don't call super late or super early. All of our staff members are volunteers so please be patient if it takes a few hours for us to get back to you. We WILL return your calls/emails. If we don't contact you within 72 hours, feel free to call or email again.
“Really? What changed your mind?” I asked.
It turns out that she misunderstood a major selling point of our conference, our faculty. Those of us who have participated in the SCWW conference for several years know that the term faculty refers to the agents, editors, authors, and poets that teach the workshops at our conference. This new member thought that faculty meant members of the SCWW organization teaching workshops! Once she realized the difference she got excited about the conference.
This made me wonder about other terms that we toss around. This blog has done a great job on explaining pitches, so that’s one area that I don’t think needs explanation, but I thought of a few others. So, I’m going to try and scrape away the jargon and shed light on two other areas.
Proctors: When you register for the conference, one of the questions you’re asked is would you like to proctor. If you don’t know what that means, you probably left the box blank.
I attended my first SCWW conference in 2007, and I agreed to proctor one session. That means that I made sure that the faculty member (remember that’s our agents, editors, authors, and poets) had everything they needed in the workshop room. If a projector didn’t work or the temperature was uncomfortable, I knew who to contact to fix it. The best part of this opportunity is that you meet the faculty member and introduce them at the beginning of the workshop.
Hello? It’s an opportunity to meet someone on faculty in a service capacity. Now don’t let that word “service” throw you. This is one of the BEST ways to connect with a faculty member. If you give them what they need without promoting yourself to them, they often will ask to help you!
That’s what happened to me in 2007. My faculty member had a bad cold and was losing her voice. I knew that she liked hot tea, so I planned a Starbuck’s run (there’s one in the Hilton lobby) prior to her class, had a pack of tissues on hand, and offered her some homeopathic allergy medication. It helped and she found that she could keep her voice strong enough to get through the day. She tracked me down later and gave me her card. Her words to me? “You helped me, so I want to help you.” And she has.
So, if you did not indicate an interest in proctoring (introducing the faculty, making sure the room is set up and comfortable, etc.), you can still contact the conference chair or co-chair to see if they need more proctors.
Slush Fest: We make a big deal about these every year, but if you’ve never attended one, you might not grasp the benefits. Slush Fests are sessions set up by genre and taught by an agent and an editor who represent that genre. Participants bring up to 2 pages of their manuscript on transparency sheets, and the faculty places them on an overhead projector and evaluates the work. This is done anonymously, so no one else knows that your work is onscreen.
There are limits to how many works will be evaluated in a session, but whether yours is or not, you can still learn valuable information. It’s a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on an agent or editor while they get their first look at someone’s manuscript. Imagine the tips you can pick up!
So, I've defined 3 terms: faculty, proctor, and slush fests. Let me know if there are other terms that you find confusing, and I'll see if I can make things clearer for you.
1. "One bestseller, along with a movie deal, will make me so rich I'll never have to work again."
2. "I'll be famous and people will adore me!"
3. "Writing a book is easy. All I have to do once I get published is travel the world, on my publisher's dime, and sign books."
4. "I need an extra income and this is the easiest way to do it."
I'm going to explain why each of the above could be the kiss of death.
1. One bestseller likely means years and years of non-bestsellers, novels that don't sell, and query letters that go nowhere. Most authors are in the business for a long time before NYT even notices them. Take Debbie Macomber or Nora Roberts. Both wrote category romance for a decade or more before a single title went to the top of the NYT Bestseller list. Sure, they're perennials now, but that wasn't always the case. And unfortunately, a movie deal is not included in the sale of a book. It's a la carte and depending on what you write, it may never happen. Publishers depend on bestselling authors to keep writing. One book won't cut it.
2. Okay, so people may adore you, but not because you're instantly recognizable like Paris Hilton or Michelle Obama. Yes, once you're published, people will look at your dust jacket and see your photo. But few authors look like their "book photo." Also consider that movies are visual. So are politics. Writing is still two-dimensional. When is the last time you saw an author playing the heroine in a movie based on her book? Consider this---A friend of mine, an NYT Bestselling author of suspense novels, sells a book in the US every six seconds. (He's in about a billion other countries, too.) According to him, he's been recognized exactly twice outside a signing or a conference or other place where people were expecting him. One of those occasions was on a flight to Australia. His neighbor was reading one of his hardbacks with the huge photo. After a few hours, he recognized the author. You know this author's name; you think you would recognize him. But you likely wouldn't.
3. Writing a book---any book---IS NOT EASY. Every step is a challenge. Most people who successfully transition from writer to author do it in years---not in days or weeks or months. Yes, I know, there are books and DVDs that promise you can write a book in thirty days. Maybe you can. But can you polish it, revise it, AND sell it in thirty days? Not likely. Unless you're a celebrity or a wronged political wife---that package comes with a ghostwriter. As for traveling the world, most authors have a tight marketing budget. Unless you're Nora Roberts or Dean Koontz, your publisher will not pay for frequent trip to Monaco or Bali. You'll be stuck in your office, typing away, trying to meet your next deadline. Books make money for publishers. An author sucking down Sangria in Barcelona does not. You have to make time to actually write books if you want to keep your publisher. And your agent.
4. If you need extra income, writing isn't necessarily the best way to get it. If you have experience you can possibly get work with a local newspaper or an online magazine, but becoming a novelist when you've been a banker or a nurse requires you learn a host of new skills. The learning curve is steep and the skills needed to write and sell a novel take years to acquire. It takes four or more years to get a Bachelors. It will likely take at least that long to make a splash in publishing. Don't kid yourself---if you're in dire straits financially, do something more concrete. Avon or eBay. Don't put yourself into a deeper bind by thinking this is something you can accomplish in a weekend.
Our house is crazy today---just the way we like it. Kids are running in and out, my mother-in-law and I are sharing recipes as we hurry around the kitchen, my husband is directing traffic around the sprinklers and keeping kids in the yard and out of the Edisto River (I probably need to check on that setup in a second), and my mom is with us, not in perfect health, but better---a blessing we couldn't have counted on only a few days ago. We're celebrating all things American. Too bad y'all don't live close enough to stop by the house and sample some of the Cantaloupe Cocktail we invented right after lunch.
At the expense of getting too sappy, I encourage you, wherever you are today, to stop and appreciate what it means to be American. And what it means to have complete freedom when it comes to the important things----religion, speech, assembly.
Consider what it means when it comes to your writing. You are not required OR forbidden to write a certain kind of story with a specific agenda. You can write whatever you want, whenever you want. Lots of people around the world don't have this freedom. They can't even read what they want. They could be put to death for reading the wrong newspaper.
So the next time you want to complain about an agent, or an editor, or the publishing industry in general, remember this: Our Founding Fathers made this great experiment in democracy possible and put their lives on the line so you would have the freedom to express yourself. Appreciate the unique position you're in---if the agent or editor doesn't like your stuff, someone else will. Or you can write something else and try your luck again. You can join a writers' group, composed of the people of your choice, without prosecution or persecution. Be thankful for the system, with all its imperfections, because it's better than the alternative: censorship.
Make sure to stop and be thankful, really thankful, before you choose to be hateful.
Have you ever read a book and found a factual inaccuracy that just threw you out of the story? I have and it makes me crazy. I don't ever want that to be my book.
I'm writing historical romance novel set in World War II Charleston and I'm now in the middle of the burning pit of research. I wrote the first draft of this novel almost two years ago and I wrote it quickly, very quickly. I didn't worry about getting my facts perfect. I just wrote until I finished.
Now, I'm paying the price. Sigh. It isn't the big stuff. I've been studying World War II most of my life. The little stuff is the problem. Did Charleston have a USO? What color "covers" did sailors wear? I've seen pictures of sailors from the time period. I have seen pictures of sailors wearing white covers and pictures of sailors wearing blue covers. Why two colors? What is the difference between the two? Hopefully I will find the answer soon before I go nuts.
Some fun facts about World War II found during my research:
- The first wounded American soldiers from the North Africa campaign returned to the US via Charleston. I will use this bit of information in a later book.
- The Charleston Naval Yard was the third largest industry in the state by 1941. The Naval Yard expanded even further once the US joined the fight after Pearl Harbor. Again, this information will be useful in a later book.
- If a sailor's ship sank due to enemy action, that sailor got 30 days leave. Yea! For not having to almost kill my hero to get him back to Charleston.
Charleston is an excellent place to set a novel….especially during the war years. It was a wild and wooly place with beer joints, prostitution, and historical traditions that cannot be mimicked by any other place. Accurate information gives a novel depth. Hopefully, my information will be accurate enough and in time for the conference. Oh…and one more thing, field trip to Charleston before October!
Are you struggling with your research?
Q: I intend to sell my book to a small press. Who should I choose?
A: Most small presses will accept unsolicited manuscripts. Since you likely don't need an agent to work with these publishers, consider meeting directly with an editor or publisher from a small press. It's always a good idea, whether you're coming to the SCWW conference or another one, to check out the publishers website before you pick them for your critique. Make sure your work fits into the parameters of what they publish.
Q: My book is commercial fiction and I think it would appeal to a large publishing house like Random House. Who should I pick for my critique?
A: Most of large publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts. By unsolicited, I mean non-agented. They prefer your agent send your manuscript to them. It's not a bad idea to meet one of their editors because it's a unique opportunity to introduce them to your work. If your work is polished and revised to the point that it's sellable, this is one viable option. Keep in mind, though, most editors representing large houses prefer to work with agented writers. For most writers in this spot, it's likely best to meet with an agent. Agents often work with the writers they represent to make a manuscript ready for the editor's eye. If you think you've got a great story, but it needs some revision, you might want to consider meeting with an agent.
Q: I have no idea where my manuscript would fit into the market. It needs a lot of work---especially when it comes to craft. Who should I meet with?
A. It might be best to schedule a meeting with an editor because he/she can tell you what is and isn't marketable about your manuscript and what flaws or bad habits that need to be addressed.
I hope this helps. A little. It's a big pond out there and you need to make good decisions at each step of your writing career. Thinking honestly about your work---where you are, what you're willing to commit to writing, and how far you have to go to make your work publishable---will insure you get the most for your money when it comes to choosing a faculty member for your critique.