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(http://jennybent.blogspot.com/2009/06/few-notes-on-conferences.html) 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.

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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 (conference@myscww.org) 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 (conference@myscww.org).

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. (lateia.sandifer@gmail.com). 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?

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

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:
http://www.oldsanteecanalpark.org/portal/page/portal/OldSanteeCanalPark

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
constancewriter@12345.abc

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.

Sincerely,
Constance Writer

Fiction Query Letters: The Ugly, Day 3

THE UGLY

August 21, 2009

Dear Ms. Rainmaker,

My book, THE WINTER CHILD is a completed 400 page novel. It explores themes of grief and loss from the viewpoint of a 10 year old girl. It is my first novel.

Here are the facts:
It is written in first person pov.
It needs a good edit, but it otherwise ready to publish.
It should sell well to people who’ve lost someone they love.
I’ve never read anything like it.
My daughter read it (she’s now 25) and she said I captured how she felt perfectly.
My friend, who’s a NYT Bestselling author, said I needed to get an agent. She read it an loved it.
I volunteer with Hospice

I wrote it after watching my daughter struggle with the death of her father, my husband. It isn’t an easy read. Most of my friends said they cried, especially while they were reading the last chapter.

I plan to take some writing classes and get the book critiqued sometime in the near future.

I would love to send it to you.


Sincerely,
Maybe I. Canfixit
(123) 456-7890
maybeicanfixit@hopereallyhard.com

P.S.---Sorry about the coffee stain. It was the last piece of paper I had. LOL
**********
This looks like a query that should be rejected. There are style and spelling errors. It’s not in the correct format. But, if you look closer, there are some really positive things in the letter. It almost reads like the author is doing the opposite of the BAD AUTHOR. She’s seems to be missing the most important line items. There are some very compelling elements in this story, and there are clues that suggest it’s pretty well-written, even if the query isn’t.

What if it read like this?



**********

August 29, 2009



Ms Rainmaker, Agent

The Good Book Literary

123 Elm Street

Greenwich, CT 01234

Dear Ms. Rainmaker,

My book, THE WINTER CHILD is a completed 100,000 novel. It explores themes of grief and loss from the viewpoint of a ten year old girl named Cassie who’s just lost her father to cancer. It would appeal to a wide range of readers. It is appropriate for young adults as well as adults. Anyone who’s lost a loved one to cancer could identify with parts of the novel.

Cassie is only nine years old when her father tells her he has less than a year to live. She’s daddy’s girl and she can’t imagine her life without him. The bone-shattering grief she experiences when he dies changes her life and her mother, always a minor character in her life, becomes the center of her world. When, at the end of the summer, she must leave her mother’s constant care and return to school, she refuses to leave her room.

Her mother, Nancy, tries everything to pull her daughter from the frozen world of grief she’s living in, but nothing seems to work. Until she stumbles upon a story Cassie and her father were writing together. Nancy moves an easel and a writing desk into Cassie’s room and the two of them set out to finish the book. In the following months, the two bond deeply and when the book is completed, Cassie learns to cope with her pain.

After reading the manuscript, Leading Author, bestselling author of TIME IS A PAIN and WATERBOY, suggested I contact you.

After losing my husband to cancer, I became a volunteer Hospice Grief counselor, so I am familiar with the range of emotions families must deal with after the loss of a loved one.

Thank you for considering THE WINTER CHILD. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sincerely,
Maybe I. Fixedit
(123) 456-7890
maybeifixited@hopereallyhard.com


************

Doesn't the book sound much more compelling?

This is a MAJOR DEAL!

One of our faculty members, Jackie K. Cooper, has just been invited to become a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Congratulations, Jackie!

Here's a link to his first post. It's a review of Pat Conroy's new book, South of Broad.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackie-k-cooper/pat-conroys-ode-to-charle_b_265913.html

Be sure to congratulate Jackie when you meet him at the conference!

Fiction Query Letters: The Bad, Day 2

Let' s start with the BAD.

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Dear Sir,

One night when I was watching television, I came up with a great idea for a novel. Over the past six years, I’ve written that novel and it’s as good as I thought it would be---maybe even better. The book is 1200 pages long and ends with a twist you’ll never see coming. I think it would make a great HBO movie since there’s probably too much sex and profanity for CBS to buy it. The point is this: the book is so good, I know someone will want to make the movie. It’s a sure thing.

I would love to tell you more about the novel, but until I have a signed contract in my hand, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. My book is so stellar I’m not willing to take the chance that you might steal my idea. I will be more than happy to pay you $10,000 if you will sell this book to a publisher for me. I want it to be a big publisher though. This might be my first book, but I was born to be a writer. I need you to complete the sale and have a check in my hand by Christmas. I have bills to pay.

I’ve sent this letter to about 100 other agents, but I haven’t heard back from any of them yet. But, just so you know, if any of them are willing to sell my book for less than $10,000, I will be signing a contract with them---not you. If you’re willing to cut me a deal, let me know.

I know you’ll want this book as soon as you read my letter, so just give me a call and we can make arrangements. I will not mail my manuscript---I’m sure you understand idea theft better than most people---but I will be in New York next week. I’ll be happy to stop by your office and drop it off. Maybe we can go to lunch and get to know each other a little better since we’ll be in this together soon, huh? At that time we can also talk about some ideas I have for other major motion pictures. I’m sure you’ll be interested in those, too.

I’ll call you next week if I haven’t heard anything.

Later,
Horrible Maximus
**********

Where to start?
1. No address or contact information. How would the agent call this guy even if he was interested?
2. No date---How will the agent know which week he needs to hide under his desk in case this dude shows up on his doorstep?
3. "Dear Sir"---H. Maximus didn't even take the time to find out who he was sending this to---what if it's not a sir at all?
4. There is no "hook." There's nothing in this letter that tells the agent ANYTHING about the novel. No word count, genre. Not even a title. And 1200 pages? That's an awfully long book.
5. Maximus is all about the cash. He's talking movie deals and the agent doesn't even know the title of the book. Putting the cart miles ahead of the horse. The mentions of money in this query letter make him look like a complete dodo. And how much does he think first novels are selling for these days? I'm sure all agents wish they netted ten grand for every first novel they sold.
6. All the references to "idea theft" make Maximus look paranoid. He also directly questions the agent's integrity when he suggests the agent might steal his idea. This screams NUTTY CLIENT who WILL TAKE TOO MUCH WORK.
7. Maximus makes huge assumptions: the agent wants the book, he can just show up at the agent's office, and that he sets the timeline for contact. All these are big mistakes. He comes off looking like a half-cracked rookie who might turn into a stalker.
**********
I know the above FAKE query letter seems so wacky to most of you. You're thinking NO ONE WOULD EVER, EVER actually mail this. Right? Wrong. Agents and editors see queries just like this one---and maybe even worse---every day of the week. Which, if you're an aspiring author, works in your favor. You'd never send this. EVER. (If you do, I will know it and I'll send a little known branch of the police after you: THE DREADFUL QUERY FORCE.
Email me if you have specific questions about this one. There are no dumb questions at this stage. I'd be happy to answer anything I can if it will prevent you from sending a query letter like Maximus'.
Tomorrow we'll look at THE UGLY. As if it could get any worse. . .*evil laugh*

Fiction Query Letters: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

A query letter is probably the most difficult business letter you will ever write. In one page, you need to introduce yourself, introduce your manuscript in an engaging and interesting way, and tell the agent or editor how you heard about them and why your book might be a good fit for their list. It's easy to see why every word should count. Keep in mind, I'm focusing on fiction here.

Today, I'm going to focus on the basics. Tomorrow, I'll post some samples that will hopefully pull everything together.

The basics:
1. One page, 12 point type, 1" margins, 20lb white paper. (Just regular paper--no linen, or resume stock. Stay away from colors, too.). Use block formatting---no indents, just a line between paragraphs.
2. Your contact info should be in a block in the upper left hand corner or on simple letterhead.
3. Address the editor or agent BY NAME. No "Dear Sir" or "To Whom It May Concern."
4. Make sure to include important details like word count, stage of the manuscript(don't start querying until you're finished), and similar titles represented or acquired by the person you're querying.
5. Include a brief bio: publishing credits, pertinent memberships (e.g. SCWW, RWA), and what you're working on now.
6. Write a intriguing hook paragraph that lures the reader in and makes them want more. (Think about the blurbs on the back of a paperback---they make you want to buy it, right?)
7. If your dream agent or editor accepts e-queries, make sure to send your e-query only to one person at a time. No Bcc shortcuts.
8. Make sure to research each agent or editor you intend to query. Read ALL the submission guidelines---either on the Internet or in a book like WRITER'S MARKET.
9. Make sure your printer has plenty of ink and the letter is readable---no smears, or fading ink.
10. Include a tidbit of information that tells the person you've read the submission guidelines.

Now for the NEVER EVER EVER DO THIS SECTION OF THE BLOG.
1. Don't overdo your bio. A few lines are sufficient. You don't want to come across as egotistical, arrogant, or high-maintenance.
2. Never discuss pay rates. This is putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
3. Don't address the agent or editor as "Dear Sir," "To whom it may concern," or by any other generic moniker. Take the time to know who you're sending your query to.
4. Don't list other agents, editors, or publishers who've rejected the work.
5. Don't list copyright dates. Don't even mention the word copyright. (Another blog for another day.)
6. Don't use too much flattery and don't beg.
7. Don't include reviews by your mom, your critique group, or the family dog.
8. Don't pester the you-know-what out of the recipient. Give them ample time (at least sixty days, maybe more depending on their submission guidelines) to respond. This means don't call to make sure they got it, don't call to see if they've read it. Just be patient.
9. Don't send your query to people who are not looking for work in your genre or in general. If they're not open to submissions, take them at their word.
10. Don't include anything other than your letter, except a SASE, unless the guidelines specifically ask for something more like a synopsis or the first few pages.

Your query letter is likely the first introduction you will have to agents and editors who might be interested in your work. Don't send a sloppy or unprofessional query letter. Even though a good query might take weeks to perfect, it's worth it. It can make the difference in whether an editor or agent will even read your work. Take your time with your query letter.

Remember what your mom told you about FIRST IMPRESSIONS? It holds in publishing, too.

Guest Blogger: Jim Casada

Today we're joined by Jim Casada. He has some tips on how to MAXIMIZE your conference experience.

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TIPS ON WORKING A CONVENTION

Over the years I’ve attended close to a hundred state, regional, or national gatherings of writers in my field of interest—the outdoors. That attendance has come from both sides of the fence—as a speaker and as someone anxious to improve my craft—and perhaps sharing some tips on what I have learned about how best to benefit from conference attendance will be helpful. Here are some thoughts in that regard.

*Go prepared. That means having an ample supply of business cards, some means of taking notes (tape recorder, note pad, laptop, or the like), and a “game plan” focused on the agenda.

*If there are simultaneous sessions which interest you, see if the convention offers tapes or if you can get a friend to tape for you.

*Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Often the give-and-take at the end will be the most productive part of a seminar.

*Keep the fact that some of the most beneficial aspects of attending a convention take place outside of seminars or programs. Social settings, whether meals, social hours, or just elbow-rubbing during breaks, offer marvelous opportunities.

*Be persistent but don’t be pushy. In other words, leave no doubt about your eagerness but don’t be a pest. If you have any feel at all for social interaction you will be able to tell the difference.

*Try to establish contact with people who are successful writers, and that doesn’t always mean just the speakers. Ask others how they work, what has worked best for them, and the like. Then you can pick and choose from what you hear in a fashion which suits you personally.

*When talking to editors, agents, or someone you hope can help you, do all you can to exude professionalism. The writing life is, by its very nature, a lonely life. Yet at conferences it is important to shake off tendencies towards being reclusive or a misanthrope. Professionalism involves a lot of things—personal appearance, demeanor, politeness, and even obvious (yet often overlooked) things such as a business card or vita. Think about how you want to present yourself, look folks in the eyes, respect their time, and be ready to cut to the chase without wasting a lot of time. Conventions are meant to be educational, not entertaining, although the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

*Once you return home from a convention, act on opportunities, notes, contacts, and the like promptly. You want to follow up while things are fresh in mind.

*Finally, and I’ve seen enough of this to know it can be a problem, don’t make a fool of yourself by drinking too much, boorish behavior, or, to put it bluntly, being an ass.

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Jim Casada is a son of the Smokies, and the region has figured prominently in his work as a freelance writer. He grew up in Bryson City, N. C. and says “a corner of my soul still belongs to the high country. His formal education includes a B. A. in history from King College (Bristol, TN), an M. A. in British history from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA), and a Ph. D. in British imperial history from Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN). He taught at Winthrop University from 1971-1996 before taking early retirement to devote all his energies to writing. While at Winthrop he rose to the rank of full professor, served two terms as chair of the graduate faculty, was recognized as the institution’s Distinguished Professor in 1983, and won numerous excellence in teaching award.

He is a long-time member of a number of outdoor writers’ groups and has served as president of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, and the South Carolina Outdoor Press Association. Casada has been honored by all three organizations as recipient of their top service awards. He has won upwards of 150 awards from regional and national organizations for his writing and photography, and has been the recipient of a number of honors including the Federation of Fly Fishers’ Arnold Gingrich Memorial Award for contributions to angling literature, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Harry Hampton Memorial Award, and the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 2007 Communicator of the Year.

Casada is the author of more than a dozen books, the editor of dozens more, and has written forewords, contributed chapters, or provided introductions to more than 100 books. He writes weekly columns for three newspapers and holds masthead positions with several magazines including being Editor-at-Large for Sporting Classics and Turkey & Turkey Hunting. His work has appeared in virtually every major outdoor-related publication and over the course of his career he has had more than 4000 articles published.
His current major projects include completion of A Pursuit of Passion: An Insider’s Guide to Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, editing and compiling a collection of Archibald Rutledge’s stories relating to the Christmas holidays, and research for a biography of Rutledge.

Blinded by Your Own Brilliance or Why You Should Edit with Fresh Eyes

It's hard to know when you're really finished with a manuscript. After all the writing, editing, polishing, rewriting, and re-editing, it's easy to feel finished too soon.

The first ten pages of your manuscript are pivotal. They tell an agent or editor a lot about you as a writer. You don't want ANY mistakes on these first pages.

I was recently judging a contest and I was shocked at how many minor mistakes were in the first few pages of many of the entries. I could tell, by the writing, these aspiring authors knew better. I'm talking about things like "to" instead of "too", a minor change in a character's name, inconsistencies with attire or setting.

Here's what I think the problem was:

The author thought he/she was finished and neglected to do a thorough edit with fresh eyes. After looking over the first few pages dozens of times, the author decided it was finished, done, finito, and sent the manuscript in to be judged. If, with fresh eyes, the author had gone over the pages again, I think all these mistakes would have been corrected, thereby increasing the chances of doing well in the contest.

Sometimes, in order to complete a productive edit of your manuscript, you need to put it down for a while. A couple of weeks, a month---a significant period of time. This way you pay more attention. You haven't JUST read it and your eye doesn't fill in nearly as much.

The first ten pages of your manuscript may be BRILLIANT but if they're riddled with errors, most agents and editors will likely pass. They want to make sure you're precise and capable of editing your own work. Sure, they'll have changes and edits to add to yours, but you don't want a stupid mistake to ruin your chances.

Be sure to join me tomorrow. We've got another guest blogger!

Guest Blogger: Jackie K. Cooper

Today, we're joined by Jackie K. Cooper. He will be on faculty at the 2009 South Carolina Writers' Workshop Conference.
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WHY I WRITE

Over the past few years I have been asked over and over again as to why I write. Well the answer is that I write with the hope someone will read what I have written and will get something from it – be it a laugh, a tear, or a thought. Now how do people get the books I write? Hopefully some people will go to their local book store and purchase copies. Others may just go to their local libraries and check them out.

If they do go to their libraries they had better check the hours of operation because most of them in my state, Georgia, have changed. It is called economics, or more specifically a money shortfall. There is not enough money to keep the libraries open the regular hours so they are being cut back.

The libraries are also having to cut back on staff. Some of have gotten rid of people manning the desks while others have gotten rid of those people who shelve the books. And there may be worse cuts to come.

I love libraries, always have and always will. When I was growing up in Clinton, South Carolina the children’s librarian was Miss Gray. She was really Mrs. Gray in her everyday life but in the library she was Miss Gray.Miss Gray had a wonderfully lyrical voice and when she read us stories the world came alive to us. She did this every Wednesday afternoon and all of us kids looked forward to it. After she read she would spend time with each child finding him/her a special book to check out. She was amazing in knowing what each of us wanted to read.

Years later when I joined the Air Force I was assigned to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia. One of the first places I looked up was the Base Library. There I met the librarian, Mrs. Jarman, and we became great friends. Mrs. Jarman was a voracious reader and she and I could discuss books until the cows came home.

After I married and moved to Perry, Georgia I met Alice Gilbert, the local librarian. Alice knew more about books and authors than I could imagine. She was a walking encyclopedia about them. If you mentioned an author you liked, well she could mention five more that you might be interested in reading. And if you didn’t like those five, then she could add another five to your list.

Recently I heard from a friend of mine who works for the library system in Gwinnett County. I was supposed to teach a writing class as part of the adult programming at the library. He said that due to a lack of funds the adult programming he had planned was cancelled. Then he added that the Gwinnett Reading Festival was also canceled.

The Gwinnett County Reading Festival had been in existence for two years and was getting better each year. The authors who attended got a chance to meet and mingle with the people of Gwinnett County who love to read. I had been both years and had a great time. It also gave me a chance to meet Carmen Deedy, Rick Bragg and other authors I admire.

Why is it when money gets tight the Arts are the first to suffer? It seems this world is considered the most expendable. It isn’t right. It just isn’t right.

I dreamed one day of writing books that people would read. The dream came true but now it is in danger. Authors need libraries; kids need libraries; the world needs libraries.

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Jackie K. Cooper was born in South Carolina and now lives in Georgia. He is the married father of two sons and the proud grandparent of a boy and two girlsHe is familiar to people living in the middle Georgia area as the "entertainment man" since his entertainment reviews run in newspapers and are shown on television there. His short stories have been used as commentary on Georgia Public Radio. He also keeps active appearing as an after dinner speaker for various events.Cooper has lived an exceptionally interesting life and portions of it were contained in his first book "JOURNEY OF A GENTLE SOUTHERN MAN". The journey continued in "CHANCES AND CHOICES". His third book "HALFWAY HOME" was published by Mercer University Press in October 2004. His fourth book THE BOOK BINDER was published in the fall of 2006. His latest collection of stories is titled THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS which was also published by Mercer University Press. Check out his website at www.jackiekcooper.com.

Harping: Not the Celestial Kind

At the risk of sounding like your mother, or worse a screeching harpy, I cannot impress upon you the importance of knowing your genre and selecting an appropriate faculty member for your critique.

There are several reasons this is VERY IMPORTANT.

1. Someone who does not know your genre cannot give you the best feedback. Translation: You are wasting your money if you select a faculty member who doesn't want to read, represent or publish your type of manuscript.

2. If you select an inappropriate faculty member, you run the risk of really ticking them off. Why does it matter? Say you're writing romance now and you select someone who represents mostly non-fiction. In two or three years, you may write a book that's non-fiction. And guess what? You've burned that bridge. Translation: People in this business have long memories. If you tick someone off by forcing them to read something they don't want to read, they won't look favorably on subsequent submissions.

3. The myth that if the writing is good enough ANYONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would kill for the chance to represent or publish it is exactly that: A MYTH. Even if you're the next Hemingway or Faulkner, you shouldn't bank on the strength of your writing to persuade someone to ADORE your genre. Translation: Your book has to be well-written and well-represented. You want the agent you sign with to be ga-ga over your work. Forcing them to like it is not an option.

4. Publishing is a business. You want someone who's a good fit for your work to read, represent or publish it. Translation: You will be more successful if you don't try to cut corners, get an agent, editor and publisher who's right for your work. You will make more money and get more exposure this way.

In summary, do your homework. Make sure the person(s) you select for critique are appropriate and willing to read your genre.

You Wouldn't forget to Feed the Dog . . . Would You?

I'm sure most of us have busy, wonderful, fulfilling lives, but sometimes that life gets overwhelming. Yet in the midst of that whirlwind, we wouldn't forget to feed the dog, would we? I didn't think so.

'I want to write but life is getting in the way right now.' This is different than the over-scheduled lives of folks who can't say 'no.' I'm talking about those chunks of time, whether it's a few weeks, a few months or a year when all the various parts of our existence conspire against us and demand extra attention . . . all at the same time. It's those periods when no matter how we try to protect our physical and mental writing space, life encroaches. Just like we wouldn't forget to feed our dog, we can't forget to feed our Muse.

I know it's a challenge. Part of my spring and summer included preparing for a son's wedding which meant three showers, two planned/hosted by me, tucked in were two trips to Ohio - one a three day jaunt from Lancaster, SC to Cleveland to tend an ailing mom-in-law, the other a five day trip visiting five different cities between the Ohio River and Lake Erie book-ended with ten hour road trips, then the shopping and cleaning for the out-of-state wedding company coming and staying for two weeks in various family and number combinations but never fewer than two and one night we had ten extra bodies, then came the rehearsal dinner and wedding and while we still had company, the first medical emergency requiring a daily drive to the hospital, forty-five minutes away, for six days, then the second, luckily, was local and took up only two half days and while neither ended in death, I did have a wake and a funeral to attend and our two dogs were late with their shots so they HAD to have them and all this is going on as workers decide to finally start siding the house . . .

And I wouldn't change any of it for more writing time. Well, maybe the hospital stuff. That wasn't fun for any of us. But even that is the mix of life which makes my writing fuller. And I knew most of it was going to happen and be temporary. Though our dogs' feeding schedules were a bit off and they didn't get the attention they were used to, they weren't forgotten. Neither was my Muse.

Here are a few 1 to 5 minute 'snacks' you can feed your Muse when you can't give her a full-course meal. Some are suggestions we've heard before but we sometimes need a reminder.
1. Give yourself permission to let the Muse nibble. This isn't a steady diet, it's temporary. When life gets back to normal, she'll be waiting for you.

2. Stay connected to your writing community as best you can. I still attended my poetry group and SCWW chapter meetings, even when I had nothing of my own to share. I contributed to the critiquing of the other members' work and in that I was energized. Our chapter hosted its annual workshop, the morning after we had ten extra people spend the night, and I made sure I was there.

3. Edit. Even when my creative brain was numb or I couldn't squeeze in enough time to really write, my editing brain still functioned. In 5 minutes I was able to edit a few pages or look over a poem.

4. Stash index cards all over the house. While you are waiting for water to boil or just before you turn off the bedroom lamp . . . take a minute or two and jot down something. Anything. Describe what the water looks like while it boils. Describe what it feels like to be tired and overwhelmed. Write your 'to do' list. After all, you never know when your character will need to watch a pot of water boil or a list of errands holds clues to a murder.

5. Journal. At one point in my life that's all I could manage. Those journals have contributed to a book of poetry, several essays and my fiction.

6. Have fun with word games. I love words. I love the way they feel in my mouth as they roll around my tongue, click against my teeth and slip through my lips. So I love doing crossword puzzles. I'm re-introduced to words I've forgotten. I discover interesting words rarely used anymore. I learn new and quirky definitions for words I already know.

7. Read. Keep copies of Writer, The Writer's Digest, a book of poetry, an anthology of short stories, anything, in all the rooms you use. You'll be surprised what you can read in 5 minutes.

8. Most of all, enjoy the ebb and flow of your busy, wonderful, fulfilling life. It is the stuff of your writing.

Guest Blogger: Chuck Sambuchino, Part II

Here's the second part of Chuck's blog. Check out yesterday's blog if you missed it. Chuck will be on the faculty of the 2009 SCWW Conference in October. Check out his blog at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.

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ARTICLE QUERY LETTER SAMPLE

John Q. Writer (7)
123 Author LaneWriterville,

Date
Jane Smith, managing editorNew Mexico Magazine
4200 Magazine Blvd.
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Ms. Smith:
According to the Bible, it took two days for God to create all living creatures. The way New Mexican Regina Gordon sees it, the 48-Hour Film Project involves the same amount of time—with only a slightly less complicated task. “Every second counts, when you have 48 hours to make a film.” That’s the motto of the 48-Hour Film Project (www.48hourfilm.com), a nationwide event that challenges local filmmakers to form teams and create four-minute movies—from script to set design to finished product—in 48 hours or less. Albuquerque is no stranger to the fray, and will again participate in the competition in 2009. Also returning in 2009 is the city’s area producer, Gordon. More than 20 area teams competed in 2008—with all of these guerilla filmmakers reporting to one woman—Gordon—who must substitute passion, adrenaline, and insane amounts of coffee for sleep she certainly won’t get.

So what drives her and other participants to exhaust themselves like they do? I propose a 400-word short profile on Gordon and, with it, New Mexico’s involvement in the project for New Mexico Magazine. (I’ve already touched based with Gordon.) I believe that a Gordon feature would be a great fit for the “Introducing” section of your magazine. To give readers a feel for what a kinetic, exciting, shoot-from-the-hip experience this is, I would interview Langston to hear anecdotes from last year and discover what lies in store for this year—as a sense of community for the project continues to build in the area.

In 2003, I covered Philadelphia’s involvement in the project for Artspike magazine. Thank you for considering this piece. My résumé is attached. Clips are enclosed.Respectfully,

John Q. Writer

Guest Blogger: Chuck Sambuchino

We're pleased to have Chuck Sambuchino joining us today. He is a freelancer as well as the editor of Guide to Literary Agents. He will be presenting at the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop Conference in October. Visit his blog at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.
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Freelance Article Writing:
The Query in 3 Parts

If you want to write freelance articles, you’ll be sending plenty of queries out to editors. Although there is no “perfect” or “surefire” way to structure a query, I have adopted and slowly tried to refine a three-part approach that seems to work pretty well.
No matter if you’re contacting an editor about writing for their magazine, newspaper or website, your number one tool is the query letter. You have one page to explain to editors what the idea is, why it will be a good fit for their publication, and why you’re a good writer for the assignment. Let’s dig deeper.

Paragraph 1
Hook an editor right away with the idea. You can do this several ways:

You can start off with an amazing fact. “Not only does Alaska have the country’s highest percentage of low birth weight babies, the percentage is actually going up yearly.” You’re trying to tell the editor This is news. This is important.
It might not have to be an amazing fact, but rather just an interesting tidbit. “There are 87 varieties of organic crops grown in the United States, but there’s only one farm producing 12 of these—Morganic Corporation.
You can start in media res—in the middle of a story. “It was 2:14 a.m. when a drunk driver smashed into the bedroom of Mike Edson’s condo and took the life of his wife.”
Just grab our attention however you can. Consider this example. “Last year’s dreaded recession brought countless white wedding plans to a screeching halt. According to David Bridal’s recent national survey, 75% of American brides-to-be are searching high and low for a way to still have the wedding of their dreams – without spending a fortune.”


Paragraph 2
This is where you take a step back and start to talk about the specs of the article itself. I typically start this paragraph with “I propose an article on …”
Here are things you want to address/include:
· Estimated length (word count)
· Targeted section of the magazine. Where will this article appear in the magazine?
· What kind of story is it? Feature? Profile? Column?
· The slant, if it needs explaining. For example, let’s say you hear about a local woman who’s planting a rose in town for every soldier that dies fighting the war on terror. You could pitch an article about her to a gardening magazine, a military/patriotic magazine, and a local interest magazine. But each one with one, you will have a different focus—a different slant.
· Do you have access to people you will interview? If you are proposing to profile famous screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for Creative Screenwriting, you will need to say that you have access to him somehow. Do you want to sit down with Kevin Garnett? How can you secure an interview?
· Do you have access to or will you provide art/pictures? If you’re writing for Popular Woodworking or Ohio Game and Fish, will you be taking your own photos to provide with the piece? You increase your chances of success, if so.
· Any quotes—or at least the names of whom you would interview. If you are writing a piece on low birth weight, to continue that example, you should quickly list the names of people you will consult and interview for the piece. With luck, you’ve already spoken with one and have a quote you can include in the query.


Paragraph 3
Explain why you are an ideal writer to compose this piece.
Do you have any qualifications of relevance? For example, if you’re writing for Men’s Fitness, do you hold any degrees or certifications in the health field?
Have you written about this subject before?
What publications have you written for, if any?
If you have enclosed or attached clips (previously published samples of your writing), say so. You can attach PDF scans of a piece, or simply paste a link to an online article. Ideally, you want to show them clips that have some comparison to what you want to write about. For instance, if you want to do a profile of gymnast who is considered the most promising eight-year-old in the world in her field, then do you have any sample profiles for the editor to see?
Keep in mind that if you have no clips to include, don’t embellish or exaggerate. Just skip the clips part. Finally, thank the editor for considering the submission and wrap up with “Sincerely, (Name).” If you’ve pasted links to your articles online, you should past the links under your name.
by Chuck Sambuchino
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Chuck will be joining us again tomorrow when he will share a sample query letter.

Crafting a Synopsis, or You Thought Writing A Novel Was Hard?

Does a synopsis scare you?

Don't worry. You're certainly not alone. Crafting a synopsis is a difficult challenge, even for the best writers. If you're getting a critique at the conference, you've likely read over the line that says "include a one-page synopsis' hundreds of times---and you've likely cringed each time.

Believe me when I say, you NEED to learn to write a synopsis. It's an integral part of the query and submission process. Lots of agents and editors read over your synopsis before they ever read a word of your actual book. I encourage you to do some research before you spend a lot of time on your synopsis. There are some great websites on the internet that give samples synopses. But you need to know where to start, right?

There are several keys to writing a selling synopsis. Here are the basics:
1. Write in third person, present tense.
Example: Nurse Goodbody is done with men. She thinks they're all the same:
unreliable, insensitive and rude. But when she meets Fireman Sam after he's admitted to her
ER after the collapse of an apartment building, her heart begins to melt.
2. Use your first paragraph as a summary paragraph. It should hook the reader and give them
an idea of the arc of the story.
3. Leave out all the parts that aren't 100% necessary. Unless physical characteristics are pivotal
to your plot, leave them out. Scenes that do nothing but build character or move the action
forward might not be necessary either.

Take this first "hook" paragraph for instance:

Robbie West, a 5'10"accountant for a professional football team, who has blue eyes and blond hair, who lives in Portland, Oregon is sick of watching his bad boy friends score with beautiful women. So, on a Tuesday morning, when it's raining, he decides to go to the leather goods store in the mall, right beside the cookie place, and buy a jacket. He gets one with silver buckles and a Harley Davidson logo. Then, later that afternoon, after a few beers, he decides to get a tattoo of a flaming guitar on his left bicep. On Friday night, after he cashes his paycheck, he heads to a well-known biker bar on Highway 514 and looks for some action. When he runs into Deborah Lawson, an undercover cop trying to bust a dangerous motorcycle gang, he thinks he's met the perfect woman. But he has no idea she's working instead of looking for a good boyfriend.

WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL FOR A SYNOPSIS. Not to mention all those horrible clauses in the first sentence that would take hours to detangle. We don't need to know his physical description, the weather, where he buys the jacket. All of these are details that add to the richness and depth of the narrative, but they don't belong in a synopsis. Most people would have stopped reading in the first sentence. It does little to hook the reader's interest. Instead, write something like this:

Robbie West is sick of crunching numbers while his bad-boy clients get the best girls. Dressed in a leather jacket and sporting a tattoo that still hasn't healed, he heads to Biker Mike's Bar, hoping to use his new image to find the girl of his dreams. When he saddles upto Deborah Lawson and buys her a shot of tequila, he has no idea she's an undercover agent working to bust a ruthless biker gang.

While this isn't necessarily a book you want to read (or write), you get the point. Write in third person, present tense. Cut the fat and make sure your hook paragraph moves quickly and grabs the intended reader.

Critiques and Pitches Day 3: It's Prep Time

In the first part of this three-part blog, I offered advice on why writers need critiques and pitches. In the second part, I looked at suggestions on what to include in your critique package and pitch preparation, and what to avoid in your critique package and pitch preparation. For the final installment, here’s some advice on how to prepare for the one-on-one time of a critique or pitch.

1. Know your stats. What’s your word count? What’s your genre? When can you get a copy out to an interested agent or editor?

2. Know your publishing goals. Is your dream to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond? Have you completed a marketing plan for your manuscript? Is your primary goal to concentrate on writing more or on working as many sales angles as possible on this manuscript?

3. Relax. It might sound easier said than done, but take a minute and enjoy the beautiful beach surroundings. Or, if that isn’t working, listen to a few minutes of ESPN or CNN. Take your mind off any anxieties you might have.

4. Practice your pitch. Even if you’re preparing for a critique, it’s good to have a five-minute pitch ready. Who knows, an agent or editor might ask for you to submit.

5. Bring pencil (or pen) and paper. This is a time when you’re going to want to take notes, as well as listen.

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 conference@myscww.org.

Guest Blogger: Nikki Poppen/Bronwyn Scott

Bronwyn Scott, who also writes as Nikki Poppen, writes historical romance for Harlequin and Avalon. You can check out her latest releases and read more about her at
http://www.nikkipoppen.com/
OR
http://bronwynnscott.com

Today she's blogging on what it really means to be FINISHED with a manuscript.

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It’s a great week. It’s the last week of July and I have just completed my latest manuscript for Harlequin Mills and Boon (on time I might add. I pride myself on never missing a deadline). I hesitate to say I have finished it. I have merely prepared it for the next level. Now, my fabulous editor, whom I adore, will play with it and tweak it, looking for ways to make it a richer telling of the story. Then, I’ll get a shot at putting her thoughts into the story….BUT before we even get that far, before Joanne even lays eyes on it, I will have spent a couple weeks polishing it up. That’s what this blog about: Polishing the manuscript once you’ve written it, that space of time between completing the writing and sending it out. The magic words “THE END” are really a prelude to the beginning of polishing.

I think it’s important to have a polishing process that you use consistently. We need to know our own methodology—why we do what we do. My process works for me. I have very few revisions come back from my editors. I had four on the last manuscript and two on the one before that.

I start with a polishing philosophy: polishing is a chance to enhance the depth of the story and the characters. Polishing is not line editing. For me, reading for typos, grammar etc. distracts me from the rhythm of the story. I set aside time every three or four chapters to do line edits so that kind of work gets done as the manuscript progresses. I also do my word smithing then.

Here’s what I look for when I polish:

Clarity of the characters behaviors: do they have the same ‘voice’ and habits that they had at the beginning of the story as they do at the end?

Clarity of characters motives for liking or not liking each other. Is it clear to the reader why these characters may hesitate to jump head long into a relationship with each other? Am I showing the reader how this changes occurs? (Because it should never happen overnight, or blindside the reader).

Is it clear why the characters have changed their minds about having this relationship? Why is the risk of falling in love now worth it?

Pacing: does each chapter have a purpose? I like my chapters to have two purposes. Each chapter should do something to move the plot along (the villain is amping up his need for revenge etc.) and it should do something to advance the status of the relationship; this might be the characters learning something about each other or coming to a personal realization about themselves.

Does the resolution of the problems facing the characters make sense?

The bottom line is continuity. Does my story flow? Is it well-paced? Do I understand what my characters are thinking and why they think it? If they have a change of heart, what has prompted that and is it believable?

All my best, I hope to see many of you at the conference. Be sure to sign up for those faculty critiques! I did one of those once and it made all the difference to me! It’s really worth it.

Bronwyn Scott

What's In It For Me?

Every so often, people ask me what membership in South Carolina Writers' Workshop will do for them. Having recently answered that question, I decided to devote this post to those benefits. Some of this information came from the Join Us link on our web site, http://www.myscww.org/. I've expanded on that information, so please don't check out on me here.

Benefits of membership include:

Local (or remote) SCWW Chapter meetings

I always find that I write better after meeting with my local chapter. Membership allows you to attend ANY chapter meeting within SCWW, so you can get that shot of energy even while on vacation or out of town on business. I did that last year while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Practical advice from other writers

Sources for advice abound. You can locate them in the SCWW blog, from SCWW members, and through free workshops presented by our chapters. A member-only yahoo group is in the works, and it will connect all of our members.

If you read ANY serious writing magazine, you will read that membership in a writing group is extremely important to your success. I've learned so much about my writing style just by tapping into SCWW's available avenues of advice.

Interesting conversation (not necessarily restricted to writing).

Shoulders to cry on in celebration of your first (or hundredth) rejection letter.

Friends to invite to the champagne party celebrating your first (or fifth) bestseller.

Your chapter friends can help you decide where to submit your work and how to word your query, synopsis, etc.

Fun (and inexpensive) entertainment for a few hours a month.

Some of my closest friends are members of SCWW and not just in the Greenville area. We have over 500 members throughout the US and a few international members.

Discount rate for SCWW conference attendance

Members have the opportunity to sign up for the conference at a reduced rate, plus you can renew your membership at a discount if you do so while registering for the conference. My membership doesn't expire until late August, but I take advantage of the reduced rate rather than wait.

Our conference rates are incredible when you compare them to other conferences. Many conferences offer 1/3 the number of faculty or workshop offerings that we do, and often cost upwards of $600. We strive to keep our rates low so our members can enjoy this benefit.

Our Conference Committee negotiates a fantastic hotel sleeping room rate for our members. We've considered moving to other resorts, but we can't beat what we have at the Myrtle Beach Hilton. In fact, other groups using the same resort are paying much higher room rates.

Our conference has grown from attendance of 150 people to 500+. It offers multiple opportunities for conversations with agents and editors, and last year, Writer's Digest featured the conference in one of their issues. This exposure means that New York publishing is well aware of SCWW, and membership in our organization carries a positive reputation. Last year's faculty kept commenting on the high caliber of writers within our organization. And, if you've somehow missed this fact, agents and editors requested over 50 manuscripts during last year's conference. We know of at least one that has already been published.

Eligible to Compete in Anthology Contest

The Petigru Review gives our members an opportunity to be published. Some of last year's authors were nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Eligible to Compete in the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards

This contest is named after one of our founding members, Carrie McCray. It comes with a $500 first place prize and $100 second place prize. Members must attend the conference to enter. One of last year's judges (an agent) requested the full manuscript from one of the First Chapter entries.

The Quill - SCWW's monthly newsletter

The Quill provides up-to-date information on occurrences within SCWW. Also, we have contests, giving members another way to build their publishing resume.

Now that I've covered the website's benefits list, let me add a few:

Website (myscww.org)

If you haven't visited the web site lately, you should. We have a great new look. Any member who has a website, blog, or published book can have a link, along with the picture of your book, on our site. The site also provides information on contests and other opportunities for writers.

Our Chapter page helps writers locate the local chapter meetings. Plus, you can create a chapter web site through the SCWW site. Our webmaster, can help you with this.

The SCWW Board is exploring the idea of a members only sign-in that provides access to information. One feature will be access to our membership, allowing you to look up CURRENT member listings at any time.

Thanks to several enthusiastic members, you can join our Facebook or LinkedIn groups.

Connections

You get out of SCWW what you are willing to put in. In 2007, I jumped in feet first and gained wonderful connections with several publishing professionals. It's the old adage of networking: What matters is who you know. This week, I sent a partial of my manuscript to an agent who performed my critique last October. Two other publishing professionals have expressed an interest in reading my manuscript. Several published authors, who I met through the conference, have given me valuable assistance and feedback in the past two years. I would never experience these milestones of success if it wasn't for SCWW.

Broader Visibility

Besides the publishing options, you have the opportunity to run for open positions on our Board of Directors or volunteer for a committee position. Volunteering will make you more visible to the publishing world. I co-chaired the conference last year, and the experience opened several doors for me.

Free Workshops

SCWW provides financial support and guidance to local chapters that want to provide a one-day seminar. The chapter provides a service to the community while increasing its contacts and visibility. We have members of the Board who know the ropes and are willing to help you with this process. Because of our grant from SC Arts Council, we must offer a few free workshops each year. The Greenville chapter has one scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8 from 1 - 3 at the Greenville Main Library. Ray Blackston, author of Flabbergasted and 5 other books, is speaking on "The Twisted Road to Publishing".

Whew! That's a lot! All of this for a $50 membership fee. It's like that credit card commercial:

Membership in SCWW - $50
Contacts with other writers - Priceless
Visibility and Connection with Publishing Professionals - Priceless

Guess who's coming to blog!

Lots of great guest bloggers will be stopping by in the next few weeks.

Our August list includes Jenny Bent, Nikki Poppen, Rochelle Bailey, Jim Casada, and Chuck Sambuchino.

Stay tuned. . .guest bloggers begin posting later this week!