Friday, April 27, 2012

8 Ways to Make Your Story Stand Out

Your manuscript has arrived!

Editors and agents see enough manuscripts in a day to make their heads spin, most of them with the same mistakes. If you want to forestall the “Not again!” reaction, follow these 8 steps to a more competitive story. 

1. Make sure you base your story on some kind of action that propels it forward. This could be a problem that the protagonist encounters in the first scene, one that she works the entire length of your story to resolve. Sometimes even writers with a good publishing track record submit what are known as “walking around thinking stories,” which follow the protagonist from encounter to encounter, each one related to her problem in some way, but not bringing us any closer to the point where she solves it.

2. Conversely, avoid the “macho hero story” in which your protagonist goes from climax to climax like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra. You will have a hard time making this kind of story seem fresh.

3. In a similar vein, avoid repetitive profanity, sex and gore. If they are necessary for the story, then fine. But these, when not essential, will do nothing to hold the attention of weary and revulsed editors. Quite the opposite. Add alcohol, drugs and rape to the list. The writers of these tales (there are many!) realize they must avoid “walking around thinking stories.” But rather than turning heads, they will be turning stomachs.

4. Sympathize with your characters, even in a comic novel. Too many agents meet sorry, unrealistic characters who fart, belch, scratch and pick their noses throughout the story. If we don’t feel for you protagonist at least, we will turn off and put your manuscript down.

5. Persist. As science fiction great John Campbell said: “The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.” You can be absolutely sure your favorite author was rejected far more than you before the publication of her first book.

6. Don’t just submit. Resubmit. Find the right home from the thousands available online and in print. Editors may reject a newcomer many times before letting him into the fold. Submit, rewrite, resubmit.

7. Be yourself. Don’t just try to hit the hottest new fad in publication. Chances are prospective agents and editors are sick to death of it. Harlan Ellison put it this way: “Publishers want to take chances on books that will draw a clamor and some legitimate publicity. They want to publish controversial books. That their reasons are mercenary and yours may be lofty should not deter you.” They make money off of finding new things.

8. Work on a strong ending. End your story in the right place. Does you ending focus on particulars and the tying up of loose ends? Or does it focus outward and help us see something greater? Is there an earlier point which would fill the bill? You may have to cut a few pages off the end of your tale.

You can do it. Remember: the good news is, if you can avoid the mistakes that editors see 99 times out of 100, then you have a foot in the door. Make the best of it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Writer’s Life

  Writing is easy, publicity is hard.

Today we talk with Rosemary Lynch, author and artist from Wiltshire, England. We asked her the trials and tribulations of the writing life and self publication.

When did you decide to become a writer? What made you do it?

I dabbled a bit when I was younger and then when my girls were small I wrote a few children's stories about the animals on my parents’ farm.  The main bug kicked in about 2 1/2 years ago when I was off work due to an injury, and rooting about I found a chapter I written about five years ago.  I read though it and thought “Hey this is good! Did I really write that?”  Then that was it; I’ve been hooked ever since!

We all need feedback. Do you have a writer’s group?

I don't have a writer's group, but I join in as much as I can with forums and have my contact email on my website for feedback. I am fairly new to this, having only just released my first book, Kainan, so I’m learning about new ways to reach out to people every day.

What, for you, are the important steps of the writing process? Will you change anything the next time around?

For me it’s the whole enjoyment of writing.  Establishing the characters and giving them real personalities so the reader can empathize with them and feel their joy and pain. As I don't have an agent yet, I am pretty much working at my own pace. I haven't really changed anything with the book I am writing now, the sequel to Kainan.  I enjoy writing it – I have laughed and cried my way through.  Still not 100% sure where or how it will end, but that's the excitement of writing each word, each page leads somewhere else.

What’s your daily routine like?

I have a family and a part-time job.  On a normal day – if there is such a thing – I drop my youngest at breakfast club and get to work at 8 a.m., half an hour before I am due to start. I sit in the peace and quiet of my car, and I write.  Sometimes a page, or sometimes I can scribble down ideas for a chapter.  In fact, a large percentage of my third book which I have finished was written in my Mondeo!  Then family – walking the dogs, picking up my youngest, dinner for kids.  Then I have about two hours whilst they do what kids do.  So I blog, write, tweet.  Then cook dinner for hubby. 7:30-ish:  Collapse in living room with family, whack out the lap top whilst watching TV and write ‘til I can't see anymore! Saturdays I write as much as I can, or I paint if the brain is not willing!

Do you have a daily word-production target? How often do you meet it?

I don't work to a target! That would do my head in!  However, I do try and write something every day, even if it is only a few words.

What authors inspired you?

As a child I loved Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis.  Now it's people like Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks. 

How can fledgling authors hone their talent?

Read, and then read some more.  I spent a lot of time reading books that I both did and didn't like, just to see how words are use to express feelings and actions.

How did you get the idea for Kainan?

It was on a trip up to Scotland to visit my parents. We were driving through the borders and I just had this idea for an epic fantasy as I looked out at the rolling hills.  My husband and I chatted about it, and he said, “What if you had this happen…?”  (I won't tell you what – that would be a spoiler!) And I thought “Yeah, what a good idea.”  Scribbled it all down and then did nothing with it for years.  I reread the chapter I had written and had this mega-dream afterwards. It was like a movie playing in my head, and it just went on like that for months.

Tell us a little about your journey to publication.

Initially I wrote Kainan just for my own pleasure – it was kind of like my baby!  My colleagues knew about it and started to nag at me that they wanted to read it.  I was reluctant at first, and to be honest, a bit embarrassed at it all.  Eventually I gave in and had 10 proof copies printed and sent out to willing volunteers to help me edit and proofread, by the time I had finished, it had been farmed out to their families, as well. I had such a good response that I decided to give it a go. I painted my own cover, as finances were short and that's pretty much it. I would like to be taken on by an agent, as I find all the publicity side of it quite daunting.  My heart is in writing and telling the story.  I have had 100 books printed, which are available on my website, and the first time I held one I cried.  It was such an exciting moment as I am sure it is for all authors when they see their book in print for the first time.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to publish to Kindle?

I would say go for it, it's free. The only problem is, it is very difficult at first to get the book noticed amongst the thousands that are on there. That's why sites like this and the others out there are so helpful. You learn a lot from other people. It can become a bit addictive looking each morning to see if you have sold any, and disappointing if you haven't.  Writing is easy, publicity is hard.
Find out more about Rose at

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pictures and Books

One of my book covers

Whenever people find out that I write children’s fiction, they immediately ask, “How do you find an illustrator?”  As a matter of fact, I don’t.  Nearly all publishers want to hire their own illustrators for the manuscripts they purchase.  Even if you do find your own illustrator, a publisher may love the manuscript, but not the illustrations, or vice versa.  They often just reject both and to avoid trouble with an author or illustrator who begs them to use the other person’s work.  If you want to write picture books, send them in without illustrations, unless you can do them yourself at a professional level.  (Even then, be prepared to hear, “We want to buy the story or use you as an illustrator for someone else but we don’t want both.”) 

In a way, all books are picture books—however in many cases, the pictures reside in the readers’ brains.  Especially for children’s books (and short stories), think of the illustrator.  What are you giving him or her to work with?  (Even if the reader is the one imagining it all.)  I don’t just mean adjectives, like black hair or dry leaves.  I’m talking about action.  If your story contains mostly dialogue, can you have the characters doing something while they talk?  Are they joking while standing in line?  Whispering backstage while waiting to make their entrance in a ballet?  Arguing while building a tree house? 

What if your characters don’t talk?  I have published books about non-talking animals and a short story about a child who was non-verbal.  In that case, movement and sound becomes even more critical. Think of all the ways your characters can move in their environment:  climbing, running, jumping, diving, swimming, digging, sliding, etc. Also, think of all the ways the environment can be moving, potentially affecting the character.  If you have two people just talking in a room, you might try making the scene less static by having a breeze come through a window and blowing one character’s hair, and she keeps moving it back behind her ear.  Meanwhile, the other person goes to the refrigerator to take out a soda—and maybe shuts the window on the way.  Possibly the refrigerator has only soda in it, or maybe someone spilled milk in it and hasn’t cleaned the shelf yet.  All these details make the scene more realistic. Make the picture in your readers’ minds a detailed one!