Tag Archives: professionalism

Grammar: It’s Important!

Posted by March 8th, 2012

Book Country Twitter Chat (March 1, 2012)

Every writer needs to know the basics. That’s why Grammar gurus Mignon Fogarty, Patricia O’Conner, and Stewart Kellerman gave us a little lesson.

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Most people don’t like it. Some people are obsessed with it. But all writers need to know it….Grammar. It’s not just for copyeditors! Incorrect grammar and punctuation can change the meaning of your words. It can change everything.

That’s why we asked Mignon Fogarty (@GrammarGirl) and the writing duo Patricia T O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman(@Grammarphobia) to join us for a Twitter chat and talk about some common grammar mistakes and answer your grammar questions.

To give you a little background on our experts, Mignon is the founder/host of “Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.” She does posts, podcasts, the works to help people improve their writing by going back to the basics. Patricia and Stewarthave co-written a number of beloved writing guides, including the Grammar “bible” Woe is I and writing guide Words Fail Me.

Here’s are some of the chat’s highlights (You can view the entire transcript using the link following):

@GrammarGirl: Subject-verb agreement is impoartant and can be tricky. For example, people get confused by joining words such as “in addition to.” It can  make a subject sound plural when it’s not.

@Grammarphobia:  [There’s] nothing wrong with using a preposition at the end of a sentence. That’s a notorious myth.

@JonathanDalar: I always think of semicolors as dividing joined sentences of similar thought; it seems to work well for that.

@GrammarGirl: Sometimes a sentence needs a “that” to avoid a misreading: Aardvark maintains THAT Squiggly’s yard is too large.

@Grammarphobia: Creative writing doesn’t justify limp, flabby writing.

@asalinguist: My students constantly say “amount” intead of “number of” something for count and non-count alike

@GrammarGirl: I met someone once who worked on Word’s grammar checker. He said he was sorry.

@grammarphobia: Punctuation is supposed to make reading easy and writing more natural. Lack of punctuation can be bewildering.

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Remember though that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the end of the PDF and work your way up to page 1.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this lively discussion!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look! And follow us on Twitter: @Book_Country.

 

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The Elusive Author-Agent Relationship

Posted by January 19th, 2012

Author Laura Griffin and agent Kevan Lyon discuss how to build and maintain a strong author-agent relationship.

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteAlmost all writers who have publication aspirations have, at some point, queried an agent (or are planning to!). And sadly, a large number of those queries don’t get offers of representation. So when an interest agent reaches out, it’s not surprising that writers get excited and anxious to move forward. But it’s important to remember that just because you have an offer at represensentation, doesn’t mean he or she is the right agent for you. You have to be compatible with your agent on several levels and be willing to work through the bumpy patches.

What exactly are these “levels,” you ask? Just check out our January 12th, 2012 Twitter chat with author and agent team Laura Griffin(@Laura_Griff) and Kevan Lyon(@KevanLyon) to find out! They’ve been working together for five years and twelve books and have one of the strongest author-agent relationships I’ve seen. They also have some great tips regarding the best questions to ask a potential agent.

But first, a little backstory on our special guests…

Laura Griffin is a New York Times bestselling romantic suspense author. Since her first book published in 2007, Laura has been busy writing and developing her popular Tracers series, the fifth novel of which, TWISTED, comes out on April 17th. (Mark your calendars!)

Kevan Lyon is a founding partner of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. With a main focus on women’s fiction, romance, and young adult, she reps a number of clients and spends muchtime nurturing her relationship with each one of them. her background in book sales and distribution doesn’t hurt either!

Here’s a little preview of what our participants had to say on the topic:

@Laura_Griff: It is a bit like a marriage! Because it’s a partnership and you both have to be striving toward the same goal.

@KevanLyon: You want to try to get a feel for how they communicate, how often, how quickly. Their submission process, should you expect to hear from them during that process, how much information they share, etc.

@ColleenLindsay: Some writers are self-confident; some need a lot of handholding. An agent has to decide how comfortable they are with that.

@KevanLyon: When you recv an offer of representation make sure you are ready wi questions — make sure it feels right to you.

@Laura_Griff: Twitter and FB are great resources for [writers looking for the right agent]. Talk to other writers and hear what they think of diff agencies & publishers.

@allison_pang: Agent needs to be able to you give you the hard news as well as easy.

@KevanLyon: [The biggest mistake an author-agent can make is] not communicating honestly. I always want to hear from an author 1st if something is bothering them.

@Laura_Griff: Ask the agent what they like about your work. See if they seem sincerely excited. That’s important.

We’ve also posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles. Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up. Thanks to all who participated in this helpful chat!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

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Don’t Knock Yourself Out of the Game

Posted by July 26th, 2011

Six Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Cripple Your Chance at Getting Published

As a writer, there are any number of factors you can’t control. Don’t neglect the ones you can!

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Getting published isn’t easy. Each day there are more aspiring writers competing to win the attention of a finite number of publishers. And while every editor hopes to discover the next big thing, limited budgets mean that even quality work isn’t guaranteed to sell.

But you’re different. You’re talented, focused, and hungry. You understand that getting published takes more than just craft. It also requires market savvy, professional networking, a little luck, and most of all, the commitment to keep going through the rough times. All of which you have in spades. Congratulations; that combination is all you need.

So long as you don’t knock yourself out of the game.

Before I sold my novel, I joined critique groups and took MFA classes, attended conferences and schmoozed with authors. Along the way, I met hundreds of aspiring writers, many of them very talented, capable of illuminating raw human truths, of crafting sentences that hit like a punch in the eye. Some of them will make it.

Most won’t.

The reason is simple: One way or another, many authors handicap themselves. Swept up in the idea of writing, they make mistakes that limit or negate their opportunities. Here are six ways to make sure you don’t cripple your own chances:

Start at the beginning and write to “THE END”

Imagine you paint houses for a living, and you love it. You’ve got a terrific project coming up: great lines and multiple stories that intersect to form an elegant structure. Do it right, and you’ll get the chance to paint another, and another, maybe for the rest of your life.

Given that, what would you do? Would you begin with the garage, stop mid-way, paint a patch around the chimney, then abandon that to stain the deck? Would you split your attention between three separate colors? Would you decide you’d rather paint a different house altogether?

Or would you look at the whole, plan your attack, then pick up your brush and work in steady measured strokes until you were done?

Writing a novel is much the same. One of the worst-and most common-mistakes writers make is not focusing. It’s fine to think about the upcoming sex scene, or to daydream about the big finish. But start writing on page one and keep going till you get there. While the glamorous parts are more fun to write, focus solely on them and you’ll neglect your narrative.

Likewise, it’s dangerous to work on multiple projects. Completing a single book can take years. Try to write three at once, odds are you’ll finish none.

And while it’s practically guaranteed that somewhere in the midst of your novel you’ll get an idea for a better one, resist the temptation. New ideas are the lace lingerie of writing, but novels aren’t made of one-night stands. Like any relationship, commitment is key.

Cherish forward motion

When I was working on my first novel, THE BLADE ITSELF, I had a note taped to my monitor that read, “You are hereby released from writing the perfect novel.” It was a sentiment that helped me navigate hourly crises of faith. Every time I began thinking that the book would be better if I went back and reworked, I read that mantra and forced myself to live it.

The net result was that instead of constantly revisiting my early chapters, I finished a first draft. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was snarled and awkward, with characters popping up unannounced, significant timeline issues, and an internal geography that would drive a cartographer off the ledge.

But it was done. And everything else could be fixed.

Sure, sometimes you have a thunderbolt that absolutely forces you to revisit what you’ve written. But for most cases, consider maintaining a separate document of ideas and problems. Jot them down as they occur, and don’t worry about how daunting the list looks. Mine ended up fourteen pages long, but once I had a completed story, fixing the flaws was simple.

And never forget: One complete rough draft trumps ten polished-to-a-high-gleam first acts.

Hate yourself in the morning

Everybody writes differently, and it’s important to find the time and method that works for you, whether that’s doing two hours every day or locking yourself away to churn out twenty Saturday pages. Which method you use isn’t important.

What’s important is that however you write, you need to set specific goals: page count, word count, finishing a chapter. And you need to feel badly when you don’t meet those goals.

There’s a writer I regularly see at conferences who’s been writing the same book for six years. Every time I ask how it’s going, he tells me how busy he’s been, how work gets in the way, how he’s still planning it in his head.

That’s fine, of course — it’s his prerogative. But no matter how good a writer he is, I’m not holding my breath to see his novel on the shelves.

The best way to complete any project is to break it into small pieces and then steadily accomplish those goals. For me, the goal is a thousand words a day, five days a week. Sometimes I get more, sometimes I barely scrape by, but on the rare occasions I leave the chair without that word count, I beat myself up badly enough that the next day I more than make up for slacking.

It seems harsh, I know, but the truth is that if you don’t put one word after the other, you simply won’t get there. If you want to be published, you have to treat this like a job.

Worry less about selling out and more about selling

I once read a manuscript, a crime story about a cop who had a passion for Hummel figurines. This was a side interest in an otherwise tough guy, and the novel was beautifully written: lush prose, vivid characters, a genuinely tense storyline that revolved around a well-researched political scandal.

But still, Hummel.

The author had written himself into a niche without meaning to. The sum total of Hummel aficionados in the world doesn’t outweigh the complete disinterest of the rest of us. And so despite having a great story with plenty of suspense, what the author had seen as a quirky character trait ended up labeling, and dooming, the book.

Writing a book is art. Art is personal. Your characters and story say something about who you are and what you treasure.

Selling a book is commerce. The rules of commerce dictate that the more people interested in what you’re writing, the likelier it will sell, and the higher the price will be.

The trick is to find a balance that lets your art function as successful commerce. This isn’t about hitting the least common denominator; it’s about avoiding niches. They may be comfortable, but they’re cramped, and you want room for as many people as possible.

It’s a musical fantasy thriller, with lasers

There’s so much talk about having a “big idea” or a “high concept” that aspiring authors often feel like it’s not enough to simply write a compelling book. Admirably enough, they want to do something unique, something that breaks fresh ground. Unfortunately, many attempt to do this by mixing genres.

This is, by and large, a bad idea.

It can be done. It can even be done brilliantly, as in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, a sci-fi television series about intergalactic smugglers operating on border worlds similar to the American Old West. It was an unexpected concept that worked. An audience will always respond to a forcefully imagined world. The problem is that no one knows how to position the finished product.

Think of it this way: booksellers need to know where to shelve you. If yours is a crime novel, they put you with Dennis Lehane and Lee Child; if it’s literary fiction, they put it beside Michael Chabon and David Mitchell. If your book features blaster-wielding damsels tap dancing against the clock to prevent a terrorist attack, they put it down.

Genre is a marketing tool. It tells publishers how to promote something, booksellers where to stock it, and fans where to find it. So as temptingly fresh as cross-genre novels can be, they’re risky. Firefly is the perfect example: the writing was spectacular, the world vivid, the idea original. Critics raved and fans swooned.

The network canceled it halfway through the first season.

“What’s your book about?” is not a trick question

Novels are like children — we obsess about them, delighting in their successes and agonizing over their failures. So it’s no wonder that for many authors, condensing their story is a tougher battle than writing the thing.

However, it’s worth the fight. Because sooner or later the person asking the question will be an agent.

When that happens, you don’t want to have to make up an answer on the spot. Instead, have a couple of “hip pocket” versions in different lengths: a sentence, a paragraph, a two-minute pitch. For example, my one-sentence pitch is “The Blade Itself is the story of a retired thief who has to fight for his new life when his old one comes looking for him.” Did I leave out a lot? About 86,974 words. But I conveyed the essence of the story, said the name of my book, and most importantly, respected my listener’s time.

It’s a difficult art, but a crucial one. The ability to present the core of your novel in a few words shows an agent that you’re serious about the business and that you really understand your own story. Plus, as a side benefit, you may find that boiling down your book helps clarify the story in your own mind.

In conclusion…

Getting published isn’t easy. The best things you can bring to the table are a terrific book and a willingness to work hard. But beyond that, remember that a little forethought and some care can make a world of difference. After all, in this business there are any number of factors you can’t control. Don’t neglect the ones you can.

(The above article previously appeared at the MarcusSakey.com; the article and photo are reprinted here by kind permission of the author.)

 

 

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