Tina Wainscott

Writing Tips

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Keeping your chin up in a down market

by Tina Wainscott

We hear a lot of bad news about our business: it’s a tight market, authors’ contracts aren’t being renewed, publishers are merging and squeezing out our opportunities, midlist is shrinking, and oh, the sky is falling too. I’m sure you can think of a few others to add to this list, but that’s not what this article is about. We’re trying to think up, not down. So, how do we keep our optimism in the face of all these worries?

Here are a few ideas to help keep your chin out of the mud:

1) Give up the idea of getting/staying published. Think about other things you could do, other dreams to pursue.

What? you cry indignantly. Give up writing? Are you nuts? Tell me to stop breathing or thinking—it’d be a lot easier.

See, didn’t that get your blood flowing? Instantly you recalled your passion; you remembered how much the whole dream means to you. And you know, no matter what, you have to write; you can’t do anything else.

Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe your mind wanders and you think about that secondary dream you’ve had about raising llamas. Or starting an anchovy farm (is there such a thing?). Or something even crazier, like joining corporate America where paychecks are steady and so are benefits.

That’s okay, too. Explore. Sit with it for a few days, a week. How does it feel? If you run screaming back to your PC or typewriter, you have your answer. And if you don’t? Maybe you have your answer anyway. What would you tell your friends and fans, though? That you failed, dropped out, gave up? Nah. Tell them you’re on hiatus. Refilling the well. Changing creative direction. Whatever you want to tell them. Because the bottom line is, it’s your life. Live it the way that gives you the most satisfaction.

2) Rub your nose in it.

Okay, not it. Maybe you’ve decided not to read Romantic Times where you learn about so-and-so’s film deal and what’s-her-name’s big breakout book with a new publisher. Maybe you decide not to read the First Sales column in the RWR, because you don’t want to read who’s selling when you’re not.

Allow yourself a few minutes (okay, even a day but no more) of pouting when you read others’ good news, then think about this: new writers are still selling. Authors are still getting to write their breakout books. Production studios are buying movie rights for books. Good things are happening out there. Maybe not to you at the moment, even for the past few years. But just the fact that they are happening should give you hope. Works for me.

Hope is a rare commodity in these “The sky is falling” days, but as writers, it should flow through our veins. Let others’ good news be a blood transfusion—or, should we say, a hope transfusion?

All right, if it makes you feel better, think about those authors who have had 1, 3, or even 7 books out, and suddenly have no publisher. Maybe they ticked their editor off, or the line was shrinking, or killed altogether. Or worse, their sales just didn’t warrant another contract. Or maybe you’ll think about the fellow unpub who sold a book only to have the line or publisher close down before their book even saw print. Think of their agony. Feel better?

Probably not. But hey, if you do, that’s okay, too. Just don’t laugh in their face or rub their noses in it. Whatever it takes to make you feel better, as long as it’s legal and moral. Misery and frustration love company, and there is always someone who is worse off than you are.

3. Keep reading.

Read the books that are winning awards, getting lots of hype and word of mouth. Especially if it’s a book that really boosted an author’s career, or got her on one of the lists for the first time. If you’re trying to break in, read books from first-time authors (which also has the do-good benefit of supporting a fledgling career). Be inspired as you read, not jealous. Don’t nitpick, but absorb and study. It’s not what she did wrong, but what she did right that you’re looking for. And she obviously did something right.

4. Keep writing.

Waiting, disappointment, and rejection have a way of eating away at our creativity. Take this time to write the book that’s been haunting you for years, but isn’t “right for the market.” You know, the crazy one where the hero has been turned into a dog by a man-hating witch, and the heroine owns forty-two cats. Go crazy with it, let all of your emotions pour into it. Feel the rush you used to feel when you knew nothing about the rules and the market. Nowadays there are more publishers out there who will consider “out there” books. Maybe you’ll even sell it. Even if you don’t, you’ve tasted that “no bounds” freedom you had when you first started out. Take my word for it, you don’t get to indulge much if you’re steadily contracted.

Or give yourself writing assignments, like writing the most awkward dinner scene you can imagine. Or take a classic fairy tale and make it dirty. Whatever makes your eyes gleam and your fingers itch for those keys or the pen. Go ahead, get silly or macabre. Or you could get together with your fellow writers, critique group, or chapter and challenge each other with crazy assignments. Have fun with it. Isn’t that why we became writers to begin with? Oh, that’s right, it was for the fame, the easy money, and glamour. Silly me.

5. Take up a pastime.

Something new and fresh, something that has nothing to do with writing. Like learning how to fish, invest (nah, one down market is enough), or cook the obscure parts of the cow. Check the paper or the adult education classes for courses in activities you never considered. Do it for yourself, you, and only you.

6. Don’t cut yourself off from your writing friends.

I know it’s tough to face them when you have no good news to report, or worse, bad news. But do it anyway. These are the only people who have felt your pain and know intimately your struggle. They care. Besides, where else will you get the latest gossip?

Just remember, things could always be worse. And things can always get a lot better. That’s the wonderful thing about this business. We can go from the deepest pit of despair to exultant joy with one phone call. Or with one fan letter. There are a lot of rags-to-riches-to-rags-back-to-riches stories out there. We can worry or we can be inspired. In a business where a lot of our choices are out of our hands, it’s nice to know that we can steer our attitudes if not our destiny. Whatever our choices are, we should at least be happy with them. And, after all, isn’t happiness the best revenge?

On Rejection

Most writers, even the most successful, can tell you how many rejections they got before they sold—and even after they sold. It’s painful, it’s humbling, and if we’re lucky, it’s enlightening. Instead of crushing your resolve, each rejection should make you more determined to conquer.

At a booksigning recently, a writer asked me for advice on how to keep from getting discouraged when rejections came in. I gave her some advice off the top of my head, and then thought: wouldn’t it be fun to get advice from authors who have weathered rejections and made it anyway. So here follows some nuggets of wisdom and just some fun advice!

You have to receive a certain number of rejections before you sell that first book. You won’t know this number until you sell. So think of those rejection letters this way: Each one takes you closer to that magic number. Can you afford to quit when you could be one rejection away from selling?

Tina Wainscott

* * * * *

It may not seem like it at the time, but rejection can be a blessing in disguise. Fifteen years ago I had a fantastic idea for a story, which was rejected by a lot of publishers. Last year, after my paranormal romantic suspense, Killing Moon, was accepted as one of Berkley’s launch books for their new romance program, they asked me to turn in other ideas. I went back to that proposal that was rejected and rethought it. I’m a better writer now. And my ideas have matured. My editor accepted the proposal.

If a proposal is rejected, it may be something that you’re not yet ready to write. Put it away and let it simmer on the back burner of your mind. When you revisit it, you may find you can do a much better job with the book than you ever could have when you first tried.

Rebecca York/Ruth Glick, KILLING MOON, Berkley, Jun 03

* * * * *

Well, keeping in mind that I’m a writer who has made a career out of publishing books I was told would never sell (LOL), I’ve had a lot of experience with rejection :) In fact, after I sold 6 books, I received the stellar rejection of “No one at this house will ever be interested in developing this author. Do not send her work to us again.”

The main mantra that got me through it was…

The only guarantee you have in this business is if you don’t send it out, they can’t buy it.

A couple of others I’ve used are:
Time heals all wounds, but only a good bonfire and a pint of Chunky Monkey heals a rejection letter.

You can’t succeed until you try.

We all crawl before we fly.

Kinley MacGregor, BORN IN SIN, Avon; also writing as Sherrilyn Kenyon, NIGHT PLEASURES, St. Martin’s Press

* * * * *

When I get rejected, I head straight to Chili’s for a Molten dessert. It’s chocolate times ten, with ice cream. Then I go home, high on the caffeine and sugar, and write brilliant ideas for new projects, some of which actually make sense the morning after.

Haywood Smith, THE QUEEN BEE OF MIMOSA BRANCH, St. Martin’s Press

* * * * *

Rejection never really bothered me because I was previously hardened by the art world, where public critique resembles a chum feeding at the shark tank and a really scathing dissection of your work can actually earn applause. Frankly, I was touched by how all the publishing professionals were careful to be so polite and constructive.

I always remained aware that my writing was a work in progress and that I had a long way to go. I was flattered to have been taken as seriously as I was.

Once you’ve polished your work to a professional level (and why bother submitting before then?) you find that rejection or acceptance is really a matter of timing. Emotionally, it removes the issue from being a judgment to more of a lottery situation. The right manuscript across the right desk at the right moment–what are the odds? The only way to add an element of control is to be persistent beyond all boundaries of sanity.

Celeste Bradley, THE PRETENDER, June 2003, St. Martin’s Press

* * * * *

Don’t take “no” for an answer. Never, ever give up. It took me four novels, and thirteen years before I finally got a “yes.”

Carole Bellacera, UNDERSTUDY, St. Martin’s Press

* * * * *

To take the sting out of receiving a rejection before I was published, I would always make sure I had multiple things out at the same time. Of course that didn’t help when I got five rejections on the same day. Ouch! I’d try to remind myself that it wasn’t me they were rejecting, it was this work at this specific time for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with the writing itself. I don’t allow myself to grieve more than one day. I move on to the next thing. I have very thin skin, so it’s always surprised me how well I handle rejection—maybe it was the practice . I don’t throw things away either. I’ve sold several projects that sat gathering dust for years.

Sylvie Kurtz, UNDRR LOCK AND KEY, Harlequin Intrigue, May 2003

* * * * *

The first time I got a major rejection, I spent days going through a grief process – stages of denial, despair, acceptance, etc. Now, when I get a rejection, I still feel the pain just as keenly, but over time I’ve learned to process it faster – sometimes as quickly as a minute or less. Of course, sometimes I think I’ve processed it, only to find my thoughts returning to it when I least expect it. When all is said and done, I don’t think rejection ever gets easier – you never submit a piece of work expecting it to get rejected, so it always comes as a blow – but experience has made me a lot tougher and better at handling it.

Toni Blake, MAD ABOUT MINDY … AND MANDY, Harlequin Duets, April 2003

* * * * *

Back when I mailed off my first few manuscripts, I immediately addressed a mailer to the next publisher on my list, hedging my bets. (I didn’t have an agent for my first half-dozen books—this was in the very early 80s.) I got lucky and wasted a few mailers, but I always felt better having that bit of insurance.

Dixie Browning, UNDERTOW Silhouette single title, July 2003

* * * * *

After one particularly scathing rejection, I channeled all of my infantile anger into an essay about the whole ridiculous cycle of query letters and rejection.

The Top 10 Really Cool Things about Being a Writer

by Tina Wainscott

10. You can explore mysteries, what-ifs and universal truths, and you can solve them in whatever way you want. You can stretch your imagination to the outer lmits, and make your reader believe, even for a short while, in magic.

9. Whenever you space out and forget where you’re going, or spend two hours in the bath, you can always blame it on the people in your head who at last decided to reveal their deepest secrets. (Of course, if you tell this to someone who doesn’t write or read fiction, they might send you on an expense-paid trip to the funny farm!)

8. You can buy books as a legitimate business expense. Better, you can read books as a legitimate part of your job.

7. You can go to work in your pajamas if you want, or at the least, sans panty hose, makeup and 18-Hour bra.

6. You can have torrid sex in public (or unlikely) places and not get arrested.

5. You can be the person you always wanted to be: braver, thinner, sassier, with perfect skin and thick hair. But, just like in real life, your characters can’t be perfect.

4. You can be the person you never wanted to be: A bitch, psychopath, murderer, even the opposite sex. You can be whatever you want for a while, without any repercussions.

5. You learn to develop a balanced sense of self. You’re dancing with angels when a reader tells you you’re the best thing since the invention of chocolate; you’re in the dregs of self-esteem when your editor tells you your latest book is great—or will be when you’ve completed the ten pages of revisions she’s going to give you.

4.Your mother was wrong—it’s okay to tell stories after all.

3. Writing is the one place in your life where you can be god and control your world. If your characters let you, that is.

2. You can have torrid affairs with sexy men and not risk divorce or the fiery gates of hell.

1. The best, absolutely number one part is knowing that what you love doing will touch someone’s life and take them away from their troubles for a while.

This was published in Romantic Times Magazine, December 1998.

Can we talk? Booksellers and Readers speak out

by Tina Wainscott and Kayla Perrin

Like most authors, we want to know what readers like. What better way than to ask them, and make a party out of it? We hosted our second annual CAN WE TALK? Forum at the 2002 Romantic Times Convention in Reno. All participating authors donated signed copies of their books to be given away between topics. Free books, great conversation, and a lot of laughs. With thirty people in attendance (including seven authors), their heartfelt words and passionate responses opened our eyes about what readers want—from our publishers and from us.

Sex.—We decided to get things off to a, er, rousing start with the question of Sex. How much is too much? Who likes it hot?

  • Readers thought that books should put them in the mood, just like a good man should.
  • There is room for all levels of sensuality within romance. But writers should remember that most readers don’t need a manual. “After all, we’ve been doing it for a while!” one reader said.
  • Half of the room liked hot books, and booksellers said that the new Brava line is doing well in their stores.
  • The author’s writing style is important to a successful love scene. The language shouldn’t detract from the scene.
  • Love scenes should move the story forward and not seem thrown in.

Age — How old is too old for a reader to identify with the heroine? Too young?

  • Women of “a certain age” can’t relate to the mores of young characters. One reader skips over any mention of age and translates the age to something closer to their own. Half of the room agreed with this.
  • Some readers felt that the age wasn’t realistically portrayed. For example, twenty-something heroines were much too wise for their years or were too advanced in their careers than they could be at their age.
  • Authors were warned that if they are going to write young characters, they should keep up with trends relating to that age group. Particularly, their values, language and activities.
  • Many readers preferred the characters to be in their late twenties at the youngest and into their mid thirties.
  • There seems to be a gap in romance for young adults, though one young lady in the group didn’t think teens would read young adult romances.

Chick Lit – Hip, young…horrible?

  • Readers found the heroines of these books too self-absorbed.
  • One young lady said the current books were “horrible. I hate them.” She thought younger people preferred romance. “Chick lit treats relationships in a less serious manner.”
  • Booksellers won’t promote chick lit to their romance readers, because they would be disappointed.
  • One lady’s seventeen year old daughter loves them.
  • One reader said, “They’re too realistic. I have my own dating misery!”

Give me More – What readers like and want more of

  • One bookseller’s customers love the royalty books/series, though she has never read one.
  • Strong heroines
  • Paranormal elements
  • American and post Civil War settings
  • Books set in the 1920’s. “It’s time to move up what publishers consider historical.”
  • Dark or wounded heroes who have an inner alpha

No More, Please! — What readers hate or are tired of

Hate:

  • Static characters who don’t grow by the end of the book
  • Advertisements in the middle of their books. “It jars me right out of the story.” They didn’t mind if the ads came at the end of the book.
  • Heroes who treat women badly. There is a difference between an alpha male, who is strong but sensitive. Some writers make the heroes rude for strength, and that’s unacceptable.
  • TSTL heroines (Too Stupid To Live). Writers need to find better ways to put the heroine in danger than having her check out the noise she hears in the basement when she’s all alone during a storm with the phone lines out…well, you get the idea.
  • Inconsistency in continuing characters. Readers pay attention to these details.
  • First person narratives in romances
  • When the characters tells someone else something they already know just to inform the reader.
  • Bad editing
  • Inaccuracies and historical anachronisms
  • Poor writing quality. Are writers writing too fast? Sacrificing quality to get more books out there? These readers preferred to wait for better quality.
  • Reissues! (in unison)
  • When the covers and/or blurbs don’t match the story
  • When there is a big age difference between the main characters, May/December romances
  • Books that are written all in the heroine’s point of view. They want inside the hero’s head, too.
  • Too much description

How many bad or mediocre books is a reader willing to give an author before giving up. Readers are somewhat forgiving. They’ll give an author two or three books before moving on.

Covers — Don’t judge a Book…

  • Readers thought books looked too much alike these days.
  • Covers sometimes don’t match the mood, thus misleading the buyer.
  • Historical cartoon covers got a big thumbs down. “It misrepresents the book as a contemporary and also as a lighter book.”
  • Readers hate when publishers clothe the characters in the wrong time period. Someone mentioned a cover with the wrong type of kilt.
  • Please, no boobs on the men!
  • Readers don’t want to read quotes on the back cover; they want the blurb. Some will put the back back on the shelf without investigating further.
  • As is often the case, half the room liked the clinch covers and half didn’t. Good thing there’s something out there for everyone.

Essential Characterization Hints according to Tina Wainscott

Know your character well before you start to write. Spend some time with them, have conversations with them that don’t relate to the book. See them in scenes not in the book. Interview them.

Refrain from constant use of POV character’s name unless clarity is needed.

During first revision, take note of what we notice first about the character. Is it consistent throughout book? What do we like about the character? Count how many things we learn about the character in the scene where we first meet them. There should be several, and most of those should be internal things, such as conflicts, preferences, attitudes, etc.

Think about who your character loves/cares about, and who loves/cares about them, even your villain.

Give them people in their lives: family, friends, children, etc. They give your characters human ties and vulnerabilities.

Think about each character’s two biggest actions in the book. Are they properly motivated? Foreshadowed?

Their quirk should be evident in every scene, at least once

Look for all opportunities to show characterization. For example, if the heroine has sneaked into someone’s office and is using a piece of paper from the trash to take notes, make that piece of paper something relevant to the office owner’s personality. What could it be a receipt for?

Do they expect certain behavior from secondary characters (and each other) based on their past? Do they ell stories, make references to the past?

Do they react appropriately? They should always react to everything that happens.

Are there cultural and class differences between hero and heroine that you can explore/exploit?

Are you characterizing using action and not description?

Do you show enough of their jobs/profession to make it believable?

—professions/hobbies color our speech, esp modifiers

And most importantly, are these the kind of people you’d like to spend a few days with? Because that’s what your reader will be doing.

Build A Writing Resume

by Robin Bayne

Publishing credits in the small press and on the Internet can add substance to your writing resume. Although not always as impressive as book-length credits, they demonstrate your ability to follow through on a project and that someone liked your work. Editors are always looking for well-written short stories, and some are prepared to pay for them. For two years, I edited and published a small press literary magazine. The experience was enlightening in many ways. Not only did I meet other writers and readers, I met and corresponded with many other editors of the small press. Many of them were writers as well; most also held full-time positions unrelated to writing. They understand our busy schedules, and they want to discover a great story by an unknown writer. As the saying goes, they are overworked and underpaid. In fact, most are not paid at all, some even fund their ventures personally.

Along with inspirational publications, there are literary, mainstream fiction, and many magazines considered “small press” that exclusively publish genre fiction such as romance, science fiction and fantasy. However, many others will consider genre stories if they are done well and appeal to a wide audience. Non-fiction stories of personal experience have become a hot trend in the inspirational market. Credits in these publications are of interest to editors who acquire book length manuscripts. On-line magazines offer a whole new market, and in some cases, less competition for a new writer while the off-line world catches up.

Most publications offer both regular submission guidelines and contests for specific categories. Reviewing the publication prior to submitting is a must, but with so many websites available, samples as well as guidelines are sometimes as close as the ‘print’ button. Payment is typically in copies of the published magazine, or a token payment, but writing for guidelines before submitting will clear up any confusion. Some small press publications pay well. For example, creative non-fiction stories accepted by the Chicken Soup for the Soul series pay $300.00, but the competition is fierce.

I selected stories (and poems) to publish that created visual images, flowed well from beginning to end and featured believable, likeable characters. The writers that submitted work to my magazine ranged from raw-amateur to near-pro. As in any business, there were a few bad experiences with unpleasant personalities. Overall, I learned a great deal about editing practices related not only to small press but to publishing in general. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

—Don’t submit before requesting and reading the publication’s guidelines, or thoroughly exploring the website. The porno submissions I received went right back into the mail.

—Do include a brief cover letter with your best publishing credits. Leave out jokes, puns and family anecdotes. Do note any relevant experience you’ve had.

—Don’t instruct the editor to “enjoy your work.” One editor confided that enjoyable reading for him is “Cosmopolitan,” not writer submissions. Others just resent the presumption.

—Do put your name and address on every page (of short pieces). If you submit electronically, make sure to include both e-mail and regular mailing addresses. I had an author who waited months to see his work published, but I had no address or phone number.

—Don’t call the editor unless asked– it catches her off guard and is annoying. Please write. Use e-mail if it’s provided as an acceptable means of contact. Remember, most of them have other occupations as well as publishing.

—Do send an SASE with every regular mail submission and inquiry. No exceptions.

—Don’t submit cute items with your work. I received so many tiny, origami objects while I edited. Photos are okay, but not ones of your dog.

—Do be sure to identify your target market and send only appropriate material.

—Don’t assume your editor is a man. I didn’t look favorably on letters addressed to “Mr. Robin Bayne.”

—Do submit the hard copy of your work, with disk to follow if requested. Follow the guidelines the editor provides?they are designed to save you time and money.

—Don’t hand-write it! Don’t send a dog-eared copy that’s made the rounds fifty times. We can tell.

—Do send a thank-you note when you receive the finished copy of your work. It will be remembered. It also may get your name mentioned in the magazine again.

—Don’t send out submissions by Certified Mail or any service that requires a signature. If your editor has to traipse to the post office to sign for your submission, you start out with points against you.

—Do inform editors if you are simultaneously submitting your work. I once had to pull a story from my publication after typing and set-up. I found it in a competing magazine.

—Don’t burn your bridges. Keep those nasty thoughts to yourself, so that next year they don’t come back to haunt you. Better yet, record them in your personal journal. You’ll feel better.

—Do consider those small press credits as real publishing credits. Even if you’re not paid, keep in mind that for every story accepted, many were rejected. Each acceptance letter is a major accomplishment.

—Don’t be discouraged after a few rejections. I had to send back many stories I liked, but simply didn’t have room to print. Even online, space is limited.

—Do be wary of magazines that state “not copyrighted” in their guidelines. You still have rights in that situation, but the protection is considerably less.

—Don’t worry about copyrights in most magazines. As a publisher, I was required to send two copies of the “best edition” of each issue to the Library of Congress Depository. Any magazine that published work identified by the © copyright symbol must make the deposit, even if it does not officially register and pay the fee.

—Do send out your best work. You never know who may notice your work, or where your favorite editor may end up.

Copyright © Robin Bayne. All rights reserved.
(Revised 10/02. Previously published in Writer’s Journal, November 1997)

See more articles at www.faithhopelove-rwa.org/writing_tips.htm.

Irons in the Fire

by Robin Bayne

Imagine. . . You are working feverishly on a novel, and in your snail mail comes an invitation to submit to an anthology for charity. You put your novel aside and write a short story. After that’s submitted, you dash off a piece on a local book signing for your writer’s organization, then spot a new online publisher who is seeking novellas to launch an inspirational imprint. You start drafting a 30,000 word story, meanwhile still thinking about your novel there on the back burner.

You send off some of the poetry you wrote a few years ago to a new Christian web site … then get back to your novel … until you get an e-mail message calling for partial manuscripts in a sub-genre you don’t usually write, and you decide to whip up a synopsis and three chapters.

Do you wonder then how to get re-involved in your story, how to get reacquainted with your characters and their lives? Is it difficult to revive the passion you had for your plot? How many times do you have to start over because you lost focus?

If this sounds like you, you may be a writer with too many irons in the publishing fire. You need to narrow it down; narrow the scope of your writing activities. To bring things into perspective, consider the following:

  • Do you work a full time job? How much time do you actually have to write? If it’s limited, would it be better for you to restrict yourself to one project at a time? Only you can decide.
  • Are you still interested in your novel? It’s said that if a project doesn’t hold the author’s interest, it probably won’t hold anyone else’s, either. Analyze what you’ve done so far. Do you still care what happens to these characters? Is it worth your time to finish this story?
  • Are you overly impatient to be published? Articles on writing tell you to always have something in the mail, and that individual rejections don’t sting as much if you know you still have other pieces out there under consideration. But how many is too many? Does this practice rob you of precious time with your favorite project?
  • Perhaps most important: Which project is most in line with your ultimate goal, and which will help you move forward in a five-year plan? Do you want to be a novelist? A poet? A journalist? Are you putting together a book of devotions?

Identifying Time-Guzzlers

On an e-mail listserv discussion, a writer recently commented that she felt a need to respond to every new writing opportunity that came her way. To never miss a chance to get published. Her novel in progress was suffering as a result, but she couldn’t escape the excitement of something new right around the corner, just beyond her grasp. And to a point, she’s right. Luckily her critique buddies advised her to focus on what was most important to her, and dedicate herself to that project.

Even authors with multiple books on the shelves have to be wary of potential time-guzzlers.

Loree Lough, award-winning author of more than forty inspirational novels, says, “I honestly believe I write better stories, faster, when I’m doing more than one project at a time, because I’m in “creative mode” throughout my entire workday; coming up with spiffy dialog for ‘this’ book primes my brain for dialog in ‘that’ book. Same goes for scene-setting, character development/motivation, etc.”

Mystery writer Jack Burns explains his writing style: ” I know this sounds corny, but I start each morning with a statement of affirmations, which includes the words, ‘I work on one project at a time, except when there is a deadline for others.’ When I write a novel, I try to write it straight through from beginning to end, using Stephen King’s advice not to do research while you are writing your first draft.”

Mary Jo Putney, best-selling author of historical and contemporary romance, had this to say: “I tend to be a very linear writer, and when I’m in serious working mode on a book, it’s in my head all the time, so I don’t really have to get back into it. I don’t do a lot of short projects, especially not articles, since I’m not terribly good at non-fiction, but when I do such things, it’s always in time early in the day, before I start on the book. I’ll work on an article or a speech or whatever over time, but it’s never the main focus of my attention. For me, being in a novel is like being a fish in an aquarium—I swim in it.”

My personal habits include reading e-mail messages first thing in the morning, then printing out any writing opportunities to look at later. After work, I follow up by checking guidelines for the project, usually on the Internet. It saves a lot of time in the long run if I make sure my work is right for the project before submitting it. If possible, I read sample stories on line or request a sample publication. Anthologies such as “Chicken Soup” and “God Allows U-Turns” offer samples at their sites.

Staying Focused

Sending out short, creative non-fiction pieces is fun, can bring in a few dollars and writing credits, but if time is short I have to reduce my irons in the fire. It’s a matter of setting priorities and then working towards the most important ones. Because I consider novel writing my long-term and most important interest, evenings are reserved for my work-in-progress. Article and short-story pages are tucked into folders for the night, and the novel is spread out across my desk. I find if I don’t at least look at my novel every day, I have to review a lot to get back into the story.

There are as many methods of staying ‘focused’ as there are writers. I have to look at my own goals monthly to keep from getting distracted, because I enjoy writing all types of things. Take some time to set your priorities, decide which irons to keep hot and keep writing!

Copyright © Robin Bayne, previously published by Spirit Led Writer.

Query Letters of the Damned

by Susan Donovan

(This article was first published in the Washington Romance Writers Update newsletter in February, 2001.)

In her book “Writing Down the Bones,” author and teacher Natalie Goldberg instructs us to “go further than you think you can,” and “go for the jugular” in everything we write.

“Excuse me, Ms. Goldberg?” (I have to raise my hand on this one.) “Does that include query letters?”

See, lately I’ve been thinking that when it comes to query letters, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. There’s so much conflicting advice out there for us unpublished types, such as:

  • Don’t be afraid to stand out in a crowd, yet don’t make a fool of yourself;
  • Make your writing sing, but remember all the spoken and unspoken rules of query letter etiquette;
  • Show admiration and professional courtesy to that editor or agent, but, for God’s sake, keep some shred of self-respect while groveling in the dirt.

Sigh… All I want is to come up with a query letter that is REAL. One that is PERFECT. One that is a TRUE reflection of who I am. One that falls somewhere between laughable self-promotion and a snot-soaked, shameless outburst that requires the use of creative punctuation.

Know what I’m saying? I thought so. We struggling, unpublished, query-letter-writing types need not be alone in our shame.

Since I’ve had only marginal success with the traditional query letter format thus far in my career, I decided to come up with a few alternative approaches. I believe they just might do the trick. Here they are – feel free to use any or all of these ideas in your next letter.

For more articles from Susan Donovan, go to www.susandonovan.com!

You can judge a book by its cover

by Wendy Lindstrom

What do you do when you receive an anonymous letter in the mail? I’ll bet you look inside to see who it’s from, then scan a few sentences before you decide to continue reading or toss it out.

Like anonymous letters, the human resources department I worked for receives over 1500 unsolicited resumes a year from people hoping to gain employment. When I was screening resumes, I could immediately tell by that single piece of paper who was an amateur and who may have potential – a process similar to what an editor or agent does with your synopses and query letters.

So, what is the secret to getting an interview or a request for your completed manuscript? It’s simple. Do your homework. Make sure your writing gives the reader a vivid portrait of you and your work. The only insight an editor or agent will have about you and your qualifications will come from your introduction letter (query or proposal).

A resume or query is simply a piece of paper that is scanned for the purpose of qualifying and categorizing: reject pile or potential candidate for a job or book contract. Unsolicited resumes or submissions elicit no emotional response in the recipient unless they are different, well-written and a reflection your own author’s voice (professional please, but not dry and lifeless). Simple right?

Why then are so many people unable to gain employment or make a sale to a publisher? Mostly because they are lazy or uninformed. Resumes or submissions that are received with typing errors, missing information, or for a position the company doesn’t have (a publishing house that doesn’t publish your type of book), are all rejected. Companies and publishers want educated, competent professionals who have the gumption to research and understand their business needs and goals before soliciting them. Unfortunately, most authors or job candidates don’t take the time to do this. That’s why sorting the desirable professionals from those who are just blindly seeking a job or a sale is a quick knee-jerk decision by the editor or agent. Believe me, facing a deluge of mail every day turns even the most receptive reader into a cynic.

This is why it is so important to research and polish your proposal before you send it out. When you have finally completed your manuscript it is extremely tempting to rush it to an agent or publisher. Don’t do it! You have only one chance to impress the editor/agent/manager. Don’t waste your opportunity by being impetuous or unprofessional.

Remember, people do judge you by your appearance. Make sure your written introduction is a vivid, glowing representation of your work that will encourage that editor/agent/manager to put your query in her request basket or the special file she checks when she has another job opening.

For more articles by Wendy Lindstrom, check out her site at www.wendylindstrom.com!