Saturday, September 8, 2012

Writers Who Improve Their Skills

Too many writers refuse to invest time in improving their writing skills. Some lack the desire to learn new things about writing. Others don't think they need to. One even told me she thought that reading about writing might hinder her flow or make her feel insecure.

Writing is a craft, no matter how talented the writer is, and the best writers constantly work toward improving their craft. Any type of information available that provides knowledge necessary to improve your craft, whether it be books on writing, advice from a writer/editor, workshops, classes, conferences, etc.--can take your writing to another level no matter what stage of the game you're in.

I love reading books on writing. They have taught me how to think more systematically as I write and break down every component of my story to give each the care that it needs, whether it be plot structure, character development, scene building, dialogue, etc. There is so much more to a developing good book than just writing alone. The wisdom I have gained from reading books on writing is knowledge that I otherwise would not have learned had I continued to believe that good writing only comes from within.

Indeed good writing comes from within, but there is an art to writing well, and a wise writer realizes that it must be learned.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Securing a Literary Agent

Aspire to land a book deal with a major publisher? A good literary agent will get your foot in the door.

I always aspired to land a book deal with a major publisher but had no idea how to go about it. So, while working on my first novel, I would occasionally take a break from writing to research how to go about getting picked up by a major publisher. I googled everything I wanted to know and even purchased a few books to learn the ins-and-outs of the publishing industry. After seeing what it took, I concluded that the first step to landing a book deal with a major publisher was securing a literary agent.

Why an Agent
Oftentimes, agents have the ability to get your manuscript into the hands of an editor at a major publishing house, because they have pull or have established relationships with them. Some agents may represent more than one writer at that publisher. Their knowledge of the industry will mean that any contract you sign will be the best possible under any circumstances. Since the agent is the middleman between the writer and publisher, the publication process can go a lot smoother and small issues can be resolved. For this reason, publishers are willing to be flexible with agents to avoid complications.

Agents will negotiate the best deal possible and ensure the correct amount of royalties are paid on time and in full. They work in the author's favor, because they make a percentage off of authors' royalties. This percentage is anywhere between 10 and 20 percent, depending on what is negotiated between the author and agent.

Preparing to Find an Agent
Your goal will be to convince an agent to give your book a chance. The query letter, synopsis, bio, and outline of your book will serve as marketing tools to get your foot in the door. The way you describe your book should be so appealing that it will sell a person on wanting to read your book, an agent on wanting to represent you, and a publisher on wanting to publish your book.

Submission Process
All agents have submission guidelines you must follow for their consideration. Follow their instructions and do not send more or less than what they ask. At the very least, they will request a query letter, and if they like what they read, they will request the first few chapters or the entire manuscript. If not, they will explain to you why they do not want to take you on as a client.

Grow tough skin and be prepared to get rejected, because more than likely, it will happen. Most literary agents reject projects because they do not feel like your book is the right fit for them. This does not mean you have a bad story. Agents choose projects according to their own personal taste, so don't take it personally. You might have a manuscript for a self-help book, but this agent only prefers contemporary fiction.

However, you are guaranteed to receive a rejection letter if you have errors in your query letter, synopsis, bio, outline, or manuscript. So, be sure everything you send is well-polished.

Where to Find Agents
There are several resources available to help you on your quest to finding a literary agent. In the beginning, you may look for any agent, but finding the right agent who represents the type of books you write can save you the headache of being rejected so much.

Online directories for literary agents list hundreds of agents who are taking new submissions. Most directories provide the agents contact information and their submission requirements.

Your favorite authors probably mention their agent's name in the acknowledgments section of their book. Use this to your advantage and look them up.

I also recommend Writer Digest's Guide to Literary Agents. Not only do they list hundreds of agents and their submission requirements, but they also provide valuable tips on preparing your query letter and what to expect during your quest to finding a literary agent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Overcoming Writer's Block

I never thought in a million years I would get writer's block, but I did. And, it has lasted for over four years. Can you believe it?

My debut novel "Darling Nikki" hit bookshelves a few months back, but it was written back in 2006. Since then, I have started numerous manuscripts and put several hours and weeks into developing characters for stories that I have not been inspired enough to finish. It sucks the life out of me to do anything I'm not passionate about, and there had not been a story that I had been passionate about as "Darling Nikki."

Then I came across a quote on Twitter that changed everything.

I have started so many stories that have not been finished nor did I have the desire to finish them. However, after reading this quote, I became inspired to do whatever it took to finish all books I have started in the past. But even in trying to do that, there still seemed to be a block, and I couldn't quite figure out why.

So I did some much needed soul searching and found that I was the block. All of this time I had been hindering myself from being inspired and completing these stories for two reasons:

1.  I wanted all of my work to be 100% fiction and nothing to come from my life or anyone that I knew. This blocked the natural flow of ideas, because I was too busy trying to make sure everything came from my imagination, instead of just writing what came natural to me.

2.  If I didn't think the book was good enough to be turned into a movie, I would stop working on it.

Never again.

I am a writer. This is something I believe I was born to do. And if I really believe that, I'm not going to let anything stop me from writing. Not even myself. I must allow my mind and body to be a vessel that puts forth stories that are supposed to be told regardless of whether they are loosely based on something I've been through or not. I am also going to stop comparing my stories to others I have written and trust that no matter what comes out of me, it will be good, because it came from me. ;-)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Start Writing Your Book Today

Many aspiring writers have the greatest stories that have never been told, but won’t take the initiative to pick up a pen or sit before a computer screen to get started. Some put writing off because they do not think they have the time; others don’t know where to start. Writing a book may seem like a challenging project to take on, but with a little time, effort, and discipline, you can be on your way to completing your first manuscript.

Just Start! 
Stop looking at the daunting task of writing a 300-page book and focus on one sentence at a time. The greatest story ever told began with a single word. That word coupled with several other words made a sentence that got together with several other sentences to make the first paragraph. Start your first page and eventually you will finish your first chapter.

Forget about Mistakes
Focus on writing the story and don't worry about whether or not everything is right. Stopping to review your work and editing prematurely can deter you from what your primary focus should be: writing. Ever wonder how writers finish 300-page manuscripts in thirty days or less? Their initial focus  is on getting the story out and increasing the page/word count--not grammar or how things sound. Edit only after you have finished writing the first draft. 

Set Goals
Start small. Devote 30 minutes a day to writing. Dedicate your time to a set number of paragraphs, pages, or word count. My word count goal for a completed manuscript is 70,000, so I commit myself to at least 1000 words per day. But this is what works for me. Make small, realistic goals, follow your plan, and as you see the progress, you will become more and more motivated to push on. 

Make Writing a Priority
We may feel that there is not enough time in the day to squeeze in 30 minutes of writing, but we make time for what is important to us. If writing a book is something you have always wanted to do, make writing a priority over some of the things you do day-to-day. I was forced to ask myself: "Which is more important? TV or writing?" Now, I substitute my evening television time working on a manuscript.

Turn Writing into a Habit
After doing something over and over again, that ritual will become a habit. This goes for brushing your teeth, working out, and even writing. Stay committed to the time you set aside for writing and be consistent. You might have to force yourself to stick with the plan for the first few days or even weeks, but eventually writing will become more of a habit than a chore.

Find Ways to Stay Motivated
Even a full-time writer does not always stay in the mood to write, gets stuck, and does not know what to write. Be creative and find ways to motivate yourself. If I reach a block, I like to study books on writing effectively or read fiction that inspires me. Sometimes watching a television show that goes with my style of writing helps. Pull from other sources to give yourself direction, but whatever you do, don't give up.

Several people put writing off because they do not think they have the time or don’t know where to start, but a person must write until writing becomes a habit. If writing a book is something you desire, you must prioritize what is important to you and take the time to write. An aspiring writer can easily allow excuses, doubts, and fears to hold him back. Years will have passed and he will look back with regret that he had never accomplished their dream. 

"Each day that you do nothing at all, you are one day further from where you want to be." (--Unknown)