Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spooky NaNoWriMo Advice

Since Halloween is only a couple days away…Boo!

Oh, that didn’t scare you? How about…NaNoWriMo starts the day after that!

This weekend will be filled with lots of scary things. Little ghouls ringing your doorbell. Armies of Minions stomping over your lawn. Unholy amounts of sugar. 

But maybe the scariest of all are the thoughts of those who anticipate NaNoWriMo.

“Will I finish this year?”

“What if I hate my story?”

“What if I don’t have time?”

“I don’t have a clue what I’ll write.”

Fear not! Or maybe do, but in a different way. If you need a little inspiration to get you started and keep you racing toward the finish line, delve into your fears. Write what scares you. Common advice, right? Because it works. Here are four quotes to back up that nice, old nugget of wisdom:

    What do you say? Ready to face your fears this spooky weekend?


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Guestopia! Poppy Inkwell

Today, I am delighted to welcome Australian author Poppy Inkwell to the Guestopia slot! Here's a quick bio before we get going with interview!

Poppy Inkwell was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Australia as a toddler. She grew up in Campbelltown, in Western Sydney, the youngest of three girls. She spent a year as an exchange student in Japan, graduated from the University of Sydney with a BA in Asian Studies and has worked in a variety of fields, including, a DJ for 2RSR Koori Radio, an interpreter for a Japanese ultra-marathon runner in the Sydney-to-Melbourne race, and PR for bands like Vicious Hairy Mary and Sydney’s avant-garde performance artists, The Post Arrivalists. Curious about Islam, she went to Brunei to teach English to ASEAN diplomats and ended up living there for almost 15 years.
Her five children inspired an interest in children and creativity which led to the development of PicassoPlay (an art group for toddlers), a transition-to-school programme and an Early Literacy programme.
She lives on the Sunshine Coast with her family.
She has sky-dived once.
Hi Poppy! Thank you so much for joining us today! Let's go!

Is this your first published book
The Alana Oakley series are my first published books.

Which genre?

Which age group?
They’re aimed at ‘tweens’ but adults seem to enjoy them too.

Is it a series or standalone?

Are you an agented author?

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Big Sky Publishing.

Do you have another job?
I’m an Early Childhood professional but I also run Early Literacy programmes for children learning to read, or for those who need extra support.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
My first manuscripts were added to many a ‘slush pile’ and very rarely did I even hear back to be rejected. I worked with a professional assessor who helped me get a foot in the door with Walker Books with a different manuscript to Alana. They liked the style or ‘voice’ of my writing but not the content. They asked to see more of my work. I showed them a picture book but they’d committed to another writer on a similar idea so it was back to the drawing board. I decided to write something completely different – Alana Oakley – which at that point was a stand-alone piece. When it was finished my assessor suggested Big Sky Publishing because he knew the acquisitions editor had similar taste to his. They were keen but wanted a series. This required a big mental shift for me but after a few stops and starts I got it done.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
I’m a huge YA fan and had just finished reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant. While I loved them, I was aware of how ‘dark’ they were. I wondered what alternatives were available for someone wanting light comic relief. I didn’t find much and set about filling the gap.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

I’m a very visual person. I think it’s because I was a TV addict as a kid. While I was a big reader, I also watched a LOT of shows like Batman and Robin, Get Smart, and the Thunderbirds. So when I write I see ‘mini-movies’ in my head (complete with cartoon-like Kablams!) For Alana, I only started writing when I had a clear beginning and an end because I love all my stories to have a twist. Everything flowed very easily after I established a writing routine. Book 2 was not as easy to write. I’d never written a series before so I wrote the second one as if it was a separate story, introducing new characters with very little connection to the first. It was all wrong – something my assessor very gently pointed out. Sean nurtured me towards making critical changes that made it a cohesive addition to the Alana storyline. It was an enormous learning curve.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
I did countless revisions as I wrote, three professional revisions with an assessor and two with Big Sky Publishing, but I think I bored my husband every step of the way with every new chapter.

How many drafts until it was published?
Too many to count!

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
The guts and bones of it remain but it’s very different to the first. The role of an objective, professional eye in the writing process is invaluable.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
I don’t believe in ‘living in regret’ and our ‘mistakes’ are just as valuable as our so-called successes. As the books are already published, I believe in putting my energy into the things I can change so I do a lot of re-writing and editing of the manuscripts.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

I enjoy all parts of the writing process but there’s no exact bit that is consistently easy or hard. I usually write in chunks and sometimes out of chronological order. If I can’t/won’t/don’t want to write a particular part, I’ll make a note in highlighted brackets to fill in later, e.g. ‘(describe her face here.)’ Editing, researching, coming up with ideas; they’re all crucial to the overall process and some days certain tasks are easier than others. The important thing for me is to maintain momentum.

What part do you find hardest?
In the original manuscript for Book 2, I had the idea of including an excerpt from William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher so I went through the usual channels and ended up in conversation with someone from Lucas Films. Sadly, they did not give their permission so I had to re-think the idea of making ‘Shakespeare Week’ contemporary. My younger daughter, Meg, told me about her friend, William Brien, who had won the school’s Shakespeare Rap competition and he very kindly let me include it in the book. It was a win-win for everyone. Plus, I got rejected by someone from Star Wars... how cool is that?!

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
I try and push through but if I’m not successful I’ll give myself another, but related task, and return to it later. 

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
Usually one but I’ll jot ideas down into separate files so that I don’t lose an idea that might be incubating for something else. 

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I don’t know. A combination of both? Neither? You do get families of writers, and then again, you have authors whose children have no interest in writing themselves. Who knows what’s in our DNA? I do know I’m still learning to write and that the better the constructive feedback, and the more practise I get, the easier writing becomes.  

How many future novels do you have planned?
There are three more stories in the Alana Oakley series. I have another series with a male protagonist incubating in my head. And a few stories planned for much younger readers.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
I write articles and guest blogs on occasion, and a short story once in a blue moon, but mainly I focus on the series. 

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
Actually holding the physical book is a very special moment, but also having an opportunity to explain aspects of the series have been an unexpected bonus so interviews and guest blogs are a highlight too. I think all fiction writers are philosophers in a way. Why we choose our characters’ paths, their decisions, or place them in certain situations and their subsequent response, is a reflection of us and our values.
It has also been a fabulous opportunity to collaborate with different people in unique ways. For example, to include William Brien’s Shakespeare Rap in Book 2, provide a platform for Alice Wilson’s song, Set Me Free, in the interview with TheOtherHamish&Andy (a song she wrote when she was ten!!!) or to reach out to an audience on Instagram and ask for suggestions for a character name for a dog featuring in Book 4.
We live in a different era and the rules have changed. It’s very, very exciting.

Give me five writing tips that work for you.
Seeking professional advice/feedback.
Typing out my favourite passages from my favourite books if I feel I can’t find my ‘voice’.
Repeatedly reading my favourite books from my favourite authors. It’s a bit like having a song on ‘repeat’; but you pick up on different nuances each time.
Establishing a writing routine that is interruption-free – I generally write in the morning and when I’m ‘less fresh’ I edit or tweak. Every writing session involves re-working passages I’ve written and I try to complete one chapter in one sitting.
Having a shower – I’ve had some of my best ‘Eureka’ moments in the shower!

And one that doesn't.
Reading reference books on how to write. 

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
New neighbours have moved into the creepy old house across the road and Alana suspects they could be vampires. With a kilo of organic garlic in her pockets I think this sassy sleuth has it covered, don’t you? 

Thank you so much, Poppy! We wish you a bunch of luck with the Alana Oakley series!

If you would like to know more about Poppy and her books, here are a few links that might help.

Big Sky Publishing



Saturday, October 24, 2015

My Secret Identity: Writing Under Multiple Pen Names

I've gone to four conferences in October and there is one thing I got asked about at every single one, even though I didn't speak on the topic in an official capacity: my pen-names.

For those who don't know, I write YA under the name Sarah Nicolas and romance under the name Aria Kane. (New release coming 11/15!)

Authors publish under different names for a variety of reasons and handle it a variety of ways. If you ask ten different pseudonymous authors, you might get ten different answers. Here are the most common questions I get about my multiple personalities and my answers:

1) Why do you write under a pen name?

Short answer: marketing/branding

Long answer: It's all about marketing and branding.

I actually don't write anything under my legal last name, for two reasons. One is that I started in the YA world and my real name is the same as a popular European lingerie designer (i.e. the Google Image results are not YA-friendly). The second is that someone with my name self-published an unprofessional fantasy/post-apoc novel and I didn't want that associated with my name.

My reasons for a separate pen name for romance are different. Imagine a teenager tells her mother she wants to read my books. The mother searches amazon and finds these covers:

Now imagine, on the opposite side of things, a reader who enjoys my sexy romances and accidentally buys and starts reading Dragons are People, Too, which has, like, some light making out. A hundred pages in.

Neither customer would be happy.

Frequently, romance authors will use a pen name if they live in a conservative environment, are active in their church, or are teachers. I have seen parents go all pitch-and-forky when they find out their child's teacher is a romance author.

Also, a couple of years ago, I saw a discussion on another reason for someone to use a pen name: job applications. An author had a potential employer google her (which everyone does now) and he doubted her intentions and her staying power because the assumptions are: the author already makes more than enough money (hahahahahahahahaha *ahem*) or is going to leave as soon as they start raking in the cash (again, hahahahahaha). So there's that to consider.

The old-school reason to write under different names is so that your mystery (J.D. Robb) books don't get shelved in the romance section (Nora Roberts) of the bookstore, because bookstores like to keep all of an author's books together. This is still a concern but is becoming less influential in these kinds of decisions.

More reasons other authors choose a pen name: Your name is very common or the name of another author (or the name of, say, a serial killer). You worry about stalkers. Your name is hard to spell or pronounce.  Bad sales history. Gender concerns (men writing m/f romance, women writing scifi).

2) Why did you choose the name(s) you chose?

Sarah is my first name and Nicolas is a derivative of my middle name. And the domain name was available.

As for Aria Kane, I've always liked the name Aria and it has some of the same sounds as my first name. One of my favorite names in the world is Cian, but nobody knows how to say or spell it. Also, a couple years ago, a report came out that romance authors with a strong-sounding Anglo-Saxon last name sold better than their counterparts. I don't know how true that is, but why not?

Plus, the domain name was available.

(I told you it was all about marketing)

3) What about your agent?

My agent and I have a very special arrangement when it comes to my pen name. This is a very personal decision. If you are not yet agented, you should have this conversation with any agent who offers representation. If you are agented, you should have the conversation with your agent to figure out how to proceed if you want to start writing in another category or under a different name.

Some agents:

  • represent all the author's work, regardless of genre. If this is what you want, look for agents who represent (almost) everything you're interested in writing.
  • represent only one category/name while another agent represents the other
  • work out a deal with another agent in their house who represents the genre they don't
  • any mixture of the above three options

4) How do you keep them straight?

Sometimes I don't. I signed an Aria email the other day with "Thank you, Sarah."

It requires different email addresses, different social media accounts, different personalities.

People look at me like I'm crazy when I say Aria and Sarah have very different personalities. The key is: they're both me, I just accentuate different aspects of my personality, depending on who I am. For example, I let out every bit of my flirtiness and dirty mindedness when I'm Aria. Sarah is more snarky/sarcastic. I'm all of those things.

5) What should I call you?

I don't care. I know some authors will, but if I'm at an event as Aria and you call me Sarah, I'll answer and won't correct you. I now answer to Aria almost as automatically as Sarah. I'm "out."

Sometimes I even forget what name I should introduce myself as. If you see me glance at my badge before I say my name, this is what has happened.

I hope that answers some of your questions about writing under multiple names. If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Reviews - Consider Before You Review!

Today seems as good a day as any to talk about book reviews. There are heaps of articles and blogs online discussing them, not to mention fabulously painful conversations that go viral of authors challenging someone who's left a negative one. But now that my debut has been available for nearly six months, and the reviews are not so much pouring but trickling in, (because my goodness, getting reviews = blood from stone), I've experienced both sides of the divide: reader vs author; reviewer vs writer; giver vs receiver.
From an author's point of view they can provide the biggest buzz in the world, but they can also hurt. Like 'crumble and curl up in a ball, making guttural sobbing sounds' type pain. Ouch.

Most of my reviews have been positive. Phew. So far, anyway! And for those readers who've taken the time to leave one on Goodreads, Amazon, Netgalley or on their blogs, I'm eternally grateful. I wish I could hug you back (I'll find a way!). But there have been a couple of negative ones. Now, no author wants to hear anything negative about their story. Just as no parent wants to hear anything negative about their child. It hurts. Badly. So much so, I've known writers to give up writing for several months as a result. All that effort, that love, that passion – smashed to smithereens in a handful of sentences. Another ouch. This isn't me, but I've certainly been affected for a day or two afterwards. (At this point, please don't tell me I shouldn't read my reviews – ain't gonna happen. I obsess. Can't fight it, so I accept I might not always be happy with what I find!) But I have wanted to challenge the reviewer. I've wanted to explain the bits they've misunderstood. I've wanted to email them and say, 'My book is mid-grade NOT YA!' But I won't. Because no matter how I look at justifying the powerful internal force convincing me I should, I'm the author, and I need to maintain my distance and my professionalism.

I write, therefore I cannot please all.

However, I don't know many writers who can't take CONSTRUCTIVE negativism. Most writers want to hear a reader's opinion. It's the nature of the writing beast. If a reader says they didn't enjoy the book and then gives their reasons, but in an honest, open and explanative tone, that's life, and fair. Every writer has been rejected at some point, and we've all read bestsellers that we didn't connect with, so why should other titles be any different. It's one of the beautiful things about this industry: there are so many tastes to please, every style and genre has the potential to reach a readership, and give a smile. But when a review is vicious, pointless and cutting, takes a pop at the author, or knocks any previous positive reviews, well that sucks. It's low. And completely unnecessary. It really doesn't say much about the person leaving the review, either.

How would you like it if a complete stranger walked into your recently decorated house that you spent the last month breaking your back and bank balance over to look amazing, and told you it sucked, they hated it, worst paint job they'd ever seen, that you're probably the most untalented decorator they've ever met and will now tell everyone through every means they can what a terrible job you've done, but will definitely not give you a reason as to why they think this. Smidge unfair if you ask me. (Not the best likeness, I know! But it's the best I could come up with today.)

I've heard all too often people who've watched a Steven Seagel or Bruce Willis movie saying it was pointless, farfetched and unbelievable. 'The hero killed everyone with a revolver and ten bullets yet never even took a single bullet, even though fifty baddies were all shooting at him at once with machine guns.' Err, point. Of course, he didn't. He's a hero in a film that isn't meant to be real, it's pointless, farfetched, unbelievable entertainment. Grrrrr!

And books are exactly the same.

It's good for a reader to branch out and read different things if they feel the need. Why not? You might just find the book of your dreams. But if you're reading sci-fi for the first time when all you usually read is hardcore gory horror, then it's simply not fair to the author, or potential readers, to compare this book to  those in your backlist. Readers have to be as open-minded and fair in reaction as the author.

So, if you're planning to leave a review (which you absolutely should) of a recent book you've devoured, consider exactly what you're reading or agreeing to review first. Before you read, even before you buy, and definitely before you review. Have an idea of your expectations of the book beforehand. Who is the intended audience? What's the genre? Then review it with these considerations in mind. Don't compare a light-hearted, fun fantasy adventure with a heart-wrenching contemporary. They're not going to be the same. Obvs.  

Take the story for what it is and don't forget your manners.


Friday, October 16, 2015

NaNoWriMo draws near...

So last month I talked a little about my NaNoWriMo prep, such as it was. To be honest, I wasn't taking it super seriously since I wasn't even sure I'd really commit to writing a new book. But then October happened and a bunch of good writing buddies signed up and now I've fully succumbed to the best kind of peer pressure and decided to actually do this thing.

But in order to do this thing, I need to take the whole planning part a little more seriously. Every author works differently - I have come to love Excel and the ability to create multiple spreadsheets in one document. I know some people swear by Scrivener, but that has never worked for me so I'm staying old school. I'm also writing fantasy, which makes keeping track of the world, cultures, languages, and different magic systems laborious enough never mind actually working out the plot and character arcs.

I have spent October building my spreadsheets. These are the individual tabs I have all in one planning document:

1) Plot - including a 7-point plot structure, a synopsis, notes for future scenes and a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the chapters I've already worked out. The rest is all broadstrokes at this point and subject to change, but I have a very good idea of where the story is going and how I need to get there.

2) Characters - more than just physical descriptions and personality traits, this tab also includes the details of the protagonists' character arcs and how these match with the plot points.

3) Magic - including all the defining characteristics of the different systems, and how these manifest culturally such as style of dress or what's held sacred. This also ties in with the religions of my world.

4) Languages - since our thoughts are very much dictated by the language we speak, the vagaries of my fantasy languages highly influence the voice of the my POV characters and this is where I keep tabs on that.

5) Geography, flora and fauna - self-explanatory really and a tab I know I'll use a lot once I get into writing and need to describe the setting.

For now, those are the five tabs I'm working on. I might need to add to them as my story world develops though. I can see myself needing to create a Politics or Trade & Commerce tab, but for now my focus is on getting character arcs to match up with plot, and make sure I've got the bones of a good story before I start writing in earnest come November.

As a previous pantser, I'm finding plotting time-consuming and extremely taxing, but it's definitely worth it. When I eventually start to write, I won't need to keep stopping to research my world, it'll be all there for me in my spreadsheet.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? How do you prepare before starting to write?


Monday, October 12, 2015

Touching Fate by Brenda Drake - HAPPY RELEASE DAY!

touching fate tour banner I'm so excited to share this book with you all. Brenda Drake is not only an amazing and giving person, she's one of the loveliest people I've met in the writing community. She's one of my critique partners and I love the concept and strong elements this book shows off. I am so happy to leave you with a review of a book about a boy and a girl who meet and shouldn't possibly be with each other, but want it all the same. My review is below.


Touching Fate by Brenda Drake
Release Date: 10/12/15 
Entangled Teen: Crave


Brenda creates a world with likable characters that you grow to feel for and love. The twist of fate? The touching of the cards? Absolutely well done. I liked that most of this spanned a large chunk of the school year, and that Aster and Reese actually clicked for me. 

While they were immediately aware of/attracted to each other, the passage of time is quite obvious in that it takes them a while to actually fall into synch. It took me back to those moments in high school when you have a new crush, and then realize that they really could be more. The complication, the curse of fate as it were, is well handled and while I definitely came to feel more for Aster, I felt a little sorry for Reese too. 

Brenda deftly weaves obstacles in the way of these two, but Aster's stubbornness and the for once present in a YA novel parents of Reese (who are quite awesome and caring, love their son and want the best for him - I know right, hard to believe) - leads to an ending that cuts it down to the wire. 

Keep in mind that I don't usually read pure romance, but Brenda Drake threw in just the right amount of magic to make me a fan. The chemistry between the pair works well, as does the tension that rises due to the circumstances they face. 

I'm not fond of spoilers so most of my review is vague, but suffice it to say: I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well crafted story with a fresh twist on a cursed man's fate, and lots of heart.   

  Summary from Goodreads: 
 Aster Layne believes in physics, not psychics. A tarot card reading on the Ocean City Boardwalk should have been a ridiculous, just-for-fun thing. It wasn't. Aster discovers she has a very unscientific gift—with a simple touch of the cards, she can change a person's fate. 

 Reese Van Buren is cursed. Like the kind of old-school, centuries-old curse that runs in royal families. Every firstborn son is doomed to die on his eighteenth birthday—and Reese's is coming up fast. Bummer. He tries to distract himself from his inevitable death...only to find the one person who can save him. 

 Aster doesn't know that the hot Dutch guy she's just met needs her help–or that he’s about to die. 

 But worst of all…she doesn't know that her new gift comes with dark, dark consequences that can harm everyone she loves. 

   Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Entangled   

   brenda drake
About the Author Brenda Drake grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the continual new kid at school. Her fondest memories growing up is of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write stories with a bend toward the fantastical. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).   

  Author Links: WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebook   

  GIVEAWAY: Fire HD 7, 7" HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB US/Canada or $100 Amazon Card if the winner is international 
  Rafflecopter a Rafflecopter giveaway   

  Book Tour Organized by: YA Bound Book Tours

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Agentopia: Jen Hunt and a Pitch Party!

This month Jen Hunt from the Booker Albert Agency is in the Agentopia spotlight, and things are working a little differently!

Check out Jen's interview below. If you think your manuscript is a good match, feel free to leave a short pitch of approximately 35 words (and only the pitch!) in the comments.

Set it out with:

Category & Genre:
Word count:

If Jen wants to see more, she'll let you know. You can then send Jen your query along with any other requested materials to the submissions email below. Don't forget to put 'Agentopia' somewhere in your subject line!

Although she became an agent only recently, Jen Hunt has been in the publishing world for quite some time. With  B.A, In English Literature from the University of Reno, Nevada, she started out as a reviewer for Divertir Publishing and ended as the Acquisitions Editor where she saw several books from start to publication. Even though that process was rewarding, Jen always had the desire to not be a step in their journey, but apart of it. To share an author's highs and lows, through every project. Thankfully, Jordy and Brittany gave her that opportunity to live her dream and it is amazing. 

To query Jen:  query[at]thebookeralbertagency[dot]com

1. What are you looking for in YA/MG submissions right now? 

I want strong characters that don't cry all the time. Angst is fine but I don't want a lovesick teenager. Why? Bookstores are drowning in those. They're a dime a dozen. Let's not chase genres, let's trend set! I want something clean for the age range. Also, and this might ruin a lot of my submissions, nothing in high school. I know, I know - but I hated high school growing up. Put that environment in a different era/time/place and I am very interested. At Divertir, Tony Russo is about to put out YA Diesel-punk where the female lead goes to flight school and it has a high school feel. THAT'S what I want (I was VERY lucky to edit that one). Give me scene setting with unique detail (as in not cliche) and a decently flushed out world.  

2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected? 

Let me approach this a different way. If a query is straight forward, clean, and linear, I will most likely read the first few lines of the attached story. A query all over the place without any idea who the main characters are, their plight, and what they need to overcome usually results in me clicking over to the next email. I like simple and straight forward. Also, submitting to me what's not in my genre. No horror, straight thriller, sex, etc. As an author, I understand how important and special it is to be championed by an agent, but if an author cannot take the time to write a clean query, I won't give them my time. Do your homework.

3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?

That is a tough one. I don't want retellings of the same plot lines. Give me age ranges in places we normally don't see. Give me unique descriptions, things described in your own voice. Keep one POV per chapter/section. 

If Jen sounds like the agent for you, please leave your pitch below in the comments. Good luck!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Refresher: The Three C's of Queries

Another Pitch Wars (the amazing contest run by the extraordinary Brenda Drake) has come and gone (Well, for the mentors! The mentees are hard at work revising before the agent showcase in November.).

I love this contest. This is my third year as a mentor, and each time, it's a glimpse into the agent side of this business: both the joy that comes from reading through the slush and finding stories that demand you read more and the frustration when a story sounds like it might pull you in, but the query fails to deliver what it must to entice you to read more.

As part of the run-up to Pitch Wars, I offered a free query or first-page critique to writers who ordered a new copy of Becoming Jinn or preordered Circle of Jinn (an offer that still stands: email me a copy of your receipt at Between these critiques and the Pitch Wars submissions, I've read more than 100 queries in the past month.

I found myself giving the same advice for revising and polishing queries and figured it was time for a refresher.

1. Give the 3 C's: character, conflict, consequence. Sounds simple, right? It's not. But think of drafting the query pitch in three paragraphs, each one centered on one of those C's. In paragraph 1, lay the groundwork for the character and the world of your story. In paragraph 2, set up the main conflict--the character's story problem that will guide the course of the novel. In paragraph 3, amp this up and take it a step further, giving us the stakes and consequences. These are essential.

2. Tell one main plot thread. Even if you have many subplots and layers, the space of a query only allows for the telling of the main plot. Cut the extraneous and give us a story problem and conflict we can follow. Don't bring up a topic that needs explaining unless you can explain it. Even if it is core to the story, if it's not core to what you are telling us in the query pitch, cut it. We trust that there will be more depth to the story itself. But the query isn't the place to tell every subplot and name every single character (in fact, try to keep your characters to three named ones; it's too confusing and too many people to keep track of otherwise).

3. Avoid "movie trailer" language. "It's a battle of a lifetime"; "Will Mary finally open herself or lose the love of her life forever?"; "XYZ will change the world"; "one woman's journey"; etc. These grandiose statements are cliche and more than that, they don't tell us anything specific about your plot--and that's what a query needs to do. Give us the stakes and consequences specific to your character and your story and eliminate the hyperbole (especially in the form of a question! What if you ask a question about our interest in following this character and we answer "no". Oops. Don't open yourself up to that risk).

4. Give specifics. Building on above, you need to give us details about your characters and plot. Avoid generic language. We need to know exactly what is going on in your plot because that's what differentiates your story from all the rest. Don't say "she'll lose everything she's ever loved". Tell us what it is she loves that she'll lose.

5. Don't apologize for your writing, don't be too familiar, don't be "cutesy." Above all, this is still a professional relationship and you need your query to reflect that. There's no need to say this is your first novel and so you are ready for feedback or for the agent to rip your work apart. Stand behind your work. If you won't, who will? Avoid being too familiar. Be sure to add personalization so the agent knows why you queried them, but keep it on a professional level. And don't worry if your bio is short. Don't pump it up with cute facts about you or your pets or children. It may be cute in query 1, but by the time the agent is reading query 100, he or she is sick of it, and it won't earn you extra points to say you wanted to be a writer since age 3. Most writers have. Only put in your bio things related to writing or the concept of your book (if you are a nurse and writing a story set in a hospital, for example). It's okay if that section is short.

6. Polish, polish, polish. This is your first impression. You don't want to meet your boyfriend's mom with spinach in your teeth and you don't want to present a query with typos or grammatical errors to an agent. This is the first time they "meet" you. Make sure your query is polished in every way. Have many sets of eyes. Hire an editor. It's worth it. (And I say this as someone who offers copyediting services but who also paid for her own query critique and editing.)

Queries are hard, but they are your foot in the door, and they have a lot of heavy lifting to do--so do you in writing them.

I offer query critique services as well as manuscript consulting. Visit my website for more details.

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, now available!!, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

How to Leverage Your Personality to Bolster Your Writing Productivity

I recently attended a religious woman's retreat and during one of our sessions, we discussed our personality types. The Myers-Briggs test from the '50s is a wonderful way to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, what type of career would play out your natural gifts, and may other facets of life. As I explored a topic I've already studied in the past, I realized that the dry spell I've been having in my fictional writing might be due to the fact that I wasn't playing up the needs of my personality.

Re-discovering What Makes Me Feel Accomplished

I haven't changed a bit. That is to say, I've become great at adapting to life's curve balls, but I'm the same person I was ten, fifteen, even twenty years ago. We all are unique, with quirks and needs that affect every part of our world. We have things that make us tick, that make us happy or content or even giddy. Those things can be leverage to make us productive and overflow with inspiration simply by being true to who we are and what works best for us.

Unfortunately, in the last few months, my inspiration well has been drier than a grain of Sahara sand at high noon. Focusing was impossible, words stopped up somewhere between brain and fingers, and I'm fairly certain intelligence chipped off and escaped my body. Lazy, bored, uninspired, and frustrated, I sat in front of a blank screen and stared, mentally begging the words to come.

Turns out, I'd been so wrapped up in life that I'd forgotten a fundamental part of who I am. Specifically, where I got my energy.

One of four parts of a personality according to the test I mentioned above is about how you recharge, how you gather yourself back to being okay. Do you need to be surrounded by people and socializing to feel whole, or do you prefer the quiet solitude to think and imagine?

I am an extrovert. The months I've spent cooped up in our rental, trudging through life in a infuriatingly silence were literally leaving me exhausted and empty. With a simple day retreat with other woman and a 20 point questionnaire, I realized my writing life won't ever be fulfilling if I don't let my need of people, of recharging with many others surrounding me, to be a regular part of it.

Additionally, the final element in my personality made me realize it may be time to take advantage of structure. A schedule, follow through, and completing small goals might help me feel more accomplished. I might even need to be a *gulp* plotter though I've proudly been a pantser for years. Perhaps the plotting will help me focus and complete projects.

I've taken a hold of these bits of myself and developed a plan that I hope will lead my writing in a forward motion. It may require creating my own real-life writing group since I can't find one. It may mean that I need to go to a bookstore or library to write instead of holing up in my office at home. You can do make your own plan once you know your personality type and examined your current habits against it.

Types and Tendencies

If you've never checked out what your personality is, even if you are very self aware, I'd highly recommend it. Insights such as this may help you develop a writing, plotting, or marketing campaign that works better for you than your current one. Keep in mind, some people take on roles or tendencies outside of their true personality, but this is about what is most comfortable or natural to you. Feel free to fill out this "knock-off" personality test (the Myers-Briggs one costs some money) that you can use to get a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses so you can leverage them for your writing.

The four categories used to analyze your personality are:

  • Extrovert/Introvert - Do you get your energy recharge from group settings and the energy of others or from quiet time alone in personal or spiritual activities? 
    • Regular in person critique groups will appeal to extraverts, while secluded or quiet writing time might appeal to introverts.

  • Sensing/ Intuit - How do you take in information? Do you rely strictly on facts of the world around you or do you follow gut instincts?
    • This can affect your research style or help you analyze critiques to better your manuscripts.
  • Thinker/Feeler - Do you use logic or your feelings to process things?
    • Thinkers may be more willing to ask questions of beta readers or feedback, while a feeler may need to take some time to process before replying.
  • Judging/ Perceiving - How to you use the information and how important is structure in your life? Do you need a regular, scheduled routine or is spontaneity important to your process?
    • The good ol' pantser/plotter come into play here. Do you need more structure than you realized previously? Deadlines are important to Judgers, while perceivers may consider deadlines flexible.

By knowing the way you best handle these elements, you can bend your writing time and process to better accommodate your writing.

Click to Tweet: "E.G. Moore discusses how your personality should affect your writing habits on @YAtopia_blog"

I'd love to know what you discovered! Please share your personality type and any ah-ha moments you may have had when you read about it in the comments below. Pinterest is also a great place to find out more about your type one you discover it. Just enter your four letter combination into the search bar, and have some fun.

E. G. Moore is a poet, freelance writer, and storyteller (the first of which her mom still has recorded on a cassette tape.)  She is a long distance member of For Pete’s Sake Writers Group in Washington, active in an email writer’s response group, and a Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI member. When she’s not telling “Mommy Made stories” to her two daughters or nagging her husband to edit her latest manuscript, she can be found off-roading in her suped-up ATV, baking some scrumptious bread, or in a long, plot-refreshing bubble bath. She’s represented by Jessica Schmeidler of Golden Wheat Literary. E.G. Moore tweets, posts on Facebook, and blogs at: