Pub Rants

Category: Writing As A Career

Beginning Writer Mistakes (Take 3)

STATUS: When I do my blog early in the day, I feel like I’ve actually accomplished something! Time to channel this energy into all my other tasks for the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta

I’m still thinking of those sample pages from last night and it totally reminded me of another writer mistake which didn’t become crystal clear until this morning. Definitely another pitfall to avoid.

Okay, the writer writes a solid, action-oriented scene where the characters involved make crucial discoveries that move the story forward. Another plot piece snaps into place for the reader. This is great. This is exactly what a good writer should be doing. This scene works.

Then in the next scene, characters arrive that weren’t in the previous scene and now the writer feels like it’s necessary to recap the previous scene in dialogue for the newly arrived characters.

Sometimes this is necessary but when it happens repeatedly in the story, it’s just bad writing. Not to mention, it’s going to feel repetitive as the reader already knows the information.

As for dialogue revealing back story, sure that’s a good tool but yet another writing element that should not be overused.

Here’s another thing to be on the look out for. Do your characters just sit around having conversations rather than actively doing something in a scene? This one can be hard to spot as the dialogue can be really good, crucial even, but if readers start paying attention, they’ll realize that nothing BUT dialogue and conversations are happening in the novel.

You don’t want that either! Trust me, I’ve seen this. As an agent, it might take me 80 pages to catch on but eventually I will and I’ll pass on the manuscript.

Beginning Writer Mistakes (Take 2)

STATUS: First day back in the office after being away is always a bit busy. There’s just a lot of catch up to do.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT YOU NEED by INXS

Tonight I was reading some sample pages (this time from material requested) and I hit on yet another newbie writer mistake. Actually, I need to clarify. This writing mistake isn’t relegated to just new writers. I see this error happen for seasoned writers as well. Writers who have enough talent on the page to keep me reading for a100 pages or so before I finally give up in exasperation.

Curious as to what it is?

It’s the mistake of telling instead of showing but in the guise of dialogue that seems to revolve around in active scene but if one analyzes what is actually unfolding, there isn’t any real action happening.

In other words, the characters are basically sitting around talking about their past actions or research or a discovery but the reader is getting privy to that information after the fact rather than having the writer write the scene where the discovery is made.

I’ll tell you right now that this is a tough error to spot as dialogue SEEMS to be moving the story forward but if you look closely enough, the dialogue is simply recapping an event or a discovery that happened off stage. Once the writer has fallen into this trap, it’s hard to break from it and ultimately the whole manuscript ends up suffering despite the occasional really fine bright spot or two in the narrative where a scene unfolds as it should.

And I wish I could share actual examples but I can’t. My clients don’t make these kinds of mistakes and the materials I’ve requested are private (proprietary info) and can’t be shared without permission. I can’t imagine too many writers would want to volunteer for that “honor” on this blog.

And will I try and point this out in my letter to the author? Sure but since I’m not going to dissect a scene where this occurs, I’m not sure how helpful my general commentary will be. I can only hope these writers seek external help from critique groups and/or already established writers to pinpoint this pitfall.

It’s definitely a writing foe worth vanquishing!

Beginning Writer Mistakes

STATUS: Tonight I’ll be back in Denver and ready to start my week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHAKE IT by Metro Station
(Can you tell I’ve been spending time with a 14 year old?)

Over the course of the year, I often participate in writer conference charity events where the prize is a read by yours truly. In other words, when I read for charity, Sara is not prescreening. Same with certain referrals sent my way.

Since the materials weren’t requested, I’m seeing sample pages from writers of various levels of ability, and with these unscreened pages, I see two very obvious beginning writer mistakes. Both of which could be easily fixed once the problem is pointed out and once the writer gets a little “formal” training regarding the writing process (either through a class or via a good critique group).

Here they are in case anyone reading this blog finds this remotely helpful.

1. The old adage still holds true. Show, don’t tell. In other words, newbie writers will often have a scene and then follow it with an explanation of the scene for the reader. Or, the newbie will simply explain what they want from the scene rather than write the scene well and let the scene speak for itself through character building, setting, and dialogue.

I will often see this in above average sample pages as well—in other words, writers are exhibiting a lot of expertise with a scene and then they can’t resist telling or offering an explanation! But as I mentioned, this is an easy aspect of writing to learn and fix.

2. Problems with dialogue. This issue exists on two levels. One, the newbie writer will include dialogue that doesn’t further the story, help the scene, or explore character. (in other words, the dialogue is pointless). Or two, the writer will have a bit of dialogue (and it can be well executed) and then there is a summary of what the reader should have gotten from the dialogue immediately thereafter.

These two issues will mark the writer as a newbie every time and with a little instructive teaching, can be tackled and resolved. As an agent, I don’t have time to go through and mark the manuscript to point this out. My assumption is that these key writing skills should be learned before querying the agent. It’s just a pass—sometimes with a comment referring to this but most often not.

Another Memoir Scandal In The Headlines

STATUS: Piping Mad!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OMG! Somebody is practicing their horn nearby and I can hear it through the vent (maybe a tuba?) And trust me, they need the practice.

Unbelievable! Yet again, an NYT story on how a hugely lauded memoir called LOVE & CONSEQUENCES is basically a fabrication.

Funny how all the memoirs that publishers have bought and have deemed “big enough” have been nothing but fiction disguised as a memoir. The publisher, Riverhead, is now recalling the 19,000 copies that released last week.

I am steamed. Kim Reid and I worked very hard to find a home for her memoir NO PLACE SAFE. An amazing story. A beautifully written story. A completely truthful (and we can back it up with full documentation) story.

Do me a favor? Go to Amazon.com right now and buy a copy of NO PLACE SAFE that’s actually a true memoir. Buy it so these yahoos in publishing will quit paying six figures for what is essentially a work of fiction.

If I hear one more story in the news about a fabricated memoir, I’m going to spit.

Okay, rant over.

And even though John’s memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE did extraordinarily well (and Kim and I are often in envy of his sales numbers), his story is also true.

So if you want to support truth in memoir by making a purchase, I guess you can buy a copy of his as well. (But only if you buy a copy of Kim’s—she says wickedly).

Fire Alarm Approach

STATUS: It’s 7 o’clock at night and I’m trying to squeeze in this blog so I can leave the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? KID by The Pretenders

I just spent the last 4 hours with my accountant so my brain is mush.

Here’s what I want to say tonight though. Lots of authors are on chat loops. Normally this is a great thing; I encourage it.

But when rumors start to fly on those loops, it can create author panic that then translates into frantic emails to the agent. When that happens, that’s when I like to advise authors to send an email but take everything with a grain of salt and send a “not sure if you’ve heard the rumors but I know you like being in the loop so I’m sending what I’m hearing” email instead.

Works the same but without the fire alarm approach.

There may or may not be truth to the rumors and why be upset over something that might not be true? Trust me, when it’s proven to be true, your agent will be plenty upset and pissed off on your behalf.

Title Saga Revisited!

STATUS: Two more days and counting…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS by Judy Garland

I can finally talk about this now. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when we were title brainstorming for one of my clients? If not, here are the links to refresh your memory.

A Good Title Is Hard To Find
The Title Saga

So here’s the full story.

Late last year and on behalf of my author Carolyn Jewel, I sold a project called Magellan’s Witch to Grand Central Forever (formerly known as Warner Forever).

It’s a dark, sexy paranormal romance. Her publisher didn’t like our original title much. After all, there’s nothing all that exciting or sexy about the word “witch” so they were throwing around a couple of other ideas.

Unfortunately, the title they really liked was Burning With Desire. As I mentioned before, Carolyn wasn’t keen on this one. Time for a title change and it was up to us to find an alternative (with the help of 162 commentators who also offered suggestions on the blog!).

I was so moved by all your unselfish help, I offered to look at a project from the person who suggested the final title.

So, it’s with delight that I announce the final title but alas, I’m sad to report that nobody on the blog suggested it. However, I do want to add here that I think the many suggestions helped to inspire the winning title. And the joke is on us because there isn’t a verb in sight!

Drumroll please (and both Carolyn and I like this one), the final title will be
MY WICKED ENEMY

Thank you again for all your help and although this cover copy isn’t final, here’s a sneak peek:

A power that can’t be controlled…

Carson Philips is a witch on the run. For years, the notorious mage, Álvaro Magellan, has held her as his psychological prisoner, suppressing her magic to the point where she doesn’t even realize she is a witch.

But once Carson gets a glimpse of the true extent of his evil, she flees Magellan’s mansion—stealing a stone talisman of unimaginable power on the way.

A hunger that can’t be sated…

Nikodemus is a fiend with a mission: Kill Magellan and his green-eyed witch. But when he meets the desperate Carson, the attraction is immediate and relentless—something even beyond the forbidden body-and-blood lust between fiend and mage. He’s not sure he can trust this tantalizing witch—she is his enemy—and less sure he can keep his hands off her. With Magellan on the hunt for his witch, can Nikodemus stop him before his desire for Carson drives him over the edge?

A Wealth Of Title Suggestions

STATUS: You might have guessed but the big day was a large auction unfolding which finally concluded today. Lots of players and more than one day so it’s been hectic here. I’ll probably announce next week so I’ll share more then.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY HEART WILL GO ON by Celine Dion

I can’t thank you guys enough. Seriously, this is so very cool that many of you took the time to brainstorm and then share a bunch of different ideas with me. There were some good possible titles in that bunch, and we forwarded them to the editor.

And here’s what I’m going to do. If one of the blog commenter suggestions gets chosen and that person is not currently represented but has a project they would like me to look at, I will (and yes, when I can share the rest of the story and the outcome, I will).

If you are already agented, then all I can do is profusely thank you on the blog since I certainly don’t want your current agent to worry that I’m poaching or doing anything like that!

The Title Saga

STATUS: Busy, busy. It was a big day as I had imagined. Lots of good news that I’ll eventually be able to share.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IT’S CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME) by U2

Run away, run away!

Well, it’s still continuing. We came up with a bunch of verb Titles and the publisher just isn’t loving them. I can understand. Titling is hard and they are pretty wed to the title they originally envisioned.

I’m sending it out to you folks in blog world. I need a title for a very sexy, dark paranormal romance. There has to be verb in the title.

Don’t include the word dark but I’m open to seeing anything else you can give me. We’ve tried lots of variations with the word fire, passion, and desire so hit me with something different if you can.

General premise: a witch is on the run from the man she has always trusted when she discovers what he is really doing. After she escapes, she runs smack dab into the hero who has made it his life goal to kill this man and his witch. Trouble ensues (which is rather an understatement).

No werewolves or vampires in sight.

Only serious suggestions accepted!

Titles (cont.)

STATUS: Preparing for a big day tomorrow. More details later.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FOOL IN THE RAIN by Led Zeppelin

Agenting is a never-ending learning process. So I’m chatting with an editor about the title change we are attempting and she pointed out something I hadn’t noticed.

In all the suggestions we had given her, only one title contained a verb. All the others were nouns with an adjective (or adjectives).

Kristin slaps hand on forehead. The publisher is looking for a more active title. That means the title needs a verb.

Betcha none of you thought of that right off the top of your head. And if you did, you are one smart cookie because to be honest, I hadn’t noticed that.

Guess what Sara, the author, and I will be doing tomorrow morning? Coming up with titles that contain verbs.

And just in case you need a verb refresher, feel free to click here. Ah. Fond memories from my childhood.

A Good Title Is Hard To Find

STATUS: I finally finished the “out of the office for four days” catch up so I can concentrate on the projects on my To Do list. Yea!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIZARRE LOVE TRIANGLE by New Order

Some days it seems like we don’t get paid enough or maybe we get paid too much. You’ll never believe what Sara and I did this morning.

We brainstormed for possible titles for a client’s delivered novel. I kid you not. We spent a good hour, maybe more, cruising Amazon.com and looking up synonyms for the word “dark” (amongst other words).

Why? Because our client hates the title her publisher wants to name her new paranormal romance novel. And I don’t mean she “generally dislikes” the title they have chosen; she is in passionate disagreement. We were agent-bound to come to the rescue.

Title needs to be in by Friday so we got down to the nitty-gritty. Later today it occurred to me that my blog readers might benefit from the strategies we used. Maybe this will spark some good possibilities when naming your own work of art.

A good title often carries the day when we read queries. Just last week I asked for sample pages for a manuscript because I thought the title was so cool, I didn’t care what the blurb was. I’m not joking either. I saw the title, skimmed the blurb, asked for 30 pages.

So here’s what we did:

1. We begun by reading the back cover copy (which is actually quite good) that the publisher did for the novel. (You can use your own pitch blurb that you created for the work.) We listed on a piece of paper the key words that captured the essence of the story so we could play with them in different word combinations. This actually didn’t yield as much as we had hoped for in creating a new list of possible titles.

2. Then we brainstormed for authors who write similar stuff. In this case, we made a list of folks writing sexy paranormal romances.

3. This got the juices cooking when we looked on Amazon for what titles have already been done in the field. We made a new list of words that caught our attention, sounded cool, or whatever.

4. Then we played with combinations. At several points in this process, Sara and I were practically rolling on the floor in mirth. We came up with many stupid titles, let me tell you. It was really clear what didn’t work the minute we uttered it aloud (so maybe share you title choices with others before settling on one).

5. We also did a couple of out-of-the-box exercises by trying to come up with cool titles that at first glance don’t have anything to do with the main thrust of the story. (For example, I think Bantam was brilliant to come up with the title PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS for Sherry Thomas. In a subtle way, it exactly sums up the novel because the two main characters are having a big conflict over a private arrangement that both have agreed to undergo.)

It’s an out-of-the-box title though so you want to reach for things that might be odd but sound cool. Make a list of those choices and play with them as well. Another way to do that is simply to search through titles on Amazon that also stand out (even if the book is a different genre) just because they sound original or unusual. This helps the mind to focus on something other than the themes in front of you. We got stuck often on stuff like that when title brainstorming so that pushed us out of our thinking rut so we could explore some other possibilities.

Happy titling! Once the title is decided upon and with client permission, I can perhaps share more details.