Writing Tip Tuesday: Follow Your Bliss

Are you one of those writers who have been writing for years, and you have a zillion novel starts but nothing finished? That was me to a tee.

When I would bemoan this to my writers group, I was often told that I just needed to sit myself down in a chair and write. Get through it, no matter what it takes—bribes, threats, whatever.

I suppose there is some wisdom to this. The problem is, when I force myself to write, my writing comes out sounding, well, forced. Stilted. Unwieldy.

In the past few years, however, I’ve discovered that I work better, longer and more enthusiastically when I follow my bliss. I generally have two or three projects going at a time. When I get tired or stuck on one, I move to another one. I “go where the energy flows.”

What I’ve found is that I’m writing more and better—and I’m finishing things.

What works best for you?

Writing Tip Tuesday: NaNoWriMo

The most important step in writing a book is writing a book.

Seems obvious. But how many wanna-be writers never sit themselves down and actually write a book?

Lots. Most, in fact.

That’s why writing groups, book-in-a-month challenges (BIAMs), and NaNoWriMo are good things to consider participating in.

NaNoWriMo happens every November and it’s a fun writing challenge. If you’ve never heard of it, go check it out. Then come back here and let us know if you’re participating. If you want writing buddies, leave your username in the comments.

And just to make this a little more exciting, I have a prize—a book (not sure which title yet)—I’ll be giving away in a random drawing from everyone who lets me know they’re participating in NaNoWriMo and who successfully completes the 50,000 word goal.

Writing Tip Tuesday: The Snowflake Method

If you’re having trouble getting your basic novel idea worked out and expanded, you might consider trying The Snowflake Method.

This method of writing fiction will not work for everyone, but I’ve had some success with it and I’ve talked to other writers who have liked using it.

Basically, you start with one sentence, and then expand—making it more intricate and detailed as you go.

You can find complete instructions HERE. (I am not endorsing this guy’s products. This is a free info page and pretty much all you need to give The Snowflake Method a try.)

If you’ve tried The Snowflake Method (or decide to try it today), I’d really love to hear about your experiences.

  • Did it work for you?
  • What didn’t work?
  • How did you tweak it to make it fit YOU?
  • Is there another method you like better? Why?

Writing Tip Tuesday: The First Page

I cannot stress enough the importance of your first page, first paragraph, first sentence. It doesn’t need to be perfect during your first draft. But when you go back to revise, put everything you’ve got into that beginning.

The beginning needs to draw the reader in, captivate them, intrigue them, grab them around the throat in a death grip and not let go! If you can hold that grip through the end of the first chapter, you’ve probably got a story that the reader is going to finish.

Take a look at some of the first sentences of your favorite novels. One of my favorites is:

“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.”

Okay, I’m an adult and I was intrigued. Imagine a teenager reading this—they would be enthralled. Which is good, because it’s from the very popular book, Uglies by Scott Westerfield.

Or how about this one:

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die—
though I’d had reason enough in the last few months—
but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.”

Say what you want about Twilight, but that’s a captivating opening line.

Or another of my favorites:

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered
she had turned into the wrong person.”

Having been there myself, I had to keep reading Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.

Want to see more cool first lines? Click HERE.

Okay, not everyone is going to be captivated by the same first line. What does it for me may draw a “meh” from you. That’s okay. The point is, your first lines, paragraphs and pages need to start your target reader’s heart beating a little faster.

So practice. Write some good first lines and first paragraphs. If you want, you can post them in the comments, or on your blog with a link in the comments here. Or just tell us some of your favorite first lines from books you’ve read recently.

WTT: You Can’t Name a White Girl LaQuisha

—unless you have a really, really, really good reason and it better be an integral part of the storyline. Not just something made up as an excuse to have a unique and cutesy name.

Naming characters is important to your story and to your character development. You don’t want to spend weeks on it, but you also don’t want to just pull a name out of a hat and slap it on your character (even though my parents did that to one of my sisters).

One of the issues I’ve had lately (over the last 10 years) is weird names for the sake of being unique. I know this is a case of art reflecting life—I shudder at some of the names that show up on the Primary class rolls. But still, you’re not naming someone in real life. You’re naming a fictional character. You want something unique enough that it will be memorable, but not so weird that it pulls the reader out of the story every time they see it.

Here are 10 things to consider when naming characters (not necessarily in order of importance). When you break these rules/suggestions, you must do it for a really good reason that works with your story, not against it.

  1. Personality. I just read Vampire Academy last week and the main character’s name is Rose. It was not a good fit for me—too soft and sweet, even though this girl was definitely beautiful but with a thorny side to her personality. Every time I saw it, it pulled me out of the story line. Your name needs to fit the personality of the character. If you’ve got a vibrant, fun-loving character, something short and unique is a better choice than something long and traditional. If your character is morose, pick a name that’s slow and languid.
  2. Age. Fit the name to the age of the character. As a general rule, children usually have shorter names, while adults have heftier names. If you break the rule, do it because it’s right for the character. For example, Charles Wallace (Wrinkle in Time) isn’t usually a name you’d want to saddle a child with, but due to his personality, it works. If you’re writing about an 18 year old, you might want to Google popular names from 1990. If you’re writing about a fifty year old, Google names from 1959.
  3. Gender. Don’t give your hero a sissy name or name your heroine “Bob.” It’s more distracting than memorable. There are a lot of gender crossover names now. If you use one of these, make it clear what gender your character is way up front. I can’t remember the book now, but I encountered one of these recently. I guessed wrong and was in chapter three before I realized the main character was a girl. Not a good thing.
  4. Ethnicity. I love ethnic names when used appropriately. I think there needs to be more characters of color in our mostly white-bread LDS fiction. We’re slowly adding ethnicity to our stories. But as we do, it’s important that we pick names that match without stereotyping. (I mean really, not every Latino woman is named Maria.) To find a variety of ethnic names, just Google (ex: Latino names).
  5. Regionality. Be aware of your setting when choosing names. Did you know that in the south, Ryan is a girls name? In the west, it’s a boy’s name. Speaking of vampire stories, Sookie* is a great name for a psychic, southern, vampire-dating waitress. It’s memorable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard it before, but it works. Again, Google is your best friend for finding regional names.
  6. Historicalness. Okay, I know that’s not a word but I’m in a hurry. This is a two-parter. First, when in history is your story set? You’ll want to find a name that was in use during your time period. Google popular names from 1830, or whenever.

    The second part of this is how has this name been used in history. History colors names with certain character traits. For example, if you name a character Adolf, it may not immediately bring to mind characteristics of kindness, love and gentleness.

  7. Spelling. Don’t make up a weird spelling of a name just to be unique. I am so tired of seeing this in realistic fiction. I know that’s the trend in real life, but just show a bit of restraint. For example, Melynda is okay. As is Malinda. But Mylynda is a bit too much. Unless you’re writing SFF.

    When you come up with an unusual spelling of a name, run it past a few people and see how they will pronounce it. For example, Ginny. Most Americans will pronounce that with a hard g. Which is fine, unless you want it to be pronounced like Jenny. Which leads us to. . .

  8. Sound. What does the name sound like when you say it aloud? Another two-parter. First, will your readers pronounce it correctly. If your test readers don’t, you may want to clarify it in chapter 1 (rather than in book 4 of the series; but we forgive Rowling because she was writing for British readers, all of whom know how to say Hermione).

    Second, is it too hard to say out loud? Does it sound as pretty as it looks on the page. Again, this is something that is more critical for those writing SFF, but if you’re using unusual names for any reason, take this into consideration.

  9. Likeability. All of us have names we love or hate because of someone we know in real life. There are other names that stick in the public consciousness. For example, Flo. Who’d you see? (A red-headed southern waitress, right?) Be aware of the social connotations of names. You might want to avoid last names like Manson or Dahmer. Bundy might get your reader thinking of a killer or a loser couch potato. Run your names past a few people and see what image gets conjured up.
  10. Common. How common is the name? If you’re writing a realistic YA, stay away from names like Brandon and Tiffany. Find something a little more unique. Also be aware of names in popular books in your genre. This is when a writing critique group really comes in handy. A woman in my writing group once chose the name Alex for a young boy involved in a spy novel. She’d never read the Alex Rider series. Also, now is not the time to name your romantic hero Edward.

These are general guidelines to get you started. All of them can be ignored—if you have a good reason. Just make sure that reason works for your story.

*The “Dead” series by Charlaine Harris. I’ve only read one of these books. Too much sex for me.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Consistency

When writing an inspirational biography to an LDS audience, do you think it’s best to use serial commas?

A serial comma is when a comma is used in a series, for example:

I put caramel syrup, hot fudge, and whipped cream on my ice cream sundae.

The red one in front of the “and” is the one being asked about. I think. At least, whether or not to use this comma in a series is usually what people are asking about. Here’s the sentence without it:

I put caramel syrup, hot fudge and whipped cream on my ice cream sundae.

Either is correct, or rather, an argument can be made either for or against it. The use of this comma goes in and out of style, and different editors/publishers will have differing opinions. Most style guides will say to use it. Newspapers often do not.

You can read about it here and here and here.

The most important thing to remember about this comma is to pick one way of doing it and stick to it.

And by the way, it doesn’t really matter what you’re writing—biography, fiction, poetry—or who your audience—LDS or not, children or adult—although generally, non-fiction and more literary works use it, while more casual works often do not.

I’d check a couple of top sellers by established publishers in your genre (or the publisher you’re planning to submit to), see what their style is, and do that.

And no, it’s not a big enough deal for you to do it both ways and send one version to one publisher and the other version to another. Just do it one way, CONSISTENTLY—and they’ll tell you if they want it done the other way.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Regular Doses of Inspiration

I am sure that there are writers out there who can write in a vacuum. They don’t need a how-to book or a critique group. They don’t need support or encouragement or inspiration. And they certainly don’t need to be spending their money on anything that might give them a leg up in the publishing industry.

I’m not one of them.

If you’re not one of them either, I suggest subscribing to a writing magazine or newsletter. You can get one that specializes in your area of writing or a generic one.

I personally love Writer’s Digest. Eight times a year I get a little dose of writing inspiration—personal stories of successful writers, how-tos, industry info and more. I don’t just read the magazine, I actually try out their tips. If you don’t have the $$ for a subscription, go browse their site. They’ve got all sorts of freebies there, from articles, to tips and writing prompts, to links to other great sites and blogs.

I also used to subscribe to The Writer (although when I had to make a choice due to my budget, I dropped this one and kept Writer’s Digest). This mag also has tips and pointers and it comes monthly. The website has lots of free info, as well.

There’s another one I just heard about called Writer’s Journal. I haven’t actually read this one but it looks like it may have some good information. (Anyone out there subscribe? Let us know what you think in the comments.)

So, what’s the writing tip? If you need some regular inspiration and tips to keep you writing, subscribe to a good writing magazine and/or visit a writing website on a regular basis.

Are there other good magazines or newsletters you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments section.

Christmas Story Contest

Updated 07/08/09 (see bolded purple info below)

Writing Tip Tuesday: Enter contests. Like this one. . .

Remember that Christmas Story Contest I mentioned last month? Well, here it is.

LDSP’s 2009 Christmas Story Contest

Prize: Publication in a Christmas collection that will be published and ready for sale in October.

Submission Rules:

  • FOLLOW rules carefully! In the past, I’ve let some of you slide a little. But since this is for a publication, I’m going to be as sticky-picky as I am when receiving real submissions. Why? Because this is a REAL submission!
  • Write a short Christmas story in any genre. Stories should be positive and family friendly. I reserve the right to refuse any story I deem inappropriate for this blog/book.
  • Maximum word count: 2,000; no minimum.
  • Story must be previously unpublished. Stories published anywhere other than your personal website or blog are ineligible. (That includes books, magazines, e-zines or other contests.)
  • Stories submitted for previous years’ contests are also ineligible for this contest. (But may be selected for publication in the book.)
  • Paste entire story into an e-mail. NO ATTACHMENTS, please.
    —Put “Contest: Title of Story” in the subject line of your e-mail. (Example: Contest: A Christmas Gift for Mary)

    —At the top of the body of your e-mail, type your name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address, word count and whether you are a published or unpublished author (defined below). (Example:

    LDS Publisher
    123 My Street
    My Town, ST 00000

    word count: 1990
    published author

    —Skip a line, then put the title of your story

    —Skip a line, then paste in your story.

  • “Published”—as in published author—is defined as someone paid you money or comp copies (in the case of magazines) for any story or book written by you. (So either a publisher paid you, or you self-published and people bought your book.)
  • If you are a published and/or agented author, check with your publisher and/or agent before submitting. They will want to know the information listed under “Book Details”.
  • You may submit more than one story. Send each submission in a separate e-mail. Include all your info, as outlined above, with each e-mail/story.
  • SUBMIT your story any time between NOW and Saturday, August 15, 2009.
  • I will post the stories beginning on August 1st, in the order that they arrive.
  • We will have Reader Voting for the best stories, as we have done in previous contests. The winners are guaranteed a spot in the book. Voting will take place August 16–22nd. I will post voting rules then.
  • You may tell your friends that you’ve submitted a story and to please go vote, but DO NOT tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity.

PRIZE: Publication in the Christmas Collection

  • There will be four winners:
    Readers’ Choice/Published Author
    Readers’ Choice/Unpublished Author
    Editor’s Choice/Published Author
    Editor’s Choice/Unpublished Author.

    These four winners are guaranteed a spot in the book.

  • As usual, I reserve the right to not award one of the Editor’s Choice awards if I feel none of the stories deserve it.
  • Other stories in the book will include my choices from this and previous Christmas contests held on this blog, selected based on providing a variety of stories and book size.
  • All authors to be included in the book will be notified by the end of August, 2009.

Book Details (Read Carefully):

  • By submitting a story to this contest, you are agreeing to all the conditions below.
  • Authors shall give LDS Publisher One-Time Publishing Rights for inclusion of story in the as yet untitled Christmas story compilation. This is the non-exclusive right to publish your story in this compilation, in various formats, and to retain your story in the compilation until LDS Publisher takes the compilation out of print.
  • Authors shall retain all other rights and copyrights to their stories and may sell this story to any other party with a publication date after December 25, 2009.
  • Compensation for use of story in this compilation shall be: one free e-book copy of the published book sent to author upon publication; author’s name listed in the Table of Contents and on the first page of the story; and rights to use this compilation as a publishing credit. No royalties, advances or other monetary compensation will be given to any author. Author may not print or sell the e-book files.
  • Compensation exception: If sales of the book exceed costs to produce it, LDS Publisher shall notify authors and arrange an equal royalty split between all authors. Conditions and terms of royalty and payment shall be determined at that time.
  • LDS Publisher shall assume no rights to any future works by author.
  • LDS Publisher shall have full editorial rights to the stories included in the compilation, including, but not limited to, title changes, editing for space and content, design and layout of book, title of book, and book cover.
  • The compilation will be available for purchase online in both print and e-book formats by October 31, 2009.
  • The compilation may or may not be made available to bookstores at discounted pricing, but in any case, no marketing will be done by LDS Publisher to guarantee placement in any bookstore.
  • Authors agree to help spread the word about the contest and the book by any or all of the following methods:

    —Word of mouth to friends and family

    —Website/blog buttons, links, posts, etc

    —Facebook, My Space, Twitter, or other networking sites or forums

I think I’ve covered everything. If I update any of the above, I’ll post a notice and mark it in bolded purple. I’ll have buttons created later this week that you can post on your blogs/websites.

Help spread the word! Post about the contest on your blog, in your forums, and e-mail all your friends.

Buttons for your blogs:

Standard Sidebar (220px)

Smaller Sidebar (125px)

WTT: What Should I Write?

Ideas for books come from a zillion places.

Sometimes a character just pops into your mind and refuses to leave. Their voice must be heard and you build your story around them.

Sometimes you’ll dream a scene, or an entire plot, and fashion your book from that.

Sometimes a current event on the news or something in your personal life will spark an idea. Or even reading a poorly written book.

But what if all you know is you want to write a book? Where do you start? How do you pick a genre or find a plot?

I recommend your first stop is your own bookshelf (or your library history). What do you read? What do you love? Divide your books into genres and count how many you have in each. The genre with the most books is the one you should be writing in.

Then I recommend googling that genre, learning about it. What are the best sellers? What are the typical story lines and conventions for that genre? I feel comfortable guaranteeing that somewhere in your study of the genre, you’ll stumble upon a spark that will start your book.

Writing Tip Tuesday: For Left-Brained Writers Only

All you right-brained, go-with-the-flow, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type people—stop reading now. This post will just frustrate you and you’ll feel like you have to leave nasty anonymous comments pointing out that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But for writers who are a little more left-brained and especially those who are working on their first novels. . .

Setting writing goals is a good way to work through a writing project. Sometimes, you know where you are and where you want to be, but the task is so big and overwhelming that you don’t know how you’re going to get from here to there. It’s easy to get frustrated, discouraged, and then give up. Setting specific and measurable writing goals can keep you on task and help you get to where you want to be.

1. Set a long-term goal.
Do you want to start and finish a novel? (or two?) Do you want to get your WIP polished and submitted? Do you want to write for contests? Or try something in a different genre? Or maybe you do okay with the big stuff, but you need to set a goal for blogging. Whatever it is, decide what your specific focus is going to be for the next 6 to 12 months.

When I say specific, I mean measurable and achievable. Don’t set a goal that says, “I want to be published.” First, it’s too vague. Second, getting published isn’t under your direct control.

A solid goal might be, “I will complete my 90,000 word Young Adult novel by December 1st.” This is clear and measurable, and you have the ability to achieve it.

2. Break your long-term goal into smaller, short-term goals.
Look at your schedule and decide how you want to chunk things down. Will you write every day? Three days a week? Or all day on Saturdays? Block out the time in your schedule, then create realistic mini goals.

Using the 90,000 word novel in six months as an example, that would mean your smaller goals would be to write 15,000 words each month; 3,750 words each week; and, if you write 5 days a week, that’s only 750 words a day. That is reasonable.

Remember, your goals need to be specific and measurable as to what (750 words a day) and when (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.).

If your goal is to build your writing creds, your smaller goal might be to write and submit one magazine article each month.

3. Track your progress.
I believe in the power of tangible, visual progress charts. You can use a wall calendar, giving yourself a sticker for each day you reach your goal. You can make a graph that shows how many words you’ve written. There are some good online goal trackers like Joe’s Goals and LifeTick (this one has an iPhone app). If you’re motivated by sharing your goals with others, you can put a word count ticker on your blog to show your progress, like these from Writertopia.

4. Assess your goals.
After you’ve been completing your smaller, short-term goals for awhile, take a look at them and make sure they are supporting your larger goal. Sometimes what you think will help you reach your goal might be slightly off target. Or perhaps you’ve set your goals too high, or too low. Assess and readjust your goals, if needed. I like to do a quick assessment once a month, to review the progress I’ve made and what’s still ahead.

What types of things do you do to make and meet your writing goals?

Writing Tip Tuesday: Giving Your Characters Voice

I’ve read several novels lately where all the characters sound the same; you can’t tell them apart without a dialogue tag. Sometimes I’ve even had to retrace a conversation between two people back to the last dialogue tag and then count them out to know who’s talking.

Ooops. Not a good thing.

Here are some tips for giving your characters unique voices:

  • Spend some time getting to know your characters as people. Who are they? What are they like? What’s their backstory? When you know your characters well, they become unique individuals to you—with unique language patterns.
  • Give your characters favorite words or expressions. You don’t want to overdo this or, well, does “Holy overdone expressions, Batman” give you an idea?
  • Loosely base your characters on people you know—how would they say it? Then tweak it a bit.
  • Go hang out where people like your characters are. Listen to the way they talk. Incorporate that into your dialogue.
  • Read your dialogue aloud—as if you were performing it on stage. Does it sound right?

Readers, what tips or tricks do you use to give (and keep) your characters’ voices unique?

Writing Tip Tuesday: Give it a Rest!


Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your writing is to take a break. This is especially true during the editing phase. Let it sit for a day or week. Then go back to it with fresh eyes and a fresh brain.

It’s also good to take an occasional day away from your story to just go play, relax, have fun. Energize the creative side of you.

Of course, I don’t recommend taking a break if you’re on a roll or if you’re way behind deadline. But every once in a while, give it a rest.

And I’m going to follow my own advice. I’m having a medical procedure (routine, nothing serious) that requires follow-up pain killers and who knows what I’d write under that influence. So I’m taking a break for the rest of the week. Go browse through past posts—commenting on old posts enters you into the contest to win the books in the sidebar. Or head over to the LDS Fiction site. We’ve got new titles popping up every day for awhile.

Writing Tip Tuesday: Super Glue, Epoxy and Duct Tape

One of the most common laments from new writers—and even from more experienced writers who have fallen off track—is, “Where do I find the time to write?”

The answer is, you don’t FIND it. You MAKE it.

Simple as that. We all have people and responsibilities tugging us away from our computer or notebook. Whether it’s the distraction of the television or Internet, or the very real need to support a family, we’ve all got reasons not to write.

What you have to find are the reasons inside yourself TO write—that burning desire that won’t go away. Stoke it every chance you get. I guarantee that if you really, really want to write, you’ll be able to eke out a few minutes here and there to do it—even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.

It’s all about choices. Choose to write. Choose when and where. Then support your choice. Do whatever it takes to get yourself in front of your computer and stay there during your allotted time—even if it takes a little duct tape.

Grammar and Writing Resource Books

What writing books would you recommend? I’ve heard that some rules of grammar have changed/are changing–how do we keep up?

Much as I personally hate it, grammar rules change over time (ex: lit vs lighted). Even the experts disagree about what is correct grammar and they will argue over something as “simple” as comma placement, each absolutely certain that they are correct and fully supported by other experts. To someone unfamiliar with the history of language and basic grammar rules, it may seem that there are no rules, or that rules can be broken at will.

This is an incorrect assumption. There are rules, and there are acceptable ways to break the rules. Editors know both. We can tell if you’re breaking a currently in-vogue rule because you’re following a different rule, or if you just don’t know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, there is no one, generally accepted, definitive grammar rule source book.

I prefer more traditional usage over the modern, but I’ve argued with many of my colleagues about what is correct, and we can all defend our own stance. You’re never going to guess what a particular publisher uses/wants, so don’t bother trying. Even if you know what a publisher usually wants, the grammar rules may change slightly depending on the style of book.

The key to grammar is to select a good source book and be consistent. You need to understand enough grammar that you know why you’re following (or breaking) a particular rule.

Here’s a pretty good list of sources. You’re probably safe with the current edition of Chicago Manual of Style (although I don’t agree with all of their rules). I like Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Trus as a punctuation manual. If you’re writing LDS, use their Style Guide to Publications.

Now, for writing books in general, there are so many good ones I hardly know where to start. I have about 40 on my shelf that I really love, and almost that many that I’d like to get. Some of my favorites are Julia Cameron’s books on writing, Natalie Goldberg and Annie Dillard. I also have a lot of books published by Writer’s Digest that are pretty good. The best way to find good books on writing is to just go spend a day at the bookstore and browse. Or ask a writer you know and respect what their favorites qre.

So how about it readers? What are your favorite writing books?

Age is Relative

I recently attended the LDStorymakers Conference and received a recommendation from a couple of authors that I increase the age of my main character (it is a romance novel). At the beginning of my book, she is 19 but the bulk of the book transpires when she is about 23-24. What age range would you recommend? Is 25 still too young? Thank you.

I generally don’t like to have a character introduced at one age, then jump forward in time five years to where the story actually takes place. You can sometimes get away with this in fantasy by using a prologue, but prologues aren’t really the “in” thing right now. Maybe it’s tolerable if something happens to the character as a very young child, and for some reason it needs to be described in real time, and then you jump ahead 20 years. But even then, it usually is going to be better to start the story at her current age, then fill in the backstory at appropriate intervals.

As to what age your main character should be, it depends on the story you’re writing. Teen romance is fine, if it’s not explicit or too sensual and follows LDS dating standards and guidelines. Romance in your early 20s is fine, and generally this is when most LDS girls fall in love and get married so I don’t see a problem with it.

Not knowing anything about your story, I can’t say why the authors thought your character needed to be older or if they are correct in that advice. But if those advising you are successful published authors in your genre, I’d probably listen to what they had to say.

Improving Your Writing

I have a question. LDS Publisher, I would like to see you post a blog about what, in your opinion, LDS authors can do to increase their quality of writing. I’m whacking my head against the wall to drag the very best of myself onto the page, and yet I still seem to be falling short. What does a publisher look for that they’re not finding?

1. What can LDS authors do to increase their quality of writing? This is a hard question to answer because everyone is at a different skill level and what I’d suggest to a beginning writer is different than what I’d suggest to a more experienced writer, but I’ll try to cover some very general areas.

First, increase your basic writing skills. This means grammar, spelling, and the other technical parts of writing. Many people believe their skills in this area are higher than they really are. They get feedback from family and friends who have similar skill levels and so they do not catch the mistakes. I’ve had writers go into shock when I point out the grammatical errors in their manuscript. (I’ve had published authors go into shock when I point out the errors in their published books.) Take some brush-up classes, review some basic grammar texts or find someone with editing experience who is willing to go through your stuff and help you learn. If you use Word, it will underline your grammar errors in green. Word is not always correct, but if you don’t know why that green line is there, you need to find out why.

To increase the quality of crafting your story, there is nothing like practice. Write every day. There are so many books out there with writing prompts and other exercises to help you improve. Read some of them and do the exercises. Get in a good writers group, either face-to-face or online, where you can get feedback on your work. Then listen to that feedback.

Read a lot of books, particularly ones that are selling well or those by your favorite authors, but don’t just read for fun. As you read, ask yourself why this book works. What are they doing? What is the structure behind the writing? What techniques do they do well? Where did the story slow down for you and why? How could they have done it differently? If you don’t know why a particular books works or doesn’t work, take a class or read some books on analyzing literature. Study plot building, characterization, dialogue, scene development, descriptive language, foreshadowing, etc.

Learn about genres. Try writing in several of them and decide what you like best. Then learn the rules for that genre. What elements must be included in a good mystery? What in a good romance? They’re different.

Learn the basics of manuscript formatting and the usual guidelines for submitting. Again, there are lots of books and magazines on this topic. Read, read, read. Take notes. Learn.

2. What does a publisher look for that they’re not finding? Another hard question. It’s much easier to tell you what I’m getting that I don’t want. I want stories that speak to deep, universal themes–things we can all relate to–but told with a bit of a twist, so it’s not just another book about whatever.

As an LDS publisher, I want stories, characters and topics that speak to our unique culture. I want historical fiction, modern fiction, women’s stories, mystery, romance. I personally want to see YA and stories for boys, ages 12-18, but the PTBs here at my company aren’t very enthusiastic about them because they don’t sell as well as adult fiction.

Okay, I just noticed how very long-winded I’m being today, but I don’t have time to go back and be more succinct. Have to get back to work. Sorry.

Word Count

Beulah, who is fast becoming one of my new best friends because she leaves nice comments and also helped cure me of various aches and pains asked this question:

What is the average word count for the different genres? What would you consider too long/too short?

First let me say, the word count on a book is less important than tight, good writing. You need as many words in your book as it takes to tell a good story. Of course, you can go overboard with this. A 200,000 word romance is going to have a hard time finding a publisher, as is a 7,000 word historical fiction. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts.

There is no hard and fast rule on word count. It will differ between publishers and between authors. For example, books for children and teens usually top out around 40,000-50,000 words. But how long was JK Rowling’s last book? It also depends on the font size your publisher uses and whether they average 250 or 300 words per page.

Here are a few basic guidelines:
Short novel is 15,000 to 40,000
Adult novel is 50,000 to 110,000
Literary novel can be 125,000

As for differences in genres, go to the library or bookstore and take the average number of pages in books for that genre. Subtract about 6 pages for title page, acknowledgments, blurbs, etc. Then divide that by 250 and you’ll be in the ballpark.

Here are some approximates based on page count:
40,000 = 160 pages
62,500 = 250 pages*
75,000 = 300 pages*
90,000 = 360 pages
100,000 = 400 pages
125,000 = 500 pages**

As you can see, this is NOT an exact science.

*Best range for new authors
**Need to be an experienced author or really, really good to publish a novel that’s over 125,000 words.

If You’re Unhappy…

Geez, I go away for the weekend and you all go crazy on me! I love it. And I thought I’d hit a hot button when I got 6 comments on a post. But we’ve set an all-time record here. And my hit stats are through the roof. Thank you.

A lot of the comments were tangential to my post, and that is just fine. But they did bring up a good question:

What do you do if you’re really unhappy with your publisher but you’re locked into a contract?

I wish the LDS publishing industry was big enough to support agents. An agent’s job is to negotiate with the publisher in YOUR behalf. They are the Doberman whose job it is to protect YOU. Good agents “get” the legal talk found in contracts and can predict how that language will effect you, given various scenarios. They also work with attorneys who specialize in publishing contracts. A competent agent won’t let you sign something that is patently unfair or detrimental to your long-term career.

But we don’t have agents because the industry is too small and so authors are left to fend for themselves. Many LDS authors think that since they’re dealing with LDS publishers they will automatically be treated fairly and honorably, as our religious tenets demand. Many times (I would hope, most times) they are. Sometimes they are not. To be safe, smart authors will have an attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry review their contract before they sign them.

If it’s too late for that and you’re really unhappy with your publisher and your current contract, the first thing you do is try to re-negotiate your contract in a professional manner. Most publishers are reasonable people. If you’ve sold well for them, they’re more likely to work with you to come to some mutually acceptable agreement.

If they’re resistant to your attempts, perhaps you can find another author within the same company who has successfully negotiated their contract and have him/her mentor you. Or find another author who has successfully broken or nullified their contract with your publisher, and discover how they did it.

If you’ve really exhausted all your options for peaceful negotiation, and you’re sure you’re being reasonable* and the publisher is a tyrant and just won’t budge, contact an attorney. Many in the LDS culture are hesitant to sue but if that’s your only recourse then seriously consider it–especially if you’ve been a productive, well-received author and this contract is effectively ending your career. Find a good attorney who specializes in contract law and who has some experience in the publishing industry.

Since ROFR was specifically mentioned, let me say that most ROFR clauses, like most non-compete clauses in the rest of the business world, are unenforceable. Legal ROFR clauses must be reasonably limited by time and/or number of books and/or genre. If yours is not, seek legal help. You may be able to force them to delete the ROFR or the judge may nullify the entire contract. If you know other authors who have that same clause in their contract and are equally upset over it, you might have grounds for a class action suit.

However, a word of caution. If you are not the reasonable one, even if you succeed in breaking your contract with your publisher, other publishers might be leery about signing you. You might want to speak with a couple of other publishers to see if: a) their contract is different; b) they are outraged at the terms of your contract or at least think you have a legitimate complaint; and c) they’d be willing to take you on when you get out of your current contract.

*You have a reasonable complaint if their ROFR commits you to more than two years and more than the next two books. You are unreasonable if you think you should get 20% royalties, or a 50 city book tour paid for by the publisher, or that they will accept your next manuscript without edits, or…

100 Days

Here’s another site to check out–How to Write a Novel in 100 Days or Less. Sometimes we all need a little kick in the pants to get us motivated again.