Can U Smell What I’m Cookin’??

*glances around* Don’t tell my agent okay, ya’ll?

I LOVE the smell of fresh WIP bubbling in the oatmeal pot! I hate worldbuilding. HATE IT. *Cries*
Okay I don’t HATE it but … we have a sort of co-dependant, one-sided, love/hate relationship. I need it but I don’t necessarily want it. And if I write anything that remotely hints at paranormal, I don’t get much writing done until the world has solidified (the plot…the world…it goes together). Be right back…I need vodka. So the writing is slow but at least I’ve gotten some writing done in the last two days. Love holiday weekends, hate the running (though I am happy to see family since we don’t get together often enough). I could get the living and dining room painted but for Thursday.

Anyway, better late (or early depending on how you look at it) then never..I’ve got some Dear Gentle Writer Q’s for you:

Dear Gentle Writer…Can you recommend some good websites to find basic info for us newbie writers? Things like manuscript formatting, how to write a query or synopsis, where to find submission guidelines, etc.? I’d be eternally grateful! There’s not a lot of time between job, family and writing to Google my way around the writing universe.

Lisa in WY

Dear Lisa Writer…Bar none, the best synopsis breakdown I’ve ever read, is done by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner-there’s even a section on writing query letters. Tricks of the Trade

Holly Lisle has some info up on formatting your manuscript: HERE. For the record, I don’t use 1.5 in margins. I use 1 in. margins (w/ 1.25 on the left and right) and I use Georgia 13 font. It’s easily readable and at 25 lines per page, comes out to about 250 words so my MS Word count and my estimated count are usually pretty close. A word of caution, if you are using Word, I advocate setting up your format first and turning OFF the Widows and Orphans because it screws everything up (Format | Paragraph | Line and Page Breaks | Uncheck Widows/Orphans and save a few braincells in the process).

Submission guidelines for epublishers are going to vary, so your best bet is to check individual websites. I know of no website that lists guidelines for all publishers–and keep in mind that most NY pubs only take agented submissions (Dorchester and Kensington seem to be the exceptions).

I checked out agents reputations and sent out queries to my top five. Then it occurred to me I hadn’t thought beyond this point. Help! What are some things should I ask an agent, if I get a call or e-mail regarding representation? Things that would help me make a decision about representation. I don’t want to come off looking like the unprepared and ignorant writer I really am at this moment. LOL!

Dana in Cali

Dear Dana Writer….this could be an entire blog post all by itself!
Some basics though:
1. Do they use a formal contract and will they send you a copy?
2. If they work on a handshake, what happens if things don’t work out? If you don’t feel comfortable asking this question, the SOP is to give them 30 days notice in writing.
3. What’s their standard percentage on a sale? (15% for domestic and 20% on foreign rights sold seems to be industry standard)
4. Do they have an idea of where to send your work? They don’t have to tell you where but if they’re really enthusiastic, they’re probably already thinking of editors to pitch it to.
5. How hands on are they? Do they work a lot via email or snail mail (yes some agents still use good old fashioned snail mail)?

And once the conversation is over, tell them you’ll get back to them. There’s no need to agree on the spot–especially if other agents are also looking at your work. IMO You need to take the time to see what else is out there before you commit.

Here’s a good article with some questions you can ask, but (IMO) you should already have an idea of what they’ve recently sold (either from their website or Publisher’s Marketplace). You might also check out Noah Lukeman’s Ask a Literary Agent.

All that said, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself too. Namely, what do YOU want in an agent? Do you want an agent who is very hands on? Do you want to be notified every time your agent receives a rejection? Are you prepared for the expense of mailing multiple copies of your manuscript if the agent wants you to? (I once had to send a former agent five copies of a mss.)? Do you want your agent to edit you? Do you want an agent who is kind of like a friend as well as a business partner or do you want an agent who is strictly a business partner? Do you know where you (ideally) want to be in five or ten or fifteen years? Do you want to write in one genre only or multiple genres? These are some things you need to make sure you share with the agent(s) you speak to so that you’re both clear up front about what you want. If your agent doesn’t know what your goals are, they can’t help you get achieve them.

I know writers who are on their fourth or fifth agent and I know writers who have been with the same agent for twenty-five years. Sometimes our needs and desires change…and your mileage may vary.

So dear gentle readers, anyone have anything to add?

The Basics from Dear Gentle Writer

This week, since I’ve received a lot of questions about “the basics” of writing, I thought I would lump a few together.

Our first question comes from Lily in Ohio: I’m constantly seeing writing ‘rules’ posted on various  loops. Some totally contradict  each other and it’s confusing. Hooks, adverbs and gerunds. Grammar, subtext and POV, oh, my! My head is swirling and  I’m finding it more difficult to write for worrying I’m  going about this all wrong.  Help me,  Gentle Writer!

Dear Lily…don’t fret over those nasty old rules of writing.  They’re not really rules–except for the stuff about periods. You have to use periods, okay? Editors and agents will not buy you drinks at conferences if they realize you are the girl who uses no periods.

Ok … no …  seriously, take a deep breath and step away from the internet. There is so little about this writing business that we can control that sometimes newer writers tend to hyper-focus on the stuff we can.  Namely the rules.  But the low down dirty ugly truth is that while knowing the basics of grammar and storytelling are important, mastering “the rules” won’t get you published any faster.  And obsessing over the rules and which one is right or which one is wrong will only give you a migraine and a messed up liver from too much booze.  I’ll be honest and tell you that I have no idea what subtext or gerunds are.

Oh, I probably would know them if you gave me examples, but if you said, “What’s a gerund?” I’d probably refer you to a doctor.

While I think it’s probably in the best interest of every writer to at least be on hand-shaking terms with Mr. Rules, eventually you will reach a point in your writing journey where you have enough confidence in your abilities to say, “Hey this rule just isn’t working for me.  See ya later!”  And you’ll kick it to the curb.

Instead of worrying about the rules, and whether you’re wrong or right, try to focus more on your own writing, on honing your craft, digging deeper with your characters, and ultimately, mastering the best way to write a book–for you!  I know this might sound a bit blasphemous, but there is no right way to write a book.  Some writers plot, some don’t (or it ruins the story for them),  some *gasp* even write out of order or don’t type their manuscripts in Courier 12/TNR 14.

All most editors or agents want is a clean manuscript.  They probably don’t care what font it’s in as long as they can read it.  They don’t care about how perfect your story is; they’re looking to get sucked into your story the way you look forward to getting sucked into a book.  Let me give you an example: my agent signed me on a manuscript written in multiple first person POVs when normally that’s not her thing.  I rest my case.

And since this ended up being a longer answer than I’d intended, I’ll save the rest of the questions for another friday.

So, Dear Gentle Readers…what writing myths do you ignore?  Cuz I KNOW I’m not the only rule-breaker out there in writerland, ya’ll!

It’s Saturday…that means it’s Dear Gentle Writer Time!

Wednesday night’s football game got rained out so we have football today! I am SO READY for Basketball season to start!

Today’s Dear Gentle Writer question comes from Kelly in Kansas: I’ve been writing for five years now with little success beyond requests for partials, but that’s not my question. My question is what to do about my family. I’m a stay at home mom with two teenage children, a husband and lots of family nearby. We’re very close-knit and get along well–except on the subject of my writing. I write during the day while my children are at school, I never forget to pick them up, or the husband’s drycleaning. I’m a good wife, a good mom, a good sister and a good daughter, but I get no respect–and neither does my writing endeavors.

Last week I was late for lunch with my mom because I had to stop at the post office and mail a requested partial. I’m normally quite punctual and I did call to let her know but when I arrived, she was downright rude about it. She really hurt my feelings! When I told my husband what happened, he sided with her! Then told me, not for the first time, that all my contest entries and partials to agents were, “a waste of time.” And that I was taking food from our children’s mouths. And believe me, it’s not like he doesn’t make a good living. It’s almost made me want to get a job so I don’t have to rely on “his” money to pay for postage and contest fees but that would severely cut into what writing time I have. Or quit.
Continue reading

Another Q for the Gentle Writer

First off, if you’re not reading Jane Friedman’s blog, you should be (she’s the editorial director for Writer’s Digest books). She’s like Paperback Writer–honest and funny and educational and entertaining — can we ask for anything more? You can find Jane’s blog here.

Second, if nothing else, go read Jane’s post on the state of publishing. It’s well worth your time. Trust me on this. And thank you to Jeanne (Best Pimp Ho Evah!) for introducing me to Jane. Jane’s post reminds me of Mel’s Monday post here at SFC and my own post on Tuesday at NAS–just from a very different perspective. While I subscribe to the theory that we writers need to keep our head down and just write, I also think it’s shortsighted of any writer to ignore the current changes taking place not only in publishing, but in our world at large. A topic I could go on and on about but will probably save until Monday.

Third check out Jane’s interview on Writers and the Recession.

Fourth, I have BONESHAKER. *sticks out tongue*

Ok enough pimpage! Today’s Dear Gentle Writer question comes to us from Paula who hails from the Pacific Northwest: What’s a unagented writer to do when they’ve submitted to an editor (at a small press), had great e-mailed communication back and forth (over the course of several months) with praise and promises from the editor for a swift response. The editor says she has notes coming, yet more months later, the writer is still waiting for them. Forget it and move on? Submit something else, though their policy says only one submission at a time? E-mail again, though doing so hasn’t helped?

Dear Gentle Writer….What a quandary you’re in! I totally feel your pain too, and I’m sure you are not the only writer to be in this particular position.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and give you a couple of suggestions. I hope when this matter is resolved, you’ll email me so I can post an update.

A) If it’s been at least six months, I’d write her again, give her one LAST shot (say 30 days)–then cut your losses. Rapport or not, this is a business and to be frank, I subscribe to the Madonna School of Business. Your time is JUST as valuable as the editors. And while I realize editors are busy people and the work of current writers comes first, if you say you’re going to do something, then I feel you should do it.

B) If you have something else to query her with, and you really want to write for this publisher, go ahead and query her with it. What’s she going to say (since she’s been sitting on your work for months??)? No? Don’t do that? You’re a bad girl? Shame on you! WHATEV! Stop being so nice! (This from a girl who never sent out only one query letter at a time…I also rip the tags off my pillows and mattress–someone call the cops me on already).

C) While you wait over the next 30 or so days, formulate a back-up plan for that manuscript. Where else can you send it? Who else can you query with it? Don’t just sit around wringing your hands and clicking the refresh button on your email program! 😀 And then, on day 30, start sending out those queries!

Anyone else have any thoughts or advice for Paula?

Next week on Dear Gentle Writer….the family that “just don’t understand.”

Dear Gentle Writer

So I haven’t actually done much blogging lately.  I suppose you noticed, too, huh?  I haven’t had much to blog about but I came up with a new weekly blog idea, if I have enough interest.  It’s called Dear Gentle Writer and it’s a place for writers to anonymously ask questions about writing, or publishing or whatever is on their mind.  If you have a question, feel free to email me at gentlewriter @ amiestuart.com

Our first Dear Gentle Writer Letter comes from Ann in New England.  Ann writes:

I’m an agented, struggling romance writer who can’t seem to catch a break.  After reading some recently published romance, I noticed the main characters had very little in the way of internal conflict.  Also, one party seemed to be madly in love with the other.  Both realizations left me wondering, overall, where’s the beef?  Er conflict.  And am I trying to hard to create (real) conflict in my books?  Is that why I can’t sell?

Dear Ann in New England,

You have an agent so take heart.  Someone out there realizes how fabulous you are.  Otherwise, I’m afraid I don’t read a lot of romance so I hesitate to tell you to tone down the conflict in your books.  Let’s ask our gentle blog readers.  Maybe they can shed some light for you.  Do you agree or disagree w/Ann?  Have you had similar troubles?  Or is Ann just full of Clam Chowder?  And if you’re an Avid Reader, have you noticed this phenomenon in published romances???

(And as long as things don’t get ugly, I’m open to anonymous comments)