Monday, August 29, 2011

Tips for Writing the Perfect Pitch

If you want to be a successful published author, you have to be your own best advocate and that starts at mastering the pitch.’ Hazel Flynn, publisher.

I will be the first to admit that writing queries are not my forte, however I have read a lot of dos and don’ts regarding this hair-pulling writing exercise so I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

Purpose of the pitch
While it’s often a case of easier said than done, the pitch is meant to pique the agent’s interest in your story so they will want to know more. It is a brief explanation of what your book is about.

Profile of a pitch
A pitch shouldn’t be longer than 250 words. In a few short paragraphs the writer has to give a sense of the main characters, show the conflict, the setting, genre and word count. It should be written in third person present tense regardless of the style your book is written in.

Tips for pitches
Publishers are taking fewer risks these days so it’s worth spending quality time to get the query right.

If you can’t get a handle on your central theme, how can anyone else? You need to show you have a clear vision.

If you have a great concept, you need to make sure you can show you’ve put that concept into a solid story with conflict and a character arc. A book won’t sell on the concept alone.

The spoken pitch is very different to the written query. Make sure you have both prepared—especially if you are heading for a conference. And practise that spoken pitch so you can avoid the stutters and show confidence.

The sub-plots aren’t as important in the query. Removing them for the pitch makes it easier to find that central driving theme of your story.

Can you add any more tips for writing the eye-catching query?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Substance vs Bling in Story Writing

Recently, my hubby upgraded his phone to the latest snazzy model. I have no idea what it is except it has a whole bunch of new features. He loves his technology. I struggle to get excited by it. If the old one works, why upgrade it? (I know, I’m such a luddite).

However, my hubby has convinced me to take his old phone: an iphone 3G. The most exciting thing about this upgrade? I get to take off his boring black cover and replace it with a shiny new one with bling. The more dazzling, the better. The curious thing is, it wasn’t until he started telling me about all the features that I started to love this hand-me-down.

My point? While bling on phones, in my opinion, is a good thing, the real appreciation won’t emerge until we discover a greater function. The same goes with writing. Sometimes I can get lost in the fancy descriptions and the amazing settings. I’ll make the wording pretty for the sake of pretty. This isn’t a good thing. Without substance, the shinies of our stories can drag the pace down. They can change the focus from where we want it to be.

Every word, sentence, paragraph needs a purpose in our stories, whether to add atmosphere, set a scene, reveal something about a character—and it’s even better when it has more than one purpose. If a description or dialogue is included for the sake of it, it has to go.

Do you struggle with removing the shinies? What are the kind of features that distract you from a story when you are reading or watching a movie?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Third Writers’ Platform Building Campaign

Rachael Harrie has put together another fantastic campaign: Third Writers’ Platform Building Campaign. It’s a great way to make real connections with like-minded people. I took part in one earlier in the year and I met so many more new bloggers, struggling writers, published authors.

The campaign runs from August 22nd until October 31st. The list closes on August 31st, so you have a week to sign up.

The Write Advice is a fantastic new Facebook community page organised by Laura Barnes. It is designed to bring together a collection of bloggers who offer great writing advice.
“I hope for this to be an excellent source for beginning writers, or beginning writer researchers, a sort-of one-stop-shop.”
It’s worth checking out.

What online initiatives or sites have given you support as a writer?Are you signing up to the campaign?

Monday, August 22, 2011

6 Benefits of Distractions from Writing

When we have writing goals and deadlines to stick to, distractions can be frustrating. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done and write that brilliant novel. We value our writing time, especially those of us who don’t get a lot of it, and we can become prickly and difficult to live with if we lose time to distractions. We may even tell ourselves that we can’t write unless specific conditions are met.

I would challenge anyone who has experienced this kind of frustration and say not all distractions are bad—and here’s why:

1. Distractions can offer inspiration. Ideas for stories come from anywhere and everywhere. We need to remember this the next time a salesperson knocks at our door, or a neighbour wants to chat. Treasure every moment, every opportunity.

2. Distractions can be an opportunity to take a break. Frequent short breaks are needed to keep a fresh view of our manuscripts. They keep our minds clear and they help us to see the big picture in our structures and plots.

3. Distractions can be a sign of flawed work. I know for a fact that when a scene isn’t working I’m more easily distracted. These kind of distractions are ones I can control—like playing spider solitaire, jumping up for yet another snack, or staring out the window for no apparent reason. When I realise what is happening, I’m more able to find the problem and fix the scene.

4. Distractions are a part of life. Writing is a solitary occupation. We can so easily turn into hermits because we can become so focussed on our work. Distractions bring us back to the world of the living. We can’t afford to cut ourselves off from everything.

5. Distractions can teach us to adapt. When we are distracted a lot we can either give in, or teach ourselves to make the most of the time given to us. We don’t need to set up a whole lot of conditions before we can write. We just write. A minute is all we need.

6. Distractions remind us of our priorities. No matter what, family and friends will always be my first priority. If anyone is in need I will drop everything.

What other benefits have you experienced when you’ve been distracted from your writing?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Just a quick note to say I will be spending most of my time at WriteOnCon, a free online writers' conference. It's a huge event, not to be missed. I will be back here on Friday.
Amendment: Make that Monday.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Importance of the Plausibility Factor

On the weekend I watched a spy thriller movie. The cinematography was good, the casting was good, the acting was good, the story… had potential. The major problem with this movie was that it lacked plausibility.

When I enjoy a movie I have a high tolerance for the flaws. The more flaws I see, however, the faster I lose my willingness to suspend my disbelief. For example, I had trouble believing that a mere scientist could win a hand-to-hand combat fight with a military trained man. Could I forgive that? Sure, why not. I enjoyed the excitement, but I’d become a little wary. What else was the movie going to ask me to believe?

Then the implausible moments started piling up. I didn’t even need to look for them to find them. The movie included massive whoppers like the bad guy needing to carry around a code for a simple four word password when he’d already proven he had an amazing memory. Or the grand finale which could have been taken care of with a simple anonymous phone call, but our hero had to throw himself into the action instead. Yeah, right.

When we write our stories we must be careful not to fall into the trap of using plot contrivances. Otherwise we may lose our readers. We need to do the research required to get it right. We also need to make sure our characters have no choice but to take the difficult route to get out of a situation.

How do you keep your stories plausible? What are some bad plot contrivances you’ve seen in a movie or read in a book?

Friday, August 12, 2011

5 Ways to Find Spelling Errors

Editing tip #247: Do not rely on the spell check tools in writing programs.

As much as I love those red squiggly lines, Spell Check won’t pick up incorrect words if they are correctly spelled. For example, it will miss ‘though’ if the word should be ‘through’. So, how do I find those elusive mistakes?

1. Print—I have no idea why, but it’s far easier to spot those spelling errors when the text is printed on paper. 

2. Read out loud—Reading my text out loud slows down the tendency to scan my work, which is the main reason we miss those mistakes. Reading to someone else is even more effective.

3. Cover the text—Many use a ruler for this purpose to keep their eye from jumping ahead in the text. A scrap of paper works just fine.

4. Critique Partner—It’s amazing how we can still miss those mistakes. Second opinions are invaluable.

5. Press Send—The surest way to find mistakes is to send off your work to someone you want to impress, for example, an agent or a publisher. 

How do you find spelling errors? How important do you think it is to find those little mistakes?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Power of the Unsaid Word

Did you know that the majority of our communication is nonverbal? I learnt that during my years studying speech and drama. And it’s just as important to keep in mind when writing. Straight dialogue can be boring, but incorporating other forms of communication could bring your scenes to life.

Physical ways to communicate
Body language: The way a person carries themselves says a lot about that person. Someone who hunches may be disappointed or may not want to be noticed. Someone who fidgets may be nervous about something. Someone who walks with their head high may be self confident. There are countless variations.

Facial Expressions: This could include whether or not someone makes eye contact. A frown could indicate anger or suspicion or deep thought. A smile can be charming or frightening.

Hand gestures: a wave can say hello, goodbye, or go away. A tight-gripped hand shake can be a challenge or show confidence. Giving someone the finger can be a statement against authority, and a salute can show sarcasm.

Action: the way a person does something. For example, a person slamming doors is either in a hurry or angry. A person stabbing at their food could be restless, angry or bored. A character could say one thing and do the opposite.

Nonverbal elements of speech
Tone: There is a reason why emoticons came into being. Those little smileys brought tone back to text based communication and helped to avoid misunderstandings. Tone can differentiate between sarcasm, anger and joy.

Pauses: the things left unsaid. These often speak louder than the spoken word.

Grunts and sighs: These are understood in any language.

Rhythm and inflections: For example, slow speech could indicate warning, barely contained anger, a lower education.

The use of language: For example, the use of bad grammar, swearing, verbosity, formality, informality. Among other things, the use of language could say any number of things about a character.

Which nonverbal tools do you favour in your writing? Which do you shy away from? Do you think some are harder to incorporate than others?

Monday, August 8, 2011

5 Reasons to Use Humour in Writing

Humour is an often underestimated tool in writing. While it may not always be easy to write, I believe it’s worth the effort. Below I’ve listed why:

1. To connect with the reader. We all respond to humour. We connect with humour. Because of that humour is universal. It’s essential for the writer to make that connection with the reader.

1. To lighten the mood. I recently read a dirge of a book that I struggled to get through because it was so intense and depressing throughout. Yes, we need conflict in our stories, but when the conflict becomes overpowering, we can tire our readers and make them pull away. The book would have benefitted from a sprinkling of humour to lighten the mood.

2. To create contrast. Likewise, a high tension scene could be intensified by a humorous scene before it because of the contrast you’ve created.

3. Character likeability. If you want your readers to like your main characters, then give them a sense of humour. A fantastic example of this would be Hannibal Lector. The readers find themselves drawn to this psychopathic killer against their better judgement, because he has a wicked sense of humour.

4. Character dislikeability. Likewise, if we don’t want our readers to like a character then we strip them of a sense of humour.

5. For success. People remember good humour. They will want more of it and so they will seek more of that writer’s work. They will be more likely to tell others about your work as well. Many believe that Shakespeare’s plays were so successful because of the humour in them—even the tragic plays.

Do you feel comfortable with writing humour into your stories, or do you tend to shy away from it? What do you think is most difficult about writing humour?

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Differences between Writing and Publishing

Writing is a passion. Writers delve deep into their souls and pour out their hearts onto the page. They find brilliance in the written word.

Publishing is a business. Publishers base their decisions on making money. They do have a passion for the industry, they do want to promote books and great stories, but they are first and foremost a business.

Writing is forming ideas and stories. It’s about discovery and creation. It can often be about self-gratification.

Publishing is about sharing those ideas and stories. It’s about communicating to an audience greater than one.

Writing can break rules and be as inflexible as it wants to be. No one other than the writer needs to understand it.

Publishing is about flexibility and evolution. A writer who wants to share their work has to change their thinking. They need to revise and edit and rewrite over and over again just so that others will understand what the writer is trying to convey.

Writing is personal.

Publishing is professional.

Can you think of other differences? What is it about either that you like most? What is it you like least?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How to Balance Writing and Social Media

Lynn Kelley asked, 'How do you balance your writing time with your social media time?' Managing time is something that’s constantly on a writer’s mind. There never seems to be enough time for writing let alone social media, family, friends, exercise, reading, house cleaning and the day job. I’ve written a few posts on this topic. One is called 3 Ways to Manage your Time, which include prioritising, scheduling and making goals. Today I will go through the process in terms of social media:

How to prioritise:
1. Ask yourself why you write and what you hope to get out of it.
2. Ask yourself why you spend your time on social media and what you hope to get out of it.
3. Using these answers, work out which is more important to you.
4. Work out how long it takes to achieve your writing and social media goals.
5. Schedule accordingly.

If you are stuck in revisions and use social media as a distraction, then you may need to reassess your time and spend more of it on your work in progress.

If you’ve found a deep satisfaction making connections with others through social media and don’t mind giving up writing time, then you might want to spend more time in social media.

If you are in the process of writing your first novel, you may want to spend more time writing. Remember, social media won’t help sales if you never finish your book.

If you are just starting to build a platform via social media and worry about not having the huge number of followers, then don’t. It’s not about numbers, it’s about connections. If you start early enough you can trust that followers will grow over time. There’s no need to spend countless hours a day on it unless you have the spare time to enjoy it.

The second part of Lynn’s question was how do you schedule your social media time? I give myself until 9am every weekday morning for social media and I try to take the weekends off to avoid burnout. If I fall behind I’ll spend a little extra time before my hubby comes home from work. How do you schedule your social media time?

Monday, August 1, 2011

What’s the Most Popular Genre?

Clarissa asked an interesting question: What’s the most popular genre sold in bookstores? Unfortunately this is not a simple question. There are so many variables that change the numbers. Some of these variables include:

Location: the most popular genres are different across countries, states, suburbs. I know that my local bookstore sells more children’s and young adult books than the bookstores in the city. It all depends on the demographics. It also depends on the shop itself. Independent bookstores tend to sell more literary fiction and non-fiction rather than genre fiction.

Date: the numbers vary widely from month to month depending on the current bestsellers—for example the popularity of the Harry Potter books made children’s books rocket into the most popular lists for a long while.

World events: For example, when the world falls into an economic crisis, the population turns to gambling. Strange, but true. Likewise, fanciful stories become more popular when people feel unsafe. For example, superheroes were born during the time of the world wars.

Trends: popular trends drive much of the market. A plethora of paranormal romance books are now popular in many locations because of the runaway success of the Twilight books and movies.

Data Accessibility: There are a number of holes in the accessibility of information regarding what exactly is most popular. Publishers of course know their own numbers through the royalty figures. Since 2001 in Australia that data has become a lot more public through a data provider called BookScan which provides point of sale data. It has allowed all the publishers to know how all the others are selling.

I found a list on Rachelle Gardner’s blog which might give you a vague idea of the popularity of genres. Remember, in terms of popularity, this is highly generalised and is subject to change depending on the variables I’ve mentioned above and it does not include children’s or young adult books. It’s also not a list of actual sales, but deals made in October 2010 and April 2011 covering 309 books:

38% General/other (non-genre fiction)
30% Women’s/Romance
11% Thriller
10% Mystery/Crime
6% Sci-fi/Fantasy
5% Paranormal
<1% Horror

The average writer can’t afford to tap into the data offered by BookScan because publishers pay $10k plus a year for the privilege. So, how do we find out the numbers for ourselves? We build a relationship with our local bookstores and libraries and we ask them.

What genres do you like to read and which ones do you like to write in and why?

If you’d like me to answer any questions, just leave them in the comments or send me an email.