Send your entry to RedlinesDeadlines@gmail.com by next Wednesday, April 2. On Friday we'll post the best ones we received and announce the winner (or maybe even winners). Prize is a free download of an EC/CP/TLC ebook.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Send your entry to RedlinesDeadlines@gmail.com by next Wednesday, April 2. On Friday we'll post the best ones we received and announce the winner (or maybe even winners). Prize is a free download of an EC/CP/TLC ebook.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
1. I would have shot him then and there if I thought it would do any good, but Roger was such a troll the bullet would have bounced off his thick, ugly hide. - Underdead by Liz Jasper
Monday, March 24, 2008
#4 - From Cynthia:
“Get out of bed and take off your clothes.”
It was a command, an order.
Rebecca moved to comply but immediately made herself stop. On the one hand, she was drawn by the deep masculine voice, but on the other, she didn’t jump when others told her. She didn’t follow orders…at least, not anymore.
MACKENZIE: Well, yeah, an order to get naked does catch my attention! The next few lines keep me intrigued—there are nice little teases about the backstory, and I am interested in knowing more. This also has a nice, strong voice to it.
MARY: That’s definitely a high-impact beginning line, though I’ll admit that I paused to wonder what she was doing in bed with her clothes on. I imagine by clothes you meant nightclothes, but it did make me pause and re-read, which interrupted the flow of the beginning. The next line has a great rhythm to it; however “she didn’t jump when others told her” sounds a bit awkward. Some minor fine-tuning will make this beginning work.
NICK: The choice of scene—again in medias res —seems like a good one. Stylistically, I find this one moderately jarring. It seems to expose a bit too much right away—it reads like a summary of the entire situation, something better suited for a blurb than a first paragraph. Like starting paragraphs, blurbs are meant to draw in the reader, but placed in the actual story, it reads as too devicey.
#5 - From Kate:
Evie McAllister pushed open the door into the dining room and sniffed. She could smell burning. Not the comfortable log-fire in the middle of winter burning of pine-cones and green wood with sap bubbling and cracking out of it (although even that would be out of place given that it was a bright hot summer’s morning); no, this was the distinct burning odor of bread that had wedged in the toaster and charred itself to death. Not an issue, one would think, except for the fact no-one else was meant to be in the house.
NICK: This beginning gives us a lot of possibilities. Immediately we are alerted to the potential for some kind of conflict that is atypical to the character’s everyday life—either something is very wrong or there is potential for a humorous mishap, but nevertheless the character is obviously unsettled. Then the last sentence alerts us that the situation is even more unusual than we thought. It made me want to read more. Oh, one mechanical nitpick—please always be sure to double-check your use of hyphens in compounds.
MARY: The first two sentences are great. I was immediately curious, which is what you’re going for. The third line is awkward and required a few reads to get it sorted out, however. You need to be very careful that this doesn’t happen in the beginning of your book, as it could be enough to send the manuscript back into the slush. I’d suggest revising it heavily so that it reads more smoothly. The rest is fine—it’s just that third sentence that needs fixing.
MACKENZIE: The third line is really awkward, and while there are some nice descriptions, if I have to reread a line this early on to figure out what’s being talked about, I’m already not thrilled with the submission. There’s also a grammatical error, which doesn’t impress me.
#6 - From Dawn:
Sometimes I remember that night with vivid clarity. I can see the lights of Sonoma’s street lights flicker over James’ laughing face. The mild Texas winter left us in t-shirts and jeans. He still wore his windbreaker but it provided little protection, even for a member of the Paranormal Protection Agency. But they’re like flashes of memory. His laugh, my sarcastic replies. I can almost remember using magic with something close to joy.
MACKENZIE: The first line is a little cliché, but I like the little pieces of information we immediately get about the characters. They’re already somewhat intriguing. Plus, I do like how it moves from apparently mundane facts to words like ‘paranormal’ and ‘magic’. Interesting enough for me to keep reading.
NICK: Sometimes flashbacks or other recalls of past events can help convey to the reader that this story is something important, something that happened in the characters’ past but still carries weight. In this paragraph, we learn that we’ll be hearing about someone very significant to the narrator and we get a sense of the setting. We also get a few solid hints that this story has paranormal elements. But the way it’s written, those hints are somewhat awkward and seem forced. How would a member of the Paranormal Protection Agency be more protected by a windbreaker than anyone else—what does this have to do with anything? The last sentence is awkward too—after the bit about the Paranormal Protection Agency, it reads like it’s supposed to be a notice for the reader: THIS IS A PARANORMAL. IN CASE YOU MISSED THAT, THERE’S MAGIC IN THIS STORY. Now, obviously these things can be mentioned, but the way they happen in this very first paragraph, it reads as if it has been specifically written for someone who will only read this far. You need to work on making the paragraph more interesting, rather than explaining what the story is about.
MARY: This read as a little too disjointed for me. I understand what you are going for—and I think you almost achieve it—but I found the rhythm of the sentences a bit too harsh and distracting. (Also, as a note, the repetition of “light” in the second sentence is awkward.)
Friday, March 21, 2008
The first paragraph is what determines if an editor/agent--or eventually a reader--will keep going with the story, will consider buying it.
#1 - From Sarabeth:
Tired from her long day, she walked the short distance from her apartment to the pub she had seen earlier in the week, The Pied Bull. On its pitch black door a large brass ring hung from a carved bull's nose. She had to tug hard on the ring, so much so that she grunted. It squeaked as it opened, and every head turned to look in her direction. Averting her gaze, Kathryn entered and looked for a seat.
There isn’t a great deal here, but I don’t think there necessarily have to be bells and whistles in the first paragraph in order to catch a reader’s attention. I’m interested enough to keep reading; however, make sure there is a stronger question to follow. So far the point of interest is the pub and not the girl, which is fine, but the pub is not going to hold my attention for long unless there’s something more to it.
I would advise cutting out “the pub she had seen earlier in the week, ” because that can be explained later. Here, it just detracts from the punch of the rest of the paragraph. I like the setup of the heavy door with the brass ring and people turning to look at her in The Pied Bull (pub names aren’t italicized), because it gives the setting some ambiguity and piques the reader’s curiosity. You can convey that it’s a neighborhood pub and this is a fairly mundane going-on later, but the mystery and uncertainty of the setup helps place the reader in your character’s shoes.
This first paragraph doesn’t wow me. In fact, it doesn’t feel like the opening to a story at all—it feels like we’re coming into the middle of a scene. The use of a pronoun (“she”) in the first line suggests that we’re supposed to know this character already. Inexplicably, the second line immediately brought to mind, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” I think it has to do with an overuse of adjectives in that one sentence. It’s definitely not a horrible opener, though, and if this were a submission, I’d read more.
#2 - From Brenda:
Twig woke as usual to the rattle of the Fishmonger’s cart on its way to the Norwich docks.
“Gerroff you addle-beaked twit!”
The strident argument in the roadway under her window was familiar as well. Seng and his wife, Moll, had a terrible habit of raising their voices to the black skies in the morning: loud enough to wake the whores in the brothel next door. Twig’s bed was above the stable…nothing more than a rope bin filled with straw. This had been her home for the entirety of her eighteen-year span, and today of all days, her birthday, she wished to be somewhere finer than where she was, and knew a change of venue was about as likely as Seng and Moll losing their waspish tongues.
In just eleven lines, we get a lot of useful information about the character and her surroundings. At first, I found the line of dialogue confusing because it seems like it’s attributed to the Fishmonger, but that’s easily resolvable with some slight rewording in the subsequent paragraph. The last part of the paragraph is a nice lead-in to the action of the story, clarifying a bit of backstory for the character and giving her perspective without sounding like a blurb or giving too much information at once.
This one catches my attention immediately and makes use of an unusual name to get me wondering what’s going on, enough so that I want to read on. The second line—gotta love creative use of dialect—only makes me more intrigued, even though I strongly suspect there’s supposed to be a comma in there. Luckily, I’m amused enough by what I’ve read thus far to continue. There’s a lot of nice description in here, but not so much that it seems stuffed down our throats. It succeeds at setting the scene, giving us some backstory and some basic characterization, and lo and behold, I do actually want to read more.
The writing is a bit stilted and self-conscious here, which can happen with any first scene. What I usually suggest is keep writing to the end of the novel, then go back while you still have the energy (and before you put the book aside for later revisions) and rewrite the opening scene. You’ll have found the natural rhythm of your story by then, so your opening is more relaxed and natural.
#3 - From James:
Two Marines escorted me down into the bowels of the American Embassy. They buzzed me past fat panes of bulletproof glass and walked me along a long featureless corridor. The light inside was cold and institutional, the tiled walls white, the carpet scuffed to grey. We stopped at a doorway. They waved me in then pulled the door shut.
I’m slightly torn by this one. As a paragraph alone, it seems rather choppy, with no sense of transition between the sentences. However, I suspect that, in context, the choppiness may be deliberate, to indicate the curtness of the situation, businesslike and perhaps a bit surreal. I’d keep reading at least for a little while longer, to see what’s going on.
This one had me from the word go. I was immediately curious about what was going on—who is this man and what happened to bring him here? The description had depth without going over the top, and it felt very real. I would definitely keep reading.
This is an example of a scene that throws us into the fray from the beginning. It doesn’t give too much away about the story, instead choosing to focus completely on what’s happening right at that moment. It reads like the story could go in any direction from here, and it certainly raises some questions the author will want answered.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
1. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun. -Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It was a dark and stormy cliché.
It was the best of submissions, it was the worst of submissions…
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a busy editor in possession of a spare moment must be in want of a manuscript.
And so on.
A good beginning is important. No, I’ll go a step farther and say it’s vital. While a title and a good cover may be what draw a reader’s eye, the first paragraph of a book is what keeps her from immediately putting the book away. The same holds true for editors, except in our case there is nothing but the cover letter and those first few words to get us interested. No handsome men and no kickass women posed with werecoyotes howling in the background—just the bare bones of the very best beginning you can manage.
Each editor has his or her own way of dealing with external submissions. Some faithfully read three chapters all the way through before making a decision. Some read only until the first typo. Some read the first page.
And, of course, there are some editors who will only give you that first, vital paragraph. That leaves it up to you to impress them, interest them, immediately. That leaves it up to you to come up with a truly great beginning.
There’s a catch 22 in this, however. While it’s important to start your story off with a bang (whether it be with an interesting question, an exciting event or an irresistible character), it’s all too easy to fall into the beginner’s trap of crafting that perfect opening line…and not following up with a story that matches. Or, even worse, to put so much emphasis on the opening line that it may as well be waving flags and shooting off fireworks. You do need a hook to capture my attention, but you also need it to fit your story. If your first few lines are a promise to the reader that you’ve got something worthwhile to say, the rest of your book is a delivery on that promise.
So, to recap: the hook of your story is vital to getting it read, getting it sold and getting it to as many readers as you can. But beware of the temptation to put so much into the hook that it no longer fits within the meat of your story. You have to deliver on the promise of that first line and offer not only a great beginning but a great middle and end as well.
That said—who has a first line from their own book to share?
Friday, March 14, 2008
We’ve mentioned before that backstory, while important, shouldn’t define the character. Likewise, backstory shouldn’t be defined by traumatic events alone. Bad things happen to good people all the time, but there’s such a thing as too much.
PROBLEM: The same bad things repeatedly happen to the character throughout the story.
EXAMPLE: The heroine is still coping with a rape she experienced. Then she’s attacked again. It happens in real life, and it can be a strong plot point—having to face one’s past by experiencing something similar. If it happens repeatedly throughout a story, though, the reader will start wondering what the character is doing to attract such misfortune. Their suspension of disbelief will be tested, and they’re going to stop empathizing with the character and start resenting her.
HOW TO FIX: Don’t let the tragedy become the character. And in some cases, consider what something that happens to the character says about them. If the hero is a warrior facing battle daily, of course he’ll get injured. But if he comes home torn to shreds every other day, readers will wonder what kind of warrior he really is.
PROBLEM: The backstory is full of tragedy that transcends belief, sometimes overpowering the plot altogether.
EXAMPLE: When young, the hero saw his mother killed by men who were never caught. Years later, they came after him and killed his girlfriend, but he escaped. Then persons unknown blew up his apartment complex, killing his wife and child. Now someone’s after the hero’s new squeeze. Not only does it sound like a slasher film, but the guy also seems like bad news—he’s terribly unlucky and he has a ton of baggage.
HOW TO FIX: Use moderation. There is no one-tragedy-per-lifetime limit, but don’t overdo it. Otherwise, not only will it be less plausible, but the tragedy will eclipse the character.
PROBLEM: A character experienced a traumatic event for which they needlessly blame themselves. The less at fault they were, the guiltier they feel. This is often used to make the character seem more sympathetic.
EXAMPLE: The character experienced a violent assault and/or had a loved one who was assaulted or murdered. The key factor is that this was clearly done to the character, and this passivity defines the character.
HOW TO FIX: Feeling guilt over a tragedy is normal and understandable, and many excellently written characters do exactly that. When a character is so overwrought that the tragedy permeates every aspect of their being (or when so much tragedy occurs that it tests believability), the character becomes a caricature. The reader shouldn’t want to shout, “Snap out of it!” The character’s anger and grief are expected, but hopefully they’re fleshed out enough that there’s something else there too—something to make them real and genuinely sympathetic. While it’s never fair to expect characters to just “get over it”, it’s important that they start the transition from being a victim to being a survivor before the story is over.
PROBLEM: There are convenient holes in the effects of the traumatic event.
EXAMPLE: The heroine was raped and struggles to trust again, but when she meets the hero she immediately jumps into bed with him because his love is so strong that it “heals” her. The story moves on with no mention of the earlier rape—unless the plot slows, and then the past trauma comes back to haunt the characters, taking over the plot completely.
HOW TO FIX: Make sure the tragic event and the character’s feelings about it are dealt with in a logical and consistent manner. If the hero has trouble trusting women, why is he nonchalantly giving his new fling the keys to his apartment?
When tragedy strikes, of course it takes over the lives of the people affected. But when it happens in your story, don’t let the tragedy bury all that character development you’ve established.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
1. To whom does this person go when they're having a crisis?
Monday, March 10, 2008
If you were asked to describe yourself, you'd probably come back with basic facts: your name, your age, where you live, your occupation. You'd probably throw out some other information, too. Maybe you love cats, have an undergrad degree from SUNY, hate canned mushrooms, and secretly fantasize about moving to a Walden-esque setting and living off the land. Or maybe you have a pet turtle, are afraid of spiders, taught yourself how to program when you were seventeen, started a small software company, drink too much Diet Coke, and would like to meet Mr. Right, but only if he's not going to get uptight about working long hours.
Neither of those descriptions tells us a lot about you, but it gives us some idea of where to start, at least, and maybe we could bond over our shared hate of canned mushrooms or our love of Diet Coke.
That's how it goes when people are asked about themselves. Ask someone about a character in a book that they're writing, though, and the story seems to change. "My heroine?" they say. "Well, she's twenty-seven. Her parents were killed in a car crash when she was fourteen, and since then, she's been mostly on her own. Her boyfriend raped her when she was seventeen, and now she doesn't trust men very much. A few months before the story starts, she was contacted by a lawyer who told her that her long-estranged grandmother had recently passed away and, as the only living relative, she was entitled to her grandmother's estate, which included a large but financially struggling company, and now she has to figure out how to keep it afloat."
Obviously, there's nothing inherently wrong with having that as a backstory. But look at the difference between the two descriptions. One if about who the person is--their likes and dislikes, what they want, what they've done. The other is about what has been done to them. The person being described is passive and has very little input into the description, which is all about other people's actions. And let's face it: if you have a character whose personality is defined by other people, you don't have a very interesting character. It's not that knowing someone is allergic to pineapple makes them more interesting, but it gives you a little more insight to the character. You’re not writing a story about what happened to the character ten years ago, you’re writing about what’s happening now. To make the character come alive, you need more than just their backstory and whatever the current plot is. You need hints of who that person is, their likes and dislikes, their fears and fantasies.
Maybe some of these details will never make it into your story, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't know it. Knowing your character's favorite color or least favorite pizza topping might not make the next plot twist completely apparent to you, but everything you know about a character will inform their actions and, ultimately, make for a more believable, better-written character.
Friday, March 7, 2008
On Tuesday I listed the steps for getting your submission ready and sending it in. So, what do you do after that? (Besides chewing your fingernails to the quick, having long emotional phone conversations with all your author friends, and collecting up all your good luck charms, that is.)
Step 4: Be patient
Response times are often longer than stated. If you haven't heard back right away, at least you know it wasn’t rejected at first glance.
Do not call or email the editor/agent a week later and ask if they've read it yet. Check their website for the average response time, and wait that long to inquire.
Step 5: Responses - Reject, Revise, or Accept
Reject: This is what happens to 96 - 98% of unsolicited romance fiction submissions. Don’t argue, it is pointless. Do not write a nasty note back! A thank you note (brief, professional) is not necessary but is a nice touch. You may want to submit something else there in future. Don’t burn your bridges.
Yes, it's discouraging and disheartening. Take a day or a few days to cry and mope and eat chocolate. Then send that submission out to another place. And get to work on your next book!
Face reality. Publishers are companies, they have to turn a profit. They determine what is selling in their market and offer readers what they want to buy. The book of your heart may be something that does not tug at sufficient other hearts.
Revise and Resubmit: It's not too common, but sometimes an editor will indicate they are willing to look at the story again if you make certain changes. Yes, it’s a rejection, but the door is still open. The editor took a lot of time to analyze your story and explain what needs to be revised—so she must see a good bit of potential in it.
Really think about the advice. If you don’t agree, or it doesn’t match what you feel for your story, you don’t need to take it; try submitting elsewhere. But if you keep getting similar advice…
Accept: Joy and celebration! Ask lots of questions early. Find out the process, the timeline; develop realistic expectations. This is your chance to be a “newbie”, your editor will be more tolerant now than later. Be friendly with your editor, but keep it professional, not personal.
Be professional and realistic in contract negotiations. Be responsible for understanding all the ramifications of your contract.
If you have contract questions, it's worth paying for an hour of time from an experienced literary agent or literary attorney to go over the contract with you. Do not consult a lawyer who is not experienced in the publishing industry—forget about the nice woman who drew up your will, or your brother-in-law the divorce attorney. The advice you get will not be useful, and will only make you look inexperienced and cause aggravation to your publisher. Use an experienced literary attorney.
Don’t take the attitude that a publisher will be trying to trick or cheat you. If you think that about them, why did you submit there in the first place? Start with the belief that the publisher is looking out for your joint best interests. They only make money if your book sells well. I’ve heard authors claim that a publisher tried to harm them by purposely giving them a bad cover, or delaying the release of their book, or other nonsense. Why would we want to reduce sales, and therefore our profit, by doing that?
Find out how to handle future story submissions. You want to be multi-published!
Step 6: Get published.
Meet your deadlines. Be reasonable and cooperative about revisions. Don’t turn into a prima donna. Remember that your editor has a lot of other books and authors to handle.
Your editor is your coworker, not your mother or your psychiatrist or your best friend.
Not all stories that get bought, get published. There are bumps on the publishing track, and some of those could derail your book. They may be out of your control, and this can be very frustrating. Keep aware of what is going on at your publishing house and in the industry as a whole; network with fellow authors.
And be sure to celebrate your accomplishment—by turning in your next book for publication!
Thursday, March 6, 2008
1. advice (n. opinion or counsel) / advise (v. to offer advice)
Be wise when you advise.
2. aid (v. or n. help) / aide (n. an assistant or helper)
An aide is by your side.
3. beach / beech
A beach is by the sea. A beech is a tree.
4. breath (n.) / breathe (v.)
Breathe with ease.
5. capital (city that is the seat of government; material wealth, assets; first and foremost; first-rate, excellent) / capitol (building where the legislature meets)
Cash is a form of capital. The capitol building has a dome.
6. cavalcade (ceremonial procession) / cavalry (mounted troops) / Calvary (hill outside Jerusalem; a great ordeal)
The cavalry were valiant.
7. coarse / course
We’ve lost our course.
8. compliment (praise, congratulation) / complement (complete or make up the whole)
A complement completes. I like compliments.
9. desert (dry sandy place) / dessert (yummy food at end of meal)
The desert is sand. A just desert is what you deserve. Strawberry shortcake is dessert.
10. discreet (prudent, careful; modest and restrained [noun is ‘discretion’]) / discrete (separate and distinct)
The ‘t’ separates the ‘ee’s.
11. passed / past (no longer current, gone by, over)
The ass passed me. Last year is in the past.
12. principal (main or first) / principle (basic rule or doctrine)
The principal is your pal. A principle is a rule.
13. stationary (unmoving) / stationery (writing paper)
A stationary object stands still. Stationery is paper.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
How to give your manuscript the best chance when submitting is one of the questions we get asked most frequently. Because, after all, if you don't submit "right", even the most brilliant story may sabotage its own chance for acceptance and publication.
But the whole process of submitting a manuscript starts long before you actually send it off. There is a lot of research and planning you should do first.
Step 0 – Before submitting
1. Become a pro at your profession.
~ Learn your trade: join writer organizations, attend conferences, go to book signings.
I’m amazed when new authors ask me for advice on what to do at a booksigning, and admit they’ve never been to one. Go watch an experienced author!
~ Learn the industry: magazines like Publishers Weekly and RWR; publisher websites.
~ Know your “customers”: readers. Reviews, discussion lists, blogs, RT BOOKreviews magazine.
~ Read. Read a lot. You can absorb writing techniques by seeing how other authors do it. This will also help you be aware of what types of books are being published—and who’s publishing them.
2. Be sure your “product” is ready for sale. It's done, it's clean, it's been proofread and formatted. You've written a blurb and synopsis.
~ Story needs a great “grabbing” start to get and keep the editor’s attention. You only have a couple of pages to convince the editor to keep reading your submission.
3. Use critique partners and proofers. (Family members, close friends, or rabid fans do not count!)
It is not an editor’s job to be your proofreader, or to teach you grammar. Most editors will not even consider submissions that clearly need massive editing. Interesting story lines are continually rejected because too much editing work would be needed. It isn’t worth it when other stories just as good can be finished with less time and effort.
~ Writers groups can be a great way to get feedback and find critique partners; they also often sponsor writer conferences where you will have the opportunity to talk to editors, agents, and published writers.
~ Contests: A way to get feedback on your work. Especially consider those that use editors or agents as judges.
Now you are ready to submit your story. Remember, if your manuscript is accepted, this is the beginning of what you hope will be a long and profitable connection with the publisher and editor—so do everything you can to start the relationship off right.
Humbleness does not hurt. Inflated egos send editors running.
Step 1: Where to submit
Know the publishers and agents, what they are looking for. Be familiar with the books they publish or represent. Check out their websites. Ask questions. Send only to appropriate places!
RWR semiannual Market Update; publisher websites for most current information.
Step 2: Submission guidelines
Read them, follow them. Use common sense.
Do what the submission guidelines say! Don’t expect special treatment, don’t argue about the rules.
Step 3: Cover letter/email, synopsis, sample chapters
Customize each submission letter. Make it easy to read, a quick summary of you and your story. Always be polite, don’t be too aggressive, don’t sound overconfident.
Do not say something like “Thank you for the chance to express myself.” This scares off an editor, who wants to read a marketable story, not your emotional purge.
I’ve gotten emails that mentioned “the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope”; the author clearly just did a cut and paste from the standard letter she mails to publishers.
On Friday, I'll post the steps for after you've submitted--the waiting and hoping.