Tag Archives: writing advice

Fantastic Creatures and the Authors Who Love Them

Do you like goulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beaties?  Yeah, me too.  I’m at Flight of the Dragon with author Ciara Ballintyne, talking about “Things That Go Bump.”  If you enjoy imaginary creatures, or have thought about writing them, this one’s for you.

~ S.G. Rogers

How Breaking Into Publishing Is Like An Adventure Movie

For me, breaking into publishing was like a scene from the movie The Great Escape.  At times I was Charles Bronson, tunneling underground and trying to crawl my way through the soil.  Sometimes I was Steve McQueen, locked up in solitary but lots less cool. Right now, I’m James Garner, in a plane heading for the Alps. Hopefully my plane isn’t leaking fuel.

I used to think my writing career would go like this:

1)   Write brilliant novel;

2)   Acquire an agent for said novel; and

3)   Sign six-figure contract with a big publisher.

Um, no.  I soon discovered agents had no interest in me unless I was a proven moneymaker.  Fair enough, but that’s a Catch-22 isn’t it?  Fortunately, the rise of e-publishers finally gave me an alternative.  I learned I could submit directly to these e-publishers and have a better chance of breaking in than poor Angus Lennie (The Mole) had trying to climb over the barbed wire fence at the POW camp.

I used the author’s online resource Duotrope to narrow down a short list of publishers.  Then I crosschecked with Absolute Write Water Cooler and Preditors & Editors to see what the publishers’ reputations were.  Occasionally, I was cheeky enough to track down published authors on Goodreads and ask them their opinions of their publishers.

After I’d done my research, I began submitting manuscripts. Writing query emails and synopses are another topic altogether, but suffice it to say practice helps. Once I’d managed to place a few books, the whole process became easier.  The publishers I’m with all have supportive author loops where you can ask questions and learn the ropes.  Many experienced authors are more than willing to give advice or lend a helpful hand to the newbie.

Of course, my career didn’t just take off when I e-signed my contracts.  I’m having to learn the fine art and craft of promotion.  As Saturday Night Live’s Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say, “If it’s not one thing it’s another!”  But it’s an awful lot better on this side of the fence, I must say.

~ S.G. Rogers

(Hat tip to Roberta J. Gordon (@GeminiWitching) for asking me to write this post)

Thoughtful girl: © Dmitry Yashkin | Dreamstime.com

Open book magic: © Kydriashka | Dreamstime.com

Handful money: © Anatoly Tiplyashin | Dreamstime.com

Dragon and old book: © Frenta | Dreamstime.com

The Pinocchio Effect

As a reader, do you frequently wish an author had taken the story further?  And as an author, have you ever written a story that was ripe for further exploration?

 

Question:

  1. To transform a short story into a full-length novel, what must occur?
  2. Don’t even attempt it. Pick up a hammer and smash your thumb repeatedly as a reminder of just how painful such an effort would be;
  3. Place the manuscript on a Medieval torture device known as The Rack and turn the crank until the tale is long enough;
  4. Plant the story in a sunny backyard spot under a mound of fertile soil. Add water, and wait until your novel reaches maturity; or
  5. Be prepared to take your characters, settings and plot where no one has gone before. (Theme song from Star Trek plays here)

We haven’t even addressed the question of why you’d want to turn your exquisite cupcake into a multi-layered creation worthy of Ultimate Cake Off. Because, to paraphrase adorable little Oliver Twist, you want more. Your story has a great premise, terrific characters, and you’d like to spend some quality time developing what happens next—or what came before.

So far, I’ve adapted two short works of fiction into novels. The first one was written as an hour-long television pilot. That teleplay eventually became a published 78,000-word young adult fantasy novel, The Last Great Wizard of Yden. The second story was written for a sword and sorcery magazine, but I always felt I’d rather arbitrarily stopped the action to keep the word count below 8,000. Now, Tournament of Chance is just under 80,000 words.

Have I inspired you to pull out one of your trunk stories and get cracking? You might want to consider the challenges before you move forward. Be prepared to dig painfully deep to make your adaptation readable. Writing short stories isn’t necessarily easier than writing longer length fiction, but it is different. The former might be akin to a fifty-yard dash whereas the latter is more like a marathon. As my manuscripts developed, I was constantly exhorting myself to try harder—to be more creative, funnier and wittier. I had to trot a veritable ‘parade of horribles’ in front of my heroes in order to give them higher mountains to climb. If I didn’t sit back with a gasp and think, How awful! I can’t do that to him/her…my efforts weren’t good enough. In other words, just because the characters, setting, premise and a rudimentary plot are already established, that doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of actually writing the darn book. Did you think it did? Then the answer to Question 1 above will be A. Ouch.

~ Suzanne

Interview With Bri Clark on Writing What Sells

In my quest to delve a little deeper into writing what sells, I asked literary strategist and consultant, Bri Clark, to answer a few questions for me.  She’s graciously consented to an interview.

Bri, we spoke before about what’s hot and what’s not in the book market.  You’d mentioned Regency Romance and Highland Romance with slight paranormal elements as trending well.  Why do you suppose?

Both are historical. Both have the classic formula of a rake who did not want to fall in love being brought to his knees by an equally strong woman. Historical romance will and always has been a market to sell to. As for Regency era I think that is has a lot to do with the fairy tale element of balls, with royalty and aristocracy. All little girls, who grow to be women, dream of being a princess swept away by a knight. Then you throw in the added bonus of the fact this was an era in history that was true…making it all the more believable. As for Highland romance with paranormal elements. Hannah Howell is a great example of this. She has over 20 books out in this genre with slight paranormal elements. But here’s the catch – they are a series. The clans and characters all connect in some way through the generations. Highland lords are written as handsome, slightly dangerous but chivalrous with their own code of primitive loyalty and possessiveness toward their people but most especially their women. What woman wouldn’t love that? As for the paranormal it’s the play on magic or talents beyond the norm. For example in Howell’s books they can have a “healers touch” or have “seeings.” All very paranormal for the time but not so much for today’s standard.

So, if an author can manage to tap into a reader’s inner fantasy, they might be on their way to commercial success?  Ok, but many new authors scoff at the idea of writing to the market and instead insist on writing only what they want to write. Are there any pitfalls to this approach?

This comes down to that age old question of are you a hobbyist or a professional? You come to a point where you have to say “OK, I need to make money…where is it at?” I myself have faced this! Luckily I also have another job in the industry that supplements and affects that question. I find that sometimes what is popular now won’t be in a few months. The key that an author and as well as agents have to figure out is what will be the “next” popular genre and having that novel found, prepped and ready for release when it happens.

That doesn’t sound particularly easy! How do you, as a literary strategist, determine what’s strong at the moment?  Are there any discernible trends in the market right now that predict the future?

Bear in mind I’m not a publisher or an agent. I don’t necessarily have to know what’s strong but I do know how to sell to my clients’ genre. Right now Regency is strong, historical itself is always solid. YA romance has slowed a tad, it’s actually breaking out into its own sub-genres being based on age I’ve heard. Like 18 and under, 21 and up. I expect YA will take a spike in the spring/summer toward vacation time. I also predict that contemporary will take a spike. Most people went to historical when the economy crashed for a thorough escape. Now that things are getting a little better they will want a break from that and come back to modern times. Especially for beach reading.

That’s good to know! I’ve noticed many publishers and agents don’t want to see ‘sparkly vampire’ manuscripts or themes they feel have been ‘done to death,’ but these books still seem popular.  Is there a disconnect between readers and tastemakers?

Like I said before, publishers and agents have to be looking out for what’s next…not what’s now.

Thank you Bri for your words of wisdom!

~ S.G. Rogers

Bri Clark works as an editor, agent, and promoter for multiple publishers in addition to her career as an author and speaker. She can be found on her personal blog BriClarktheBelleofBoise. Bri is also a featured speaker for the upcoming Idaho Book Extravaganza in additional to her most recent engagements at Ignite Boise and Story Story Night at the Rose Room. After moving to Boise from Tennessee she was quickly dubbed The Belle of Boise for her hospitable nature, forward attitude, and sassy nature. Find Belle Consulting HERE.

Thoughtful Girl: © Dmitry Yashkin | Dreamstime.com

Swans: © Pakhnyushchyy | Dreamstime.com

Handful Money: © Anatoly Tiplyashin | Dreamstime.com

Reading: © Ctacik | Dreamstime.com

Pigs, Truffles and Writers

My own personal philosophy as a writer is that I’m like a pig snuffling through the underbrush, rooting around for truffles.  The truffles are already there; I just have to find them.  And once those truffles are in my hand, my job is to shake off the dirt until I’ve got something ready to offer.

Occasionally I’ll run across a phenomenon known as writer’s block.  That probably means different things to different writers.  But for me, I’ll get to a point in my story where I just stop.  I will sit there for some extended period of time unable to proceed.  That’s about when I wonder if my toilets need scrubbing or if I ought to go clean the lint screen from the dryer—anything other than sit there and feel useless.

I have discovered that my writer’s block usually stems from one of two different problems:

1.  Plot issue(s).  The dog won’t hunt, as it were.  Ever try to walk a dog with a burr in its fur?  That dog will sit down and refuse to budge, no matter what.   Similarly, when I’ve got writer’s block, my plot may have gone on strike.  It will refuse to move forward until I exorcise whatever mischief is causing the problem.  Sometimes the mischief involves too little conflict.  I need to juice up the clash-factor.  Or occasionally I’ll have gone down some dark alley with my characterization and I need to get back to the main thoroughfare before I get mugged.    Once in a while, although I hate to admit it, I’ll have bored myself into a stupor with a scene.  I either have to change the action or scrap the scene.   But if it’s not a plot issue, we move to door number two…

2.  Fog Head or Molasses Brain.  I’ve written something that is overly vague.  My story has fallen and it can’t get up.  You know the drill.   Now I can continue to write with Fog Head if I want, but I’ll end up generating…more fog.  Going back to the pig analogy, the pig can’t find a truffle if he isn’t directed to the right place.  So to fight Fog Head, I get very SPECIFIC.   I decide characterizations (sometimes writing pages and pages of back story for a character), locations (Internet images are great for this one), or even costumes (Internet clothes shopping…what fun!).  I’ve even been known to draw maps or pictures of a “set.”  Occasionally I’ll even “cast” the parts with actors I think look right.  Do all those details make it into the story?  No, of course not.  Some will, and that’s great.  But what it does is help me break through the haze enough to move forward again.

Good hunting.

– S.G. Rogers

Advice for New Writers

My friends’ daughter is reading “Jon Hansen and the Dragon Clan of Yden.” Just the other day she said to me “I’ve always wanted to write. What kind of advice can you give me?” Well… you can devote entire books to the finer aspects of writing and still not cover everything. I think the single biggest piece of advice I could give is this; be prepared to fill boxes (or computer memory) with cringe-worthy attempts at genius… but don’t let that deter you from pressing forward with your dream. My first screenplay was apparently so bad that the friend I’d asked to read it wanted to haul off and hit me. I brought in a short story to a college creative writing class once that almost got me thrown out. And when I introduced the initial “Jon Hansen” manuscript into my writing workshop, the first chapter was so frenetic that it gave everyone whiplash. No one sits down to write and gets it perfect the first time. It’s a learning process, much the same as a baby learns to walk. And just as a baby is thrilled with each bit of progress, so must the new writer be. There is no shortcut to finding your “voice,” and no writer should look for one. The process of writing does require a sense of humor and a somewhat thick skin. You must constantly guard against being defensive about feedback. Way back when, I wrote what I knew was a fantastic “James Bond” type thriller of a screenplay. But when I brought it into my writing workshop, the moderator told me “Your main character is so perfect he makes me want to kick him into a ditch. I hate his guts.” Sometimes you just have to laugh about stuff like that. There are days when the only thing to do is to go home and lick your wounds. But then, like a tenacious toddler, you give it another try. Eventually you’ll find what works for you and what doesn’t. Stick with it and you will be rewarded. Not everyone can be a best selling author, but almost everyone can become a better writer. So go to it.