Author Christopher J. Lynch is a Southern California native living in Los Angeles. A member of our group, CBW-LA, Chris has written articles for various newspapers and magazines, as well has various short stories.
His hobbies include cycling and mountain climbing. He recently trained and led a group of blind individuals to the summit of Mount Baldy, the highest point in Los Angeles County. A documentary film is being made of the adventure. www.baldyfortheblind.com.
In May of 2012, Christopher J. Lynch finished the first draft of his debut crime novel “One Eyed Jack.” By June 13th, he had it revised, edited, formatted, and published as both an e-book, and a “Print on Demand” on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Since then, he has enjoyed brisk sales, received rave reviews, done four author signings, and had it placed in Pages Bookstore, Small World Books, Apostrophe Books, and Frog Books. He also produced a video trailer and has done numerous guest blogs, author interviews, and promo pieces. How did he do it all in such a short time? He self-published.
Christopher J. Lynch will share his experience and talk candidly about the self-publishing route and what it means to the writer of the 21st. Century.
Chris was a wonderful speaker. He offered us a no-holds barred presentation on the ups and downs of self-publishing and gave us a lot of helpful tips and tricks, which he had to learn the hard way.
Some of the questions Chris answered included:
·What is traditional publishing versus self-publishing?
·Is self-publishing right for me, or for my book?
·What are the benefits of self-publishing?
·What are the downsides to self-publishing?
·What is POD (print on demand)?
·What are the steps necessary for self-publishing?
·What are the costs involved?
Is Self Publishing For You?
- Major bookstores (B&N) – and even some “indie” bookstores – will not carry self-published titles.
- If you are selling on consignment to bookstores, you will have to get a sellers permit and resale certificate from the franchise tax board.
- You may not be eligible for some book awards.
- The “New York Times” and many other mainstream publications, are reticent to review any self-published book.
- Some blogs may not review self-published books.
- You will have to pay for your own editing, formatting, cover design, etc.
- All promotion, bookkeeping, sales, etc. is on you – You are a business!
- Time: Your completed book can be available as an e-book in under 8 hours, and a print version in about one day.
- Creative Control – This can be both good and bad.
- You can set the list price (minimums for e-book and POD).
- Higher royalties.
- If successful, you can always get an agent and a publisher and go the conventional route.
Where do you begin? An e-book from manuscript to product.
- Step one: Finish the damn thing!!
- Step two: Revise…Revise…Revise.
- Step three: Have your manuscript professionally edited…by a reputable editing service.
- Step four: Your cover is the first thing a customer sees – and it will only be a thumbnail on-line. Again, pay the pros. Only a front cover will be needed for an E-book (more on converting it to a full cover with spine and back for a POD).
- Step five: Formatting from mobi, to epub to pdf can be hell, so it’s worth it to get a professional to do this for you.
Why do a POD, if e-books are all the rage?
- It doesn’t cost you much more.
- It broadens your sales.
- Many people still like holding a physical book.
- You are going to have to do lots of in-face promotion (book fairs, signings, libraries, etc.) and you can’t sign an e-book.
How the steps to do a POD differ from an e-book
- You will need to have your original, revised and edited manuscript, formatted into a different size (typically, trade size paperback).
- Companies like Ironhorse formatting can do this: Pricing: 20 to 45K words – $40
- You will have to have your e-book front cover made into a full cover with spine and back (app. $50.00)
DO NOT…I REPEAT DO NOT, HAVE THIS FINAL STEP DONE UNTIL THE BOOK IS FULLY FORMATTED AND YOU KNOW THE EXACT PAGE COUNT!
Sales, the “driver” of all business
Three ways you will sell your book:
- Consignment through bookstores
- Private sales
The truth about self-published book sales:
- The average self-published book sells about 100-150 copies across all formats and venues.
- Some don’t sell at all.
- Don’t count on all of your family and friends – especially your F/B “friends” – to buy your book
- Sales require endless promotion: reviews, blogging, social media, author events, book fairs, swag…and some luck. It takes a lot of time…and some money.
- It’s a crowded marketplace
“The good news is, anyone can self-publish a book.”
“The bad news is, anyone can self-publish a book.”
Last Saturday’s meetup was all about setting writing goals and planning our writing career. I was quite proud of how we managed to fit 20 people into the small library meeting room. We had to steal borrow some chairs from the other library tables, but we made it work.
I. WRITING REFLECTIONS
The first part of our session was called “Writing Reflections.
In the Philippines, we have a saying “One who doesn’t look back at where he’s come from, will not get to where he’s going.” Before we achieve the kind of future we want, we must take a good look at our past and present.
I had the audience reflect on how far they’ve come along the “Write Path” by answering the questions on their worksheet.
How we view ourselves as writers is an important part of our writing journey. It’s important to take note of our writing quirks and habits, what we dislike and like about writing in order for us to know whether the path we’re taking is the right one for us.
We have to know who we are and what we want before we sit down to write our stories. More importantly, we have to know why we want to be writers, why we want to travel this writing path. Do we write for fame? For money? For others? For ourselves? Do we write for the simple joy of writing or do write because we feel that our skill will get us somewhere?
Before we do everything to get what we want, we have to know why we want it.
After looking back at their writing past, I asked the audience to look ahead at the writing path they were on.
I talked a little about the power of visualization, even telling them the story of computer specialist Natan Sharanksy. He spent 9 years in USSR prison because he was accused of being a US spy. While in solitary confinement, he played himself mental chess, saying he might as well try and become a world chess champion. probably to have something to do. In 1996, Sharansky beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov.
I explained the importance of visualization and mental practice. Writing is 90% mental work. We must have strong, active minds if we wish to pursue a career in writing. Research, reading, plotting, creating stories, writing – all depend on our brain. Scientist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from ALS, and yet has published several best-selling books, is great proof that even without the use of our limbs or our voices, we can still be writers—because all our stories come from only two places—our hearts and our minds.
To put into practice this power of visualization, I asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine themselves as a successful author. Maybe they’re climbing on stage to accept the Newbery Award, maybe they’re signing books at B&N. I asked them to imagine the scene in great detail, engaging all of their senses in their visualization.
After a minute, I asked them to open their eyes. And I told them they just got a glimpse of their possible future.
Now we had to figure out how to get ourselves there.
II. REALITY: PUBLISHING 101
We now had our writing dream clearly etched in our minds. But in order for us to make our dreams come true, we must first come to terms with the reality around us.
Before we even begin to figure out our writing goals, we need to first know what we’re getting ourselves into.
This is where I gave the group several handouts on the publishing process. I talked to them about the different types of publishers, the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing, and the pros & cons for each type. I also talked to them about the various processes involved in traditional publishing (finishing a manuscript, getting an agent, finding a publisher, marketing their work, etc).
After half an hour of this discussion, the group now knew what they were in for.
I told them that they may find themselves wondering whether it was still possible for them to achieve that writing dream they visualized earlier. The answer is yes—with hard work, patience, determination and the right knowledge.
III. MAKING A COMMITMENT TO WRITING
The task of getting published seems daunting, especially now that they’ve been exposed to a dose of publishing reality. But I told them not to give up on their writing dream.
The best way to do accomplish something, or to make a dream come true is to take it one step at a time.
The first step to getting published is to make a commitment to writing.
And here, I took them through some ways for them to prove their commitment to writing.
1. Admit that you are a writer.
In their first worksheet, they encountered the question “Do you consider yourself a writer?” If they answered yes, then they’re already past the first hurdle. If they answered no, then it’s time to overcome the first obstacle in getting published.
I gave them this little tidbit of motivation:
You become a writer the moment you take up your pen (or type on your PC) and begin to write creatively. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a story, an essay, or a news article. If you write because you love to write, or simply because you enjoy writing, then you are a writer.
You become what you think you are. If you want to get published, you must set aside your insecurities and doubts.
Publishing a book is a long process and some people who start out wanting to get their book published, often give up after a year or two, when they realize it’s too much work and it’s taking too long.
Depending on how much time and effort we put into building our writing career, getting published might take anywhere from 3-10 years. That seems daunting, but keep this in mind: time flies when you’re having fun.
If writing is a passion for you, if it’s something you would do anyway—whether you knew you’d be successful or not, then it shouldn’t feel like work. If you really love something, you keep at it no matter how long it takes and no matter how hard it seems to be. It’ll all be worth it in the end.
And to help them keep to their writing commitment, I had the group sign a contract between them and their writing dreams.
On their worksheet #3, I asked them to write down the following words, and mean every word of what they write:
I am a writer. I will do everything in my power to get published in one form or another.
I will commit time and patience into achieving my writing goals.
I will become a published author.
Then I asked them to sign and date the contract and pass it around to their fellow writers to sign as witnesses.
The worksheet will serve as a constant reminder of their commitment to their writing goals, and as a source of inspiration for when they feel their writing passions waning. Maybe someday one or all of the witnesses who signed on their writing contract would become famous authors too!
For the next few steps in fulfilling their writing commitment, I had the group take out Worksheet #4, where they had to plan out their writing space, their writing tools, their ideal writing atmosphere, and their actual writing schedule.
VI. PLANNING YOUR WRITING GOALS
In this part of our session, we discussed the difference between dreams and goals. I also talked to them about the importance of writing down their goals.
I gave them a handout on how to make SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic & Time-Bound) Goals, as well as a list of some writing goal examples.
The final worksheet provided some questions to guide them on planning their writing goals, and also on how to develop their book ideas.
We (Torrance Children’s Book Writers) had our first ever Holiday Party on December 10th , 2011. It was a potluck affair, and everyone brought special dishes to share with the group.
Wonderful potluck food
We all sat around the table getting to know each other in a more social setting, and exchanging tales of writing woes and writing joys.
Once we were all stuffed to our ears, we started our program. We began by introducing ourselves to the group. I thanked everybody for making time to join us despite their busy holiday schedule. We had some new faces in that day, so I also introduced our officers so they would know who to approach if they needed something.
I also told our newer members a little about the group’s history and what we do. I told them that I had started the group a year and a half ago because I was pining for a writing group in the area that would support people like myself, who aspire to be published in the world of children’s books. I wanted a group that would provide mini-class sessions to teach me not only about the publishing industry, but also about writing itself. Since there were none in our neighborhood, I decided to create one to see where it would take me. My teaching experience kicked in and I figured I could maybe learn more about writing by teaching about writing.
Our writing group has grown and with it our dreams. There’s so much more we want to do for our members including more class sessions, more helpful handouts and worksheets and more writing events. This takes a lot of time, which we are more than willing to give–and money, which unfortunately we don’t have much of. We’ve already started the process of applying for a nonprofit status, and we hope that once that has pushed through,we can start trying to get a little bit of financial help so we can do more for our members.
My officers and I have kept busy while waiting for that nonprofit status to come through. We’ve come up with a new slogan and logo for our group based on our group’s new name (which I had used when I sent in the non profit application).
At last Saturday’s party, we launched our new name, logo and slogan.
Presenting our new slogan and logo
Next year, our name will officially change from Torrance Children’s Book Writers to Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles, or CBWLA. This is the name we are using in our current nonprofit application, and the name which we hope future authors in our group will mention as inspirational in their careers.
After presenting our new logo and slogan, we moved on to the fun part of the party—the games.
The first game was human bingo and our members had to scramble all over the room asking people to sign in squares describing a certain trait they might have.
playing human bingo
The amazing Lucy finished all her squares first and won the tote bag. Amazing, considering she won the game while holding her daughter Ella (cutest baby ever!)
Lucy won the tote bag for human bingo
The second game was the funnest ever. The Gift Wrap Race rules were simple: form a group of three and work together to wrap the box as quickly as possible. The catch? They had to do it one handed!
The Gift Wrap Race
The winners of the race received this stainless steel water bottle with our name and logo.
The final game was a bit more challenging. Each group was given a riddle sheet. The riddle contained words with alternate titles for several well-known Christmas songs.For example, I Spied My Maternal Parent Osculating was also another name for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Each group had 8 minutes to fill in the proper title beside the riddle.
Members playing Yuletide Carol Riddler
The group with the most number of correct items won the prize–mousepads!
Yuletide Carol Riddler Winners
Our program ended with the white elephant gift exchange. White elephant is a gift game that involves picking a number, opening your chosen present in front of everyone else, and waiting nervously to see if someone else would steal the cool present you got or if they’d go for a new one.
white elephant gift game
The holiday party was a fun success and I only wish more people could’ve come! The food was yummy, the games entertaining, the prizes worth keeping and the people worth knowing.
And we got to help our local library by donating old books!
Books our members donated for the holiday book drive
Here’s hoping next year will be just as fun!
Torrance Children’s Book Writers soon to be Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles
Lucy did an amazing job of compiling all she’s learned from Ann Whitford Paul’s & Nancy Lamb’s books, past SCBWI conference talks and other writing retreats she’s attended into 21 pages of extensive notes.
The LA Public Library Harbor Gateway Branch librarians were helpful as usual. Librarian Donna (who became a member of our group after our first meeting at the library), was kind enough to reserve our usual conference room, and to photocopy a page of our materials when we were missing two copies.
The meeting room normally holds 10 people, but we managed to rearrange the table and bring extra chairs to accommodate all 21 picture book writers who RSVP’d for the event.
Attendees of the Picture Book Bootcamp
Lucy brought 45 different picture books, which she beautifully showcased.
A showcase of picture books used in Lucy’s Talk
She used many of the books to illustrate various points of her talk—from picture book writing techniques to the many styles and types of picture books.
Lucy’s discussion included instruction on how to create compelling characters, create an eye-catching first line and a great story beginning, hold a story together, develop a satisfying story ending. She also discussed the art of picking a great book title, and the benefits of making a dummy book. She also briefly touched on the language of the story as used in picture books, and rhyming in picture books.
Before the meetup began, Lucy had asked everyone to pick two picture book manuscript samples from the board. Writers who attended used the manuscripts as a sample to work on some of the writing techniques Ann Whitford Paul discusses in her book.
Lucy uses picture books to illustrate various writing techniques
Writers who attended added their own notes to Lucy’s 21 page handout, and eagerly asked questions.
The workshop ended a few minutes before 4pm, and we all gave Lucy a big round of applause. Everyone clearly appreciated all the effort she put into the handout, as well as the presentation.
Our writing group always met at Borders in Torrance. But last week, they announced that they would be closing all 399 stores, so we lost our only sponsor. I had scheduled our meetups with them all the way up to September, and now I had to scramble to find us new venues.
Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 was supposed to be our last ever meeting in Borders. But when I passed by on Friday to check, I was greeted by a long line to the cashier that snaked around the store. There were tons of people bargain hunting and the shelves were nearly in disarray.
In short, I had to quickly find a new venue for our group. I emailed those who had RSVP’d for the event and informed them of the situation. I asked for their cellphone numbers so I could text them the new venue address the following day.
Early on Saturday, I drove to the nearest library. I waited for the doors to open, and as soon as it did, I rushed to the Reference Desk clerk.
I told her our situation and she suggested one of the conference rooms. They were supposed to be used on a first come, first served basis, but she reserved it for our group’s use from 1-4pm. The clerk used to be a member of the SCBWI, and was more than happy to help our group.
I was so happy to have found us a great venue at such short notice. I quickly emailed and texted all my members, and though a few of them didn’t make it, most of them were happy they did come—because I gave out a whole bunch of handouts and worksheets on plotting.
Torrance Children’s Book Writers, photo by Janet Merrigan
Following is an abbreviated transcript of the session:
ALL ABOUT PLOTTING
Some people are plotters—they like to outline the story and develop their characters before they even begin writing the first draft. Some are pantsers—they start with a story idea and just go from there.
Everyone has a different approach to writing, particularly to plotting. While outlining works for some people, it might not be a pleasant experience for others.
Whether you’re plotters or pantsers doesn’t matter. What matters is that you learn as much as you can about plotting from several different sources. Because in the end, only you can decide what works for you or not.
In this session, I’ll give you several different “rules” or ways of plotting your novel. But I’d like to remind you that you mustn’t be afraid to break these rules if it doesn’t work for you.
The first thing you need to do when reading any writing book—especially one on plotting, is to understand what is being said. Once you understand the rule, then you can take it and use it as is, or adapt it in the way that makes sense for you.
You must think of every writing book you read, and every writing session you attend as a GUIDE and not as a set of fixed rules or commandments.
You can follow whatever you learn from today’s session about plotting to the letter, you can tweak the steps to suit your style, or you can even add and subtract certain steps. The point is that as long as you understand the “rules”, feel free to break them.
BEFORE YOU PLOT YOUR NOVEL
Before we actually start plotting our novels, there are certain very important things we must first do.
A. TARGET AGE RANGE & GENDER
Who are you writing for?
Are you writing for children or adults?
Knowing the exact age range of your audience will help keep your plot on track.
Not only that, it will help you when you begin to query your work, and will help publishers and booksellers know where to place your books on the shelf.
Let’s go over the following handout really quickly.
Handout 1: Understanding Children’s Book Genres by Laura Backes
Are you writing for girls or boys?
From Deborah Halverson’s Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies:
Publishers would like more boy readers.
Boys develop differently from girls. They develop more slowly than girls, so girls’ reading skills tend to be better. Boys are not comfortable with emotion in books and like action instead—which is why they’re more drawn to video games and movies than books.
If you want to write for boys, make sure the story is intriguing enough for them to set aside their videogames.
Lots of action, irreverence, silly humor & sports themes –some authors slip emotional stuff underneath ex. My Big Mouth by Deborah Halverson about a 14 year old training to be a competitive eater also deals with issue of eating disorders in boys.
B. TARGET AGE RANGE
Now that you know the age range of your target audience, it’ll be easy to figure out the word count for each.
Why is word count important?
It helps you target your readers. Naturally, longer novels have higher word counts and are not suitable for younger children. If you say you want to write a MG novel, for instance and your first draft turned out to be 100,000 words, it’ll be harder for you to sell your work to an agent/publisher.
Genres also tend to play into word count. Writers need more words for world building, so Sci Fi and Fantasy novels tend to be longer, and its readers more used to reading thicker books. So if you’re writing in this genre, you can easily go beyond the required word count for your target audience.
HOWEVER If you’re trying to break into publication, it is best to stick to word count. Once you become a bestselling author you can break the rules and write a 200,000 word YA book. JK Rowling’s first book, HP & the Sorcerer’s Stone was 76, 944 words but due to their popularity, her books began increasing in word count until her final book, HP & the Deathly Hallows which had198,227 words.
C. TARGET GENRE
Knowing the genre of the book you are writing/planning to write will help agents/publishers decide whether to pick you as a client or not.
But within each general genre, there are also specific types of sub-genres—and knowing these will help you keep on track when plotting/ writing your stories.
Handout 2: Genres and How to Choose One pp.30-33 The Marshall Plan Workbook by Evan Marshall
Forget about trend, and write in the genre that you love to read
If you love reading sci fi, don’t force yourself to write paranormal romance just because it’s the hot thing right now. You will be spending a whole lot of time writing your story, and if you don’t love the genre you’re writing in, you’ll find yourself getting frustrated, or bored or worse—not finishing the story at all.
D. TARGET YOUR THEME
From Deborah Halverson’s Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies:
Theme – a concept you want tot teach/a message you want to convey that your protagonist (and by extension your readers) can experience. Themes give your stories focus, unity and a point.
YA fiction reflects the issues and concerns that kids experience as they transition from child to adult. Themes may include self-esteem, popularity, body image, relationships, etc.
You can also pick Universal Themes—which open up your story to a wide audience. The more readers who can relate to your story, the more readers you’ll get.
Worksheet 1: Choose Your Theme. p. 33, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson
E. FIND YOUR STORY IDEA/ HOOK
“…You must be astute not only in how you craft your book, but also about how you position it in the marketplace. Writing a moving novel about young love and clueless parents isn’t enough; oodles of them are already out there. You must put your parents and lovers in uncommon circumstances and use your great writing to march them through an original plot.”
- Deborah Halverson, Writing YA for Dummies
Hook/Elevator Pitch: A one sentence description of your story that tells people the following as succinctly as possible:
What your story’s about
Where your story fits into the current market
Why your story is a fresh approach to its subject matter
Who your audience is
Seventeen-year old Bella moves from sunny Pheonix to dreary Forks, Washington, where she falls for a stunningly beautiful boy who turns out to be a vampire with epic enemies. (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer; 28 words)
Knowing your hook early will help you in many ways.
It will help you keep in mind what your story is really about and help you avoid deviating from this path as you plot your story.
Once you finish revising your draft, you’ll have a hook ready to use when you start querying.
Worksheet 2: Write Your Hook. p. 71-72, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson.
Worksheet 3: Novel Information at a Glance
F. FLESH OUT YOUR CHARACTERS
Characters are what make a story great. Your main character, in particular, is the vehicle for your plot. The great story idea you have, the hook you just came up with—the only way you can tell those stories is by telling it through the eyes of your main character.
It is therefore very important to have well thought out characters before you even begin to write down your story.
The more fleshed out your characters are, the easier it will be for you to move your plot along. Often times, the story comes out of your character profiles.
There are different ways of fleshing out your characters, I’m going to share with you 4 of the best ways I’ve found among all the writing books I’ve read.
The best part about these 3 techniques of developing your characters, is that you can use one, mix and match or combine all three of them for the best results.
I’m going to share them with you in order of least intricate to most intricate.
Worksheet 4: Character Thumbnail & Profile by Deborah Halverson
Worksheet 5: The Marshall Plan Character Fact Lists by Evan Marshall
Worksheet 6: Comprehensive Character Profile (compiled by myself)
No matter what worksheet/ character development technique you wish to use, there is one particular technique that you all must know and use. If there’s one technique that I recommend you use, it would be this one:
GMC or Goals, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon
Handout 3: Goals, Motivations, Conflict by Debra Dixon
Characterization/Motivation:Inner Drivesby Pamela Jaye Smith
G. PLOT YOUR STORY
1. WHAT IS PLOT?
Have you ever seen one of those Domino exhibitions on TV? The one where an artist (or a person with a lot of time on his hands) places a whole sequence of dominos on the floor. As observers, we have an idea of what the shape of the artist’s domino work is, but we can’t really tell the final outcome until the artist finishes the process and pushes the first domino forward.
As writers, we have to have a complete (or at least nearly complete) vision of our novel before we begin writing.
We have to know what is going to happen ahead of time, so we can shape our story accordingly.
Plot is defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence.
In short, Plot is a series of linked events. How are these events linked? By Cause and effect. Each event in a novel must have consequences—and therefore, will affect the event that comes next.
Each domino is linked by cause and effect. If the domino falls forward, it pushes the domino in front of it and so on, until all dominos are felled. Imagine each domino as a scene in your book—it’s exactly the same concept. Each scene pushes the story forward until all the scenes are finished and you have a complete story.
Each domino has to be directly aligned to the previous one in order for the exhibit to work. In the same way, each scene has to affect the following scenes directly.
2. PLOT STRUCTURE
Handout 4: Conflict and Character Within Story Structure
Simply put, every story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End.
The Basic 3 Act Structure is very important in plotting—and is important to keep in mind in any stage of writing. Some of the problems we have we our novel’s structure is due to the fact that we may not have a clear idea of these 3 important phases in our story. We have to know where our Beginning ends, where our Middle starts and where our End begins.
Each Act in the structure performs certain functions.
A great article by Peder Hill explains The Basic Three Act Structure, and relates it to Character Arc.
The simplest building blocks of a good story are found in the Three Act Structure. Separated by Plot Points, its Act 1 (Beginning), Act 2 (Middle), and Act 3 (End) refer not to where in time in the story they lie but instead fundamental stages along the way.
In the Beginning you introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation (conflict) they find themselves in and their goal. Plot Point 1 is a situation that drives the main character from their “normal” life toward some different conflicting situation that the story is about.
Great stories often begin at Plot Point 1, thrusting the main character right into the thick of things, but they never really leave out Act 1, instead filling it in with back story along the way.
In the Middle the story develops through a series of complications and obstacles, each leading to a mini crisis. Though each of these crises are temporarily resolved, the story leads inevitably to an ultimate crisis—the Climax. As the story progresses, there is a rising and falling of tension with each crisis, but an overall rising tension as we approach the Climax. The resolution of the Climax is Plot Point 2.
In the End, the Climax and the loose ends of the story are resolved during the Denouement.Tension rapidly dissipates because it’s nearly impossible to sustain a reader’s interest very long after the climax. Finish your story and get out.
Plot-driven stories are stories where things happen to the character. Has a quick, action packed pace and appeals to boys.
The characters react to the events happening around them and do not actively create the events or situations by themselves.
CHARACTER-DRIVEN STORIES: Focusing on Feelings
Character-driven stories are propelled forward by the characters of the book.
The character’s actions, feelings, thoughts and choices cause the events to happen.
The famed Alice, for instance, fell down a rabbit hole – but she wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t chosen to follow a certain white rabbit.
4. HOW TO PLOT
Before I teach you several techniques for plotting, I’d like to take a survey. How do you plot your stories?
Most people do a straight up outline of their story. They have an idea of how their story begins and they start the outline from there.
I find it helpful to do that because I can generate a lot of story ideas just by following the flow of my thoughts.
But plotting is all about trying to organize those ideas so that they follow the basic plot structure.
I’m going to share 3 techniques of plotting.
You may start plotting by doing a straight up outline—but once you’re done with that, I would advice to use one of these techniques in order to organize your ideas.
You may use all 3 in conjunction with each other, you may mix and match or just use one technique. The main thing is that you find what works for you. Again, this is all about finding the techniques or systems that work for you.
A. OUTLINING WITH TRIGGER POINTS
Worksheet 7: Plot your trigger Points p.104, Writing YA Fiction for Dummies
1. Want/ goal and flaw
What does your character want more than anything? What personal quality/habit/mindset must your character overcome to get his want or goal?
What is the problem throughout the novel, the conflict that the character struggles through?
What gets your character up that tree? What event sets everything in motion?
Obstacle 1: Name the first obstacle to overcome
Obstacle 2: Name the second obstacle to overcome, with higher stakes
Obstacle 3: Name the third obstacle to come, the do-or die moment
State your character’s core strength. What event or situation makes him realize he has strength?
How does your character’s strength get him over that last hill?
Has your character achieved his want? State how he will have grown as a result of his success or failure.
B. CHAPTERS VS. SCENES
Handout 5: Pushing Readers Buttons with Scenes & Chapters p.123-127, Writing YA Fiction for Dummies
The way you structure your story/ slice it into chapters or scenes directly affects the pace, or making your readers feel anxious, rushed, or relaxed, all on your whim.
How you divvy up chapters and scenes is your call, but keep in mind that kids have short attention spans.
Frequent breaks create a lot of white space in the books, providing visual breathers and making the book more welcoming.
White space is the empty space surrounding the paragraphs and images on a book page.
Readers see this space as visual breathing room and generally feel more comfortable when there’s more of it. Pages with long text blocks and minimal white space can be intimidating
Every chapter in your story should have a specific plot goal that propels your character one step closer to the resolution of his overall conflict.
When you string your chapters together, you have a full plot from beginning to end.
Sometimes a chapter is a single event experienced from beginning to end.
Other times, a chapter is broken down into several different events (SCENES) that together achieve the single chapter goal.
Use this list to ensure your chapter has all the necessary ingredients:
Your character has a need or goal that ties into the overall plot
The character takes action on that goal but encounters conflict
The conflict mucks things up further for your character.
The character is stuck with a new or worsened problem ( a setback) to deal with in the next chapter.
A scene is a single event with its own conflict that, when combined with other scenes, contributes to the overall goal of the chapter.
This progression of scenes within a chapter is called scene-sequencing.
As with chapters, a scene has a main character with a need or goal, the character takes action on that goal and encounters conflict, and then the situation is worsened at the end, leaving him with another problem to deal with in the next scene
The Big difference between a scene and a chapter is that a scene sticks to its own specific issue, and doesn’t try to move the character into a whole new phase of the plot. That’s the chapter’s job.
When a scene is complete, readers know more or are more emotionally affected, but the character may have to address another issue or two in one or more scenes before he’s ready to move on.
You may cut to a new scene bec. of a change in venue. Scenes usually take place in one location but not always.
Sometimes multiple scenes are necessary within a chapter to let multiple characters have their say.
Switching from one POV to another can be a reason to start a new scene.
But how do you know how many scenes you should have in a story? And what if your story has 3 characters? How many scenes should each of them have?
I had the same problem when I was just starting out with novel writing. Luckily I found Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, and the Marshall Plan Workbook.
Marshall doesn’t work with scenes or chapters. Instead, he works with what he calls SECTIONS, which if you ask me, are very similar to scenes.
Handout 6: The Novelmaster
Handout 7: Section Sheets
The Marshall Plan is a great technique to follow if you have no idea how to even begin plotting out those scenes. It teaches you how to go from one point to another step by step, even showing you where you should insert Obstacles 1, 2 & 3 within your story.
If you are just starting your first novel ever, or starting out with a new story and looking for an organized, step by step way of doing scenes, I strongly encourage you to buy The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing or its companion book the Marshall Plan Workbook.
The Marshall Plan is a whole other topic for another day, but in the meantime you can use the Novel Master as a guide to how many scenes you should have in your story, and the section sheets as a way of describing each scene you’ll have.
Torrance Children’s Book Writers, photo by Janet Merrigan
*As you’ve seen from our session today, Deborah Halverson’s Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummiesis a great source of information. It’s one of the best books I’ve seen out there, that guides you step by step on how to write great young adult fiction, but all of Deborah Halverson’s techniques apply to writing any kind of fiction. I encourage you all to get a copy of this book , as well as The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.
Thank you all for joining me today. Let’s discuss whatever questions you may have about today’s discussions.
This week I’m going to catch you all up on various writing related events I attended or facilitated in the past few months. I didn’t have the time to blog about them due to the England Trip Series, but I learned a few things from these events which I thought might be useful to you as well.
Often times as writers, we encounter moments when we begin to question our decision to write. We experience writer’s block or maybe even the general desire to just give up and take up a hobby that doesn’t require too much blood.
Yes, sometimes, writing feels like a long drawn out war and every battle just makes us feel like weary soldiers who think the fight isn’t worth it anymore.
But we writers all know that writing is always worth it. We just need to be reminded sometimes.
So last May 28th, 2011, I decided that the topic for our Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group would be about “Re-energizing Your Writing Passions”.
I’m going to share the transcript of our session.
You can do the exercises on your own and maybe come up with some new ideas to help you in your writing. Feel free to share these activities with other writer friends, just make sure you link it to this post so they too can go through the exercises.
RE-ENERGIZING YOUR WRITING PASSIONS
I. REFLECTION ON OUR CURRENT STATE
Have you been writing lately? Why/Why not?
How do you feel about your writing these days?
What are some of the things that hinder you from writing?
Why do you think we let these things hinder us from writing?
At the root of writer’s block is Fear.
Our fears hinder us from becoming the authors we want to become. In order find the energy to write, we must confront our subconscious fears and find ways to overcome them.
II. SOME OF THE COMMON FEARS OF WRITERS
1. The Fear of Failure or Rejection
We sometimes fear that we’re not good enough to call ourselves writers.
But we’ll never know if we don’t try. Better to try and fail than to live the rest of our lives with an unfulfilled dream.
2. The Fear of Criticism.
Bad reviews or bad critiques always get us down. But we must remember that a bad review of our work has nothing to do with us as persons. Critiques and reviews, though they may lower our self-esteem at times, are only there to make us better writers.
3. The Fear of Offending.
Sometimes we unintentionally offend people with our writing. As writers we have the responsibility to be honest with our writing and to write about what we know. We can’t please everyone and if we try to do that in our writing, then we won’t end up writing the best work we’re capable of producing. Just look at all the books who made it to the Banned List—these writers wrote from their hearts and minds and though some people might have found their works offensive, the rest of us certainly think these books are gems of literature.
4. The Fear of Becoming Empty.
Our writerly muse can be quite unpredictable. Naturally, as writers, we’re afraid that we’ll run out of stories to tell. But imagination is something we’re born with and there are always ways to spark our creativity.
5. The Fear of Success.
Performing in front of an audience is one of the most common fears. Sometimes, as writers we are required not only to share our work but to read it out loud or to promote it even. Success is something we shouldn’t fear, but something we should embrace.
How do we overcome our writing fears?
First, we must admit to having them, and we must figure out what we are afraid of.
We must name our fears. Naming our fears gives us power over them.
Activity: Naming Our Fears
Write down your writing fears. It could be one word, one sentence or more. Actually, the more specific you are the better.
Now that we’ve named our fears, the next step is to find ways to overcome them.
III. COMBATING OUR FEARS THROUGH THE POWER OF THOUGHT
Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese doctor and researcher, made an astonishing discovery about water, which he documented photographically. Using a very powerful microscope in a very cold room along with high-speed photography, Dr. Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward them.
He put stickers with words like love and appreciation or “you make me sick” on different bottles. He photographed the water before and after the stickers were placed. It didn’t matter whether the person placing the stickers understood the words. The words affected the water crystal, whether they were written in Japanese or German.
Water from clear springs and water that had been exposed to loving words showed brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns.
Polluted water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, formed incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors.
“YOU MAKE ME SICK”
This experiment shows the power of thought on water.
Up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water. About 83% of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature.
With this much water inside of us, imagine just how much our thoughts affect the water inside our bodies.
Changing The Way We Think
We must change our negative thoughts into positive ones.
We must change our fears of writing into the joys of writing.
We must turn that writer’s block into a glob of clay and mold it into something else.
We must look for things that inspire us to write, instead of things that hinder us from writing.
Why does writing make us happy? What are the joys of writing?
Look at the writing fears your wrote.
How do you turn this negative fear into a positive joy?
I’m afraid of being rejected by an agent.
I’m excited to be accepted by the perfect agent.
Practical Ways to Inspire Ourselves to Write
Re-read our favorite books/ the book that made you want to write.
Read new books in the genre we’re writing in.
Read inspirational writing quotes
Find a good visual motivator and paste it to your screen/ wall.
Buy some office supplies or a new journal that you’ll actually write in
Start a new journal
IV. THE POWER OF VISUALIZATION
From an article by resilience coach Angie Le Van
Mental practice can get you closer to where you want to be in life, and it can prepare you for success!
Let’s take the case of Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist who spent 9 years in prison in the USSR after being accused of spying for US.
While in solitary confinement, he played himself in mental chess, saying: “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!”
In 1996, Sharansky beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!
A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.
Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, compared “people who went to the gym with people who carried out virtual workouts in their heads”. He found that a 30% muscle increase in the group who went to the gym. However, the group of participants who conducted mental exercises of the weight training increased muscle strength by almost half as much (13.5%). This average remained for 3 months following the mental training.
Noted as one form of mental rehearsal, visualization has been popular since the Soviets started using it back in the 1970s to compete in sports.
Nowadays many athletes employ this technique - Tiger Woods who has been using it since his pre-teen years.
Seasoned athletes use vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of the entire performance, engaging all their senses in their mental rehearsal, and they combine their knowledge of the sports venue with mental rehearsal.
Brain studies reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. Mental imagery impacts many cognitive processes in the brain: motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory.
So the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization. It’s been found that mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and increase states of flow – all relevant to achieving your best life!
Study results highlight the strength of the mind-body connection, or in other words the link between thoughts and behaviors – a very important connection for achieving your best life.
To see is to believe – to see something clearly in your mind is to believe it’s possible. Once you believe it’s possible, your mind finds a way to make it so.
Writer’s Mental Training
We writers, above anyone else, need to train our minds. Why? We use our minds for 90% of our work.
Research, reading, plotting, creating stories, writing – all depend on our brain. Stephen Hawking, scientist, and said to be the most intelligent man in the planet, is severely disabled by a motor neurone disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
He has lost the ability to use his arms, legs and his voice, and yet he has managed to write several best selling books such as A Brief History of Time, The Grand Design and even two children’s books co-written with his eldest Lucy, called George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt and George’s Secret Key to the Universe.
He proves that even without the use of our limbs or our voices, we can still be writers—because all our stories come from only two places—our hearts and our minds.
So How Do We Train our Brain?
Earlier, I mentioned the study that stated that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. This means that when we imagine ourselves playing basketball, the neurons in our brain that fire when we actually play basketball are firing when we just think about playing.
In writing terms, when we imagine achieving a writing goal, such as finishing a manuscript, the neurons in our brain fire as if we were actually finishing a manuscript.
I also mentioned earlier that this study highlights the mind-body connection. There is a link between our thoughts and our behaviors.
When your mind has a subtle memory of how to solve a particular problem, or achieve a particular goal, it will be easier for it to translate these thoughts into physical solutions.
What Are Some Visualization Exercises We Can Do to Achieve Our Writing Dreams
1. We need to establish our goals. Sure we all want to get published, but do we want a two-book deal? A Series deal? A book deal worth millions? We have to be specific—and honest about our goals.
Sometimes, when you’re trying to solve a particular problem—whether writing related or not—you spend hours working it out, but find no solution. A friend advises you to “sleep on it” and you do. You wake up the next morning, and you have the answer.
In sleep, our minds still continue to work while our body rests.
Our subconscious minds cannot find ways for us to achieve our goals unless we’ve told it exactly the kind of goals we want.
2. It’s not enough to think about these writing goals. We must also write them down. If you were here during our Rewriting the Manuscript Session, then you might have heard about this study.
In 1964, all members of the Harvard Business School graduating class stated that they have, at graduation, clear goals that they want to accomplish in life. Among them, 5% took the time to write it down on paper. In 1984, a follow up study was done and it was discovered that 95% of those who wrote down their goals were able to achieve them within 20 years. Among the “lazy” majority, only 5% of them were able to reach their expected goals.
An earlier study in Yale University also had similar results. This time, only 3% of the 1953 graduating class made written goals. Twenty years after, in 1973, it was found out that this 3% of Yale graduates were able to accomplish more goals than the rest of the other 97% combined.
Amazing isn’t it? But let’s try to enumerate some possible and more rational explanations for these results.
What happens when you write down your goals?
It becomes a written contract to yourself which usually sparks a personal motivation to achieve them.
It makes you define clearly what your goals are. Writing them down encourages you to state what you want in greater detail.
It frees your mind of perpetually thinking and “remembering” your goals.
It stimulates creativity and motivates you to think about the next step.
Activity: Write down your top 5 Writing Goals
Examples: find an agent, get a series deal, become a bestselling author, get a big enough advance to quit your job and just write, sell a million copies, win the Newberry award, be featured on a talk show, etc, use your author popularity to do speaking engagements, etc.
Activity: The Movie in Our Minds.
Which among the writing goals you’ve listed would you say is proof that you’ve made it as an author?
Ex. Winning a Newberry? Signing thousands of books in one sitting? Going on a trip and finding someone reading your book?
Close your eyes. Hold a mental picture of this moment in time, as if it were occurring to you right at this moment. Imagine the scene in much detail. Engage as many of the five senses as you can in your visualization. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment? Eliminate any doubts that come to you.
3. Visualize the pinnacle of your writing career. Remember the image you just saw in your mind. You must play this scene in your mind again and again. Hold the scene right before you sleep at night. While you sleep, your mind makes connections about your last thought at night. While your body is resting, your mind is working on ways for you to make that scene come true.
Variation of this Visualization Exercise:
Visualize every step of your writing career. For example, if you are still in the process of writing your manuscript, your most immediate goal would be to finish editing it.
Visualize achieving this writing goal. Be very specific about every detail of this ”movie in your mind”. Imagine raising your arms in victory, or laughing in delight, or calling a friend and telling her all about how you finally finished your novel.
This power of visualization also works when you want to solve a storyline problem. Imagine yourself finding a way to work out the kink in your plot line before you fall asleep. Chances are you’ll have a good idea of how to when you wake up the next morning.
4. Do something physical to further promote that vision in your mind.
No matter where I go, whenever I pass by a bookstore, I go inside and I head straight for the middle grade section. I make a space for my book.
The mind body connection is not a one way street. Just as our minds influence the way our body moves, so too do our bodies influence the way our mind works.
The act of making a space for our book teaches our mind to expect things.
Now, What other physical things can you do to promote this vision of writing success?
When asked about what you do. Introduce yourself as a writer.
Attend book signings, especially of your favorite authors. Listen to these authors speak. List down the things you like about their presentation and think about how you would present the topic if you were the author.
Imagine what your book is going to look like. Create your own book covers, or ask the help of a friend who is good with art, to help you create your book cover.
Create a writing signature—one that you will use when you start signing those books during those book tours.
Imagine that you’ve already been published, and that you’ve been invited to do a talk and book signing—whether its at a school, or at a bookstore. Talk aloud about your book, or your writing journey, or how you came up with your story idea.
V. GETTING SOME WRITING INSPIRATION
We’ve now faced our fears. We know how to overcome them.
We’ve written down our goals and etched the mental picture of us achieving them firmly in our minds.
The next step is to find the writing inspiration to actually achieve these goals.
Before we become bestselling authors, we must send our manuscripts out. But before we can even do that, we must make sure we finish these manuscripts.
I want to share some writing exercises that are bound to give you tons of creative ideas.
1. POEM FISHING
Why are we as writers and readers, drawn to poetry?
Because poetry is the most personal and indirect form of fictional expression. The poet can speak directly to an audience, much as a narrator in stories, or take on a persona of his own.
Poetry is ultimately characterized more by howit communicates than by whatit communicates.
poetry relies on the sound of the spoken language
poetry relies on figurative language.
Above all, poetry involves aspects of language that appeal to, and communicate by, sound and sight
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
Somewhere I have never traveled,
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
We must train our minds to look at the world with writer’s eyes. How? Read more poetry, for one thing.
We must see everything around us as a poem in disguise.
Look at things and see words and metaphors.
Ex. woman at a grocery store—warm and inviting as a fresh baked cookie, and just as likely to fall apart.
Activity: Poem Fishing
Find something around you right now and give a creative description of it. Unleash your inner poet.
2. SCENE IT
See every scene as a story.
When you’re outside with your family, or waiting for the bus, or running errands, you’ll have lots of opportunity for people watching.
Keep your eyes peeled for possible stories.
This exercise is designed to help you train your brain to keep on generating story ideas, despite not having the time or opportunity to write.
Activity: Scene It
Look around you right now. Zoom in on a particular scene/ person that catches your attention. Perhaps you notice a lady wearing an interesting hat, or a man reading an interesting book. Observe this person/ scene. What is it about the particular person/ scene that catches your attention? Generate a possible story from this person/ scene and write it down.
3. WORD ALCHEMY
Alchemy is defined as a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life
But it is also defined as a power or process of transforming something common into something special.
The second definition, is of course, what we should always aim to do in our writing. And sometimes, the simplest process of mixing unexpected things together can create a great story idea.
So here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to combine two unlikely words to come up with something new.
Susan Goldsmith Woodridge, in her book Poem Crazy, suggests giving colors to abstractions or concepts.
For example: Blue love, Chartreuse agreements, Silver deliberation, Magenta pride
Think of a color and write it down on one post-it. Then think of an abstract concept. Examples would be love, pride, deliberation, agreement, etc
Don’t think too much about it, just write whatever pops up in your head.
Okay, put all the colors in this pile, and all the concepts in the other.
Now, pick a post-it from our color and concept pile. Combine those words and write it down on your notebook.
Switch it up. Now, pass your color post it to the person on your right, then pass the concept post it to the person on your left. Write down your new word.
Repeat the process.
Now, share the words you’ve come up with.
Remember that journal every writer supposedly carries around? It’s not just for writing down our thoughts and feelings, it’s also for storing story ideas—as well as creating wordpools.
Susan Goldsmith Woodridge, in her book Poem Crazy, suggests that we collect words whenever we can. Words we see around us, or words that just pop into our heads. Look into dictionaries, field guides, write down street names, product labels, names of people, etc.
You can do this whenever you’ve got free time—while you’re waiting for your ride home, while walking your dog, even while cooking, as you come across an interesting food ingredient.
Wordpools are an excellent source of inspiration and a great way to stretch our imagination.
Here’s a handout. This guy has compiled several ways to gain writing inspiration. Let’s go over them very quickly.
Today we named our writing fears, and found out ways to overcome it using the power of thought and several mental exercises. We also discovered or re-discovered some activities to help us gain some writing inspiration.
Aura Imbarus is an educator, professional speaker, and the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Out of the Transylvania Night: A Story of Tyranny, Freedom, Love and Identity, and a book for teens, 101 Great Ways to Make the World a Totally Awesome Place – By Teens For Teens, both fall 2010 releases.
Born and raised in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Romania, or more precisely in “Dracula’s county Transylvania,” Ms. Imbarus attended Lucian Blaga University, earning an MA degree in American and British Studies and a Ph.D. in Philology with the distinction Cum Laude. From 1990 to 1997, she worked as a journalist for Radio Contact, The National Journal, and Gallup Poll in Sibiu, Romania.
In 1997, Aura immigrated to Los Angeles, where she continued her education at UCLA and began her teaching career both as a high school and college professor. She spends her mornings at West High School, a designated California Distinguished School in 1984, 1994, 1999, 2005, receiver of the Excellence in Education Award from the United States Department of Education in 1984, and nationally awarded Blue Ribbon School distinction in 1984, and her nights at LA Harbor College and El Camino College in South Bay.
Aura is actively involved in RAPN (Romanian American Professional Network) as well as Eurocircle, a professional networking organization with over 60,000 members of European origins. She is also a mentor for Blue Heron Foundation, a non-profit and professional organization whose mission is to help Romanian orphans in her native country with money and counseling in order to receive a higher education degree. Aura is also a member of MLA- Modern Language Association, NCTE- National Council of Teachers of English, NEA- National Education Association, and many others. Other interests include: reading, painting, skiing, ice-skating, hiking, beach volleyball, and traveling the world.
“I want to live life to the fullest,” says Aura, “and in the process, to help others along the way. I want to squeeze out each and every moment of life, and use to the maximum. Every day has the potential of a lifetime.“
Aura contacted me through the Torrance Children’s Book Writers website in January of this year. She was interested in speaking to our group about her book and about her journey to publication. Over the next few months we emailed back and forth constantly, trying to figure out the schedule and venue for the events.
We immediately scheduled the talk for April 23rd, but over the next couple of months, I had a difficult time finding a venue. Finally, two weeks before her talk,Catalina Coffee Company in Redondo Beach came to our rescue. And boy, did we strike gold with that venue! The venue was free of charge, provided we bought at least one drink. And who wouldn’t want to buy a drink—and food with all the wonderful aromas floating around in the building!
The Catalina Coffee Company manager immediately made us feel welcome. He cleared a space for us in the Library—a part of the coffee house that looks like an actual library.
Surrounded with loaded bookshelves and filled with comfortable couches and armchairs, the room is a haven for readers (and writers) who wish to relax in a comfy chair while sipping on their coffee. The manager told us that book clubs often hold meetings in the library during weekday nights.
Aura came bright and early that afternoon and I immediately felt a kinship with her as she introduced herself and said how excited she was for the talk. As we sat down with our food and drinks in the library, she told us about her day so far. Her warm and friendly—even bubbly personality shone through in the first few minutes of our conversation.
TCBW members found their way to our meeting place, and by the time all nine of us had settled down, Aura had already launched into her story.
Aura spoke a little about her childhood in Transylvania, and how she grew up with supportive, open-minded and encouraging parents amidst a tumultuous communist regime.She also spoke of her personal journey as an immigrant from Romania to the US. It was a scary leap for her—leaving her job as an assistant professor in a university and coming to America to start from scratch. She started off with $400 in her pocket—not nearly enough money to start a new life in a foreign country, and not enough money to buy a plane ticket back to her homeland.
Aura also told us how she had initially started writing a book about dating based on her experiences as a member of a matchmaking site. Her story about how she gets her publisher is both funny and amazing. (You can hear her story for yourselves in the video below). Enormous amounts of research, persistence and a little bit of luck help her land a meeting with an interested publisher.
Once she had a book deal, however, a call from Romania changed her life. She learned that her mother had liver cancer and had 3-6 months to live. The last thing on her mind was dating, but she was already on contract with the publisher. So Aura spoke to her publisher and explained her situation. Her publisher, being an author herself, and having gone through the same thing with her mother, understood Aura’s predicament. She encouraged Aura to write five pages on the last week Aura had spent in Romania, to which Aura replied that she could write five pages on the last five minutes she had spent in Romania, since there were so many things going on around her, and in her mind. She sent the pages to her publisher, who liked her writing and decided that they should do a memoir. And that’s how Aura’s Pulitzer-nominated, 5-Star Amazon-rated memoir came into existence.
Aura knew we were all writers interested in getting published, so most of the time, Aura spoke of her journey to publication. She answered all our questions and gave us valuable tips on writing, and self-promotion. One thing which stood out clearly in my mind, was when she said that writing is just 30% of the work. The other 70% is research, and another 100% was for self-promotion. Aura constantly stressed the value of constant self-promotion, especially after publication. She said that not a day goes by when she doesn’t do at least one type of self-promotion. She shared examples of how she would promote her own books, and even gave us tips on how we could start self-promoting, even before we get published.
To give us an example of how persistence and hard work pays off, she told the story of how she got the elusive book signing spot in Barnes & Nobles, the Grove. She was a journalist, so she wasn’t shy about approaching people. So she started calling the Barnes & Nobles manager every week, until finally, out of frustration or name recall the manager picks up and talks to her. She immediately tells him that she can bring in 100 people for the book-signing event. So when the publisher called the B&N manager the following week, and presents the three authors she had for the book signing, the manager chose Aura.
Of course, bringing in 100 people was not easy. But Aura tapped into her various social networks (twitter, facebook and other organizations she belonged to), and despite a rainy booksigning day and a sudden change in schedule, she managed to bring in the hundred people (and more) she had promised the bookstore manager.
Aura also spoke about the projects she’s currently working on, and the stories behind them. One is a book for teenagers, written through a school project, in collaboration with her students, and another one is a cultural cookbook. She says cooking isn’t something she’s an expert on, but with enough research, and a few new ideas, she’ll be able to pull it off.
The talk ended all too soon. We all bought copies of her book, which she signed for us. She made sure to talk to us individually, and even gave us business cards with the reminder to email her if we had any other writing-related questions.
I’ll definitely make it a point to invite Aura over again as a speaker. All in all, Aura’s talk was funny, informative, and downright inspiring. We all left that day filled with hope, inspiration, and energized to get our own writing careers started.
***As an added bonus, if you have time, please feel free to watch the videobelow. It’s the first 20 minutes of Aura’s talk and you can hear all about her writing journey, as well as her other adventures, and writing tips from her own lips.***
Three Sundays ago, our group met at the Torrance Airport Meeting Room.
LeeAnne Krusemark, our guest speaker, spoke about how to build up publishing credits.
LeeAnne Krusemark is a journalist, author, and owner of an award winning southern California public relations business since 1988. LeeAnne is a Chamber of Commerce past president and has been asked to speak at a Senate-sponsored business conference as well as for the Department of the Army. Her in-person lectures are offered at more than 200 facilities nationwide, including Purdue, and her online publishing class is offered at more than 1,000 facilities worldwide, including Harvard Adult Education. The inspiration given to others in her comprehensive workshops has even been compared in writing to Oprah.
She started the session off with a writing activity. She gave us three words: summer, breeze and ocean, and gave us five minutes to write anything with those three words in it. While we wrote our poems, essays, or story beginnings, she gave out handouts for the lecture.
When our five minutes were up, we shared what we wrote. The activity made got put us in a creative mood, and we eagerly soaked up what LeeAnne had to share with us about getting published.
LeeAnne emphasized that getting published is one part writing, one part timing, one part luck, and a few parts experience. She stressed that getting published is more often than not, about climbing the ladder of publishing success, it’s about starting out in smaller, easier publishing markets and building up from there.
The entire session focused on easier first publishing markets, which we writers can submit to, in order to gain publishing credits. LeeAnne enumerated six of these, and went on to give examples:
Fillers are short pieces which newspapers use to fill gaps on their pages. Some readers just want a quick, easy read and fillers are a great way to put a lighter touch on a dull page, and generate reader involvement. LeeAnne says writing fillers is a great way to start off your writing career and get some publishing credits in. Examples are some the Reader’s Digest materials such as “All in a Day’s Work”, and other segments which deal with humor.
Greeting cards are a normal part of our lives, and yet we don’t stop to think about who makes these cards. There is a good demand for writers who can come up with good greeting card materials—whether it’s witty one liners, poems, jokes or quotes. This particular industry needs to come up with new material all the time.
Joining writing contests is a great way to get publishing credits. It doesn’t really matter what type of contest it is, as long as you get to flex your writing muscles. The prizes don’t count either. LeeAnne told us that once, she entered an essay contest which asked the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Her essay won second prize, and she got several lotto tickets for free, but the most important thing was that her essay was published in a newspaper.
Submitting articles or writing freelance for newspapers can help get your writing career started. Major newspapers such as the LA Times might be quite as eager to publish your pieces, but your local newspapers are often in need of these freelance articles. You might not get paid at all, but the payment comes in the form of another publishing credit you can add to your list.
Letters to the editor are another way of earning those writing brownie points. Write a controversial letter that will get a good debate going, or write something that you feel strongly about. The more readers can relate to or react to your piece, the higher the chance that the editor will pick your piece to get published.
Lastly, LeeAnne encouraged us to take advantage of whatever writing opportunities our current jobs might present us with. In house publications such as flyers, posters, brochures, company newsletters, correspondence letters, and so on are a useful way of flexing our writing muscles, and also one way we can earn those publishing credits.
We ended the session with a question and answer portion. We asked LeeAnne whatever questions popped into our minds about the publishing industry, and about writing. She answered all our questions, and afterward, presented us with some books which we could purchase from her at a low price. These are books which she had written about various topics such as writing, finance and real estate, business, and even ways to make money with a computer.
I thought the session went well, and tied up nicely with our previous session on Query Letters. In that session, we had talked about the author bio, which comprised the third paragraph of a query letter. A lot of us were worried about not having any writing-related credits to put in that paragraph. LeeAnne’s helped us understand what publishing credits we could use to fill out that paragraph. She even gave us a few tips to help us make our author bios more marketable—such as how to word our author bio paragraph so that our publishing credits, no matter how small they are, can seem impressive.
Last Saturday’s meetup was the biggest yet, with 19 people in attendance. We met at our usual meeting place – Borders, Torrance (thankfully not closing).
The usual round of introductions made it clear that our group was a diverse and varied one. While most of us where children’s book writers, there were also adult fiction writers in attendance. Our genres of interest ranged from non-fiction to fantasy to historical fiction and thrillers.
After a few announcements, where I plugged in upcoming events for our group, I asked my fellow scribblers to do something before we started our main discussion. I instructed them to pick three books that are similar to the books they are writing, or are trying to sell.
When everybody had returned to their seats with three books in hand, I began the discussion.
Most of my materials came from the following amazing ebooks:
Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT can be downloaded here for $12.99 as a PDF file or for $9.99 on the Kindle Store.
Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER is likewise FREE, and can be downloaded here.
Elana Johnson’s FROM QUERY TO THE CALL can be downloaded for FREE on her website.
All of these ebooks were amazing sources of information for writing a query letter. The tricky part was figuring out how to use the wealth of knowledge presented in their pages, and arranging them in a logical and comprehensive manner.
I took it upon myself to organize all the information in these ebooks, along with other information I’ve gleaned from my research on query letter.
In the first hour of our meeting, we discussed the following topics:
I. QUERY BASICS
(Based on Noah Lukeman’s HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT)
A. What is a Query letter? B. Who do you query? Publisher vs. Agent.
10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Query A Publisher Directly
10 Reasons Why You Need An Agent
When To Query A Publisher Directly
C. Steps To Take Before You Write A Query Letter
1. Research/ Make a list of 50 Target Agents
You must make a list of at least 50 agents which you wish to query
landing an agent is a numbers game
a person who mails out 200 resumes has a huge advantage over the person who mails out 5. Same is true for landing an agent
Research is important. Make sure they represent your genre.
13 Factors To Consider When Evaluating An Agent
2. Gather more information about the agents on your list.Create your own database containing the following details:
Full name of agent
Literary Agency information – name, address, website
Email address/ physical address
What agent is looking for/ What genre he represents
List of clients he represents and their books
You can use the following programs to create your database
I gave everyone handouts on the above discussion, along with 26 FREE and 11 FEE based sources of resources for writers who wish to research literary agents, which Noah Lukeman outlined in his book HOW TO LAND AND KEEP A LITERARY AGENT.
Here’s a sample of what could be found in the handout:
Jeff Herman’s Writer’s guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market by Alice Pope
Poets & Writers
* The key in choosing a conference is finding out in advance which agents are attending, how many of them will be attending, and the ratio of agents to writers.
Example: 2 agents for 500 writers vs. 10 agents for 200 writers
* Downside is that conferences can be expensive. Attend if you have the money to spare.
Examples of good conferences for children’s book writers:
Big Sur Writing Workshop by Andrea Brown Literary Agency
SCBWI Summer/Winter Conference
SCBWI Agents Day
SCBWI Writing Retreat
PART II of our workshop covered the formula for writing query letter based on Noah Lukeman’s Three Paragraph Rule, gleaned from his ebook HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERYLETTER.
Noah Lukeman’s THREE PARAGRAPH RULE states that a query letter should fit on one page, and should consist of only three paragraphs.
A. The first Paragraph is the introduction, in which writers should make a personal connection with the agent.
Examples of introductory sentences are:
“ I am writing to you because your client, John Smith, recommended I do so”
“I saw you speak at the SCBWI-LA Summer Conference last August, and I liked what you said about the importance of research in historical fiction.”
”I am writing to you because you represented TITLE by AUTHOR, and I feel my book is similar.”
Noah Lukeman, being a literary agent himself, says that a way to grab an agent’s attention is by making the letter about the agent, and not about yourself. Referencing a title he has represented accomplishes this, and also shows the agent that we have researched him well before we even approached him.
B. The second paragraph is the Plot Paragraph. This paragraph should be limited to three sentences and should offer a short description of the plot and nothing else.
Noah Lukeman outlines common mistakes to avoid when writing a plot paragraph, as well as 4 positive traits to have in a plot paragraph. Using his book as a guide, we discussed these topics:
3 Common Mistakes to Avoid in your Plot Paragraph
1. Don’t exceed one paragraph
2. Don’t name names
3. Don’t mention subplots
4 Positive Traits to Have in Your Plot Paragraph
2. Time Period
C. The Third paragraph is the author bio.
4 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your Author Bio
1. Don’t list minor credits
2. Don’t include irrelevant information
3. Don’t be overly personal
4. Don’t forget the visuals
8 Positive Elements to Include in your Author Bio
1. Publication Credits
2. Track Record
3. Subsidiary Rights
4. Strong Industry Connections
5. Awards, Grants, Fellowships or other laurels
6. Writing-related education or prestigious residencies
7. Potential endorsements
8. Insider knowledge
PART III of our Workshop focused on the PLOT PARAGRAPH, which is actually the most important paragraph in a query letter.
Before we discussed this however, I asked everyone to read the back cover/blurb of the three books they had picked out. I gave them a few minutes to study the blurbs.
When they were done, I asked them what they noticed about the back cover. A lot of people suggested answers. I explained that book blurbs accomplish one thing: They sell the book. They make the browsing reader want to buy the book and take it home.
I had asked them to pick out three books most similar to their own for several reasons:
1. I wanted them to realize that in the same way that the goal of the book’s back cover blurb is to sell the book, the goal of a query letter is simply to SELL THEIR STORY.
2. I wanted them to understand that there are in fact, several books out there similar to what they were writing. This might give them an idea of which agents to approach for their own book.
3. I also wanted them to get an inkling of the elements that make up a successful plot paragraph. They could study the blurbs and apply what they have learned to their own query letters.
After this BOOK BLURB EXERCISE, we proceeded to part three of our workshop.
In this part of our workshop, we discussed two techniques or guidelines for punching up our plot paragraph.
A. The first one, is derived from agent Mary Kole’s article on how to write query letters. In this article, she listed several questions which serve as guidelines for writing the plot paragraph:
WHO is your character?
WHAT is the strange thing going on in their life that throws them off their equilibrium and launches the story?
WHAT (or who) do they want most in the world?
WHO (or what) is the main character’s ally?
WHO (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want most in the world (their obstacle)?
WHAT is at stake if they don’t get what they want?
B. Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM QUERY TO THE CALL was an amazing source of information for writing the plot summary, and most of part III of our workshop on Plot Paragraph was taken from her brilliant work.
Her technique consists of four elements that need to be included in the plot paragraph:
a. The Hook
Your hook should:
1. Sum up the novel in one sentence
2. Propel the reader to read the whole letter with interest
b. The Setup
In the setup, you have a few goals:
1. Provide a few details about who your main character is. You’ve hooked the agent to find out more about your main character, so give them what they want.
2. World-building information if pertinent. For fantasy and science fiction, a little taste of the world would go in the setup section of the query. For mystery, horror, thriller or other genres, including the setting here wouldn’t be a bad idea.
3. The catalyst that moves the main character into the conflict. In each of the examples below (which are numbered to go with their hooks from the first part of this section), I’m going to expound on what each sentence brings to the table as far as setup. The same as in writing, what you include in the letter should have a purpose for being there.
c. The Conflict
So you’ve hooked and setup your query letter. Now to the part that everyone wants to read—the conflict. Every novel needs it. In fact, the more conflict, the better. In the query letter, you want to highlight the main conflict, not every single one in every single chapter. You can’t even do that in the synopsis, so don’t try.
Main conflict [meyn kon-flikt]: The central thing that prevents the character from getting what they want. If you didn’t setup what the character wants in the setup, you can do it during the conflict. In the examples section, I’ve included the hook and the setup so you don’t have to go back and find them.
d. The Consequence
The final element you need in your query letter is the consequence. What will happen if the MC doesn’t solve the problem? Doesn’t get what they want? Will evil forces achieve world domination? Will her brother die? Is it a race against time across Antarctica to find the long lost jewel of the Nile? What’s the consequence?
Elana Johnson also gives us several examples for each stage/ element of the plot paragraph:
This sample is taken from her own query letter:
1. Hook: In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces.
Setup: After committing her eighth lame ass crime (walking in the park after dark with a boy, gasp!), Vi is taken to the Green, a group of Thinkers who control the Goodgrounds. She’s found unrehabilitatable (yeah, she doesn’t think it’s a word either) and exiled to the Badlands. Good thing sexy Bad boy Jag Barque will be going too.
Conflict: Dodging Greenies and hovercopters, dealing with absent-father issues, and coming to terms with feelings for an ex-boyfriend—and Jag as a possible new one—leave Vi little time for much else. (she’s got problems. Lots of them.) Which is too damn bad, because she’s more important than she realizes. (Whoa. She’s important? How so?) Vi’s main conflict is that she doesn’t know who and/or what she is. How important she is. But everyone else does. And it’s not something she’s going to
like…. This is all established in a mere 42 words.
The final blurb/plot paragraph which includes the 4th element of Consequence looks like this:
In a world where Thinkers brainwash the population and Rules are not meant to be broken, fifteen-year-old Violet Schoenfeld does a hell of a job shattering them to pieces. When secrets about her “dead” sister and not-so-missing father hit the fan, Vi must make a choice: control or be controlled.
Elana Johnson also posted links to several successful query letters, which I copied and gave as handouts to my members. I also printed copies of Elana’s free worksheets, along with a worksheet on creating a logline, which I had compiled.
In PART IV of our workshop, we discussed other things to keep in mind when writing a query letter,such as the 7 common mistakes of query letters, The 4 musts of submitting queries, 3 things not to do when submitting queries, Email queries and of course, formatting basics of a query letter.
Throughout the workshop, members asked questions, and gave their own suggestions and tips based on their own experiences.
All in all, the workshop was a smashing success. Everyone left with more handouts and worksheets than they bargained for, and an eagerness to apply what they had learned.
Last Saturday, January 29th, our writing group met up again at Borders Torrance. We had three new faces join us for the meetup on “Rewriting Your Manuscript.”
A usual, we started our meeting with introductions. After stating our names, current projects and answering a strange but creative question from the box, we proceeded to the next activity.
I like to start our meetups with a hopeful, positive note, so before diving into our main topic, I had everybody join in an activity inspired by the recent SCBWI-LA Westside schmooze.
In that schmooze, Rita told us about her Illustrator friend whose instructor required his students to spend 15 minutes illustrating three dreams or goals that they wanted to achieve. They put this illustration in an envelope and forgot about it until a year later. When they opened their illustration, they realized that all the dreams they had illustrated had come true.
I explained to the group, that though it seems like magic, the principle behind this activity is the same principle behind the Harvard study: In 1964, all members of the Harvard Business School graduating class said that they had clear goals they wanted to achieve. However, only 5% of them took the time to write these goals down. A follow up study 20 years later revealed that 95% of those who wrote down their goals were able to achieve all of them. Among the other half of the class who said they had goals but didn’t write them down, only 5% reached their expected goals.
The truth is when we write down our goals, it becomes a written contract to ourselves. It sparks personal motivation within us to achieve these goals. And since we’ve written down exactly what we want to achieve, we see our goals more clearly, and our brain starts seeing innovative ways to achieve them.
I then handed out pieces of blank paper. I instructed them to write down their writing-related dreams and goals for 5 minutes straight. I encouraged them to write down all the details they could think of– the name of the agent who is going to them back and say “I’d like to represent you”, the name of the publishing house who is going to give them a six-book deal, the color of the dress they’re going to wear when they accept the Newbery medal,etc.
The activity helped us get into a positive and hopeful mindset. We were now ready to tackle the topic of Rewriting.
I gave out handout1 which described the four types of editing: Proofreading/Copyediting, Line Editing , Content/Developmental Editing, and Heavy/Substantive Editing.
We discussed the difference between rewriting and editing, the four kinds of editing, and the different processes of writing, just to get a clearer picture of what rewriting means.
We agreed that there are generally four stages to writing a novel:
Stage 1: Writing the First Draft
Stage 2: Rewriting
Stage 3: Editing
Stage 4: Copyediting/Proofreading
Ideally when we write the first draft, we don’t stop to edit ourselves. Grammar, punctuation, spelling and all the nitty gritty things don’t matter at this stage.
What matters is that our stories have a beginning, middle and end, and that it gets finished.
Once we are done with our first draft, we move into the second stage of writing, which is rewriting/revising our work. In this stage, we go through our first (or 2nd or 3rd) draft with a creative eye. This means that spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors shouldn’t distract us from polishing and tightening our stories.
Instead, our focus is to fix the story itself—character, plot, setting, etc. Before we even begin to actually rewrite our story, we must do some content editing. This means we have to look at the flow and the structure of our story.
After developmental editing, usually comes substantive editing—which means we reorganize paragraphs, sections, or chapters for overall clarity or readability.
Elements of style such as punctuation, spelling, word usage, grammar and sentence construction fall under the third stage.
Copyediting/Proofreading is the final stage before we send off our manuscripts. Here is where we check that everything is totally correct—there are no typos, the format is perfect and the manuscript is ready for an agent’s eyes.
Content editing is basically what we do when we revise for Story. Substantive or Heavy editing is similar to revising for Structure, since this is the part of rewriting where we rearrange our scenes, chapters (and even paragraphs) so that our story can flow smoothly.
Before we can Revise for Story or Structure, however, there are certain steps we must take in order to prepare for a major rewrite.
James Scott Bell in his book REVISION & SELF-EDITING lists down 6 Steps to follow before rewriting. I added my own tips, as well as other authors’ tips I found while researching the topic, and shared this with the group.
1. The Cool-Down Phase
2. The Preparation Phase
3. Print Out and Prepare a Fresh Copy
4. Get Ready to Read
*** You can check out James Scott Bell’s article here:
Once we’ve done all these things, we’re ready to do some actual rewriting based on the many notes we made.
The next thing we need to do is gather all our needed materials:
Favorite editing pens
Notebook/pad where we jotted down possible revision notes
Other notes that we created while working on the book, plus maps, charts, diagrams, character descriptions, etc, which we used while writing the novel.
Robert J. Ray, in his book The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Manuscript, says that there are three important elements to consider when rewriting: Story, Structure and Style. When you rewrite, always rewrite for structure and story first When story hums and structure runs smooth, work on Style.
Revising for Story
Freelance editor Victory Crayne says the following things:
Content is King. Your story may have technically correct English, but still fail to sell.
The first draft is often for you, the writer. Now go back and rewrite it for your readers.
Writing to entertain is much harder than writing perfect English. Writing to entertain so well that hundreds of thousands of readers can’t wait until your next book comes out requires a whole lot more. It requires two critical ingredients: (1) a great storyline and (2) excellence in storytelling. Just writing perfect English won’t get you there.
It’s important that we know what our story is really about before we even try to rewrite entire paragraphs or chapters.
Revising for Story, also known as content editing, can save us a lot of time and trouble.
As a basis for our discussion on rewriting for Story, I used author Holly Lisle’s awesome article on One-Pass Manuscript Revision: From First Draft to Last in One Cycle.
In this article, she recommends going through the process of discovery in order to get your story right. She suggests activities for figuring out our manuscripts’ themes, sub-themes and story arc.
Revising for Structure
Every story has a three act structure, also known as the beginning, middle and end. Knowing our story’s structure, allows us to understand what’s supposed to happen within each part.
For instance, in the Beginning, we’re supposed to introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation or conflict they find themselves in, as well as their goals. When we revise our manuscript, we must figure out if we have accomplished this or not.
Peder Hill’s article on Conflict and Character within Story Structure was a great jumping off point for our discussion on revising for structure.
Afterward, we discussed some techniques for revising structure. I suggested that the use of index cards was a great way for figuring out the flow of a story.
In the index cards, we write down the title of our scene/chapter, along with a scene/chapter description. We can even assign a particular index card color to each of our major characters/major storylines.
Once we’ve finished our index cards, we lay them out on a big table or on the floor, and figure out if our story is flowing smoothly based on the scene descriptions. If not, we rearrange the index cards until the story does flow.
Picture from Chris Bell’s blogpost on Manuscript Mapping.
Towards the end of our meetup, I gave out a list of writing books which I found helpful in my own process of manuscript revision. Other members also suggested books they found useful.
Our heads were buzzing with a boatload of information by the time we ended the meetup. All of us had our minds set on rewriting our manuscripts based on what he had learned and shared with each other that day.