This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘The Craft of Writing’

THE Secret to the Slush Pile

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

Bookmark and Share

We all know the best way to an agent’s heart is through a well-crafted query. The problem of course, is how to see that query past their hands and into their heart. However, did you know even if you’ve written the world’s best query, there’s a chance it might not be placed on an agent’s desk at all? Would you like to know why? It’s because the agents are not the first to review it.

I listened to a panel of agents a while back and they revealed a secret about queries. That is subalterns read your query first. Only if it passes their inexpert eye does it move into the agent’s inbox. So the first issue we as authors face with our book or novel, is it must pass muster with an inexperienced person. Now, I’m not knocking agent’s assistants, for we all have to start somewhere, but I have to rely upon an unproven stranger’s abilities to advance my writing career? This is not the most comforting thought, if you ask me.

So, how does your fraught-with-angst query get out of the infamous slush pile? That same agent’s panel I mentioned above gave me that answer too. All three agents agreed ninety percent of all queries are, and I quote, “crap.” Imagine! Nine out of ten queries are not even acceptable, let alone worthy. As severe as that sounds, I see it as an advantage.

Think of it this way. One hundred people apply for an important position at a company. Ninety of the applicants arrive in jeans and t-shirts, while ten of them are dressed in business suits. Which ones will move past the admin? The lesson here? Wear nice pants. Well, that too, but the real message is to learn the craft of writing. And the craft of writing includes the knowledge of how to formulate an effective query.

Now, armed with these two pieces of information, can you tell me what an agent’s assistant looks for? Here’s a hint, it’s not the next Great American Novel. The agent simply teaches them to spot a well-crafted query and to pass it along. With this information, the answer on how to avoid the slush pile, like so many answers in life, is simple. Write an effective query. How many times have we heard that one before?

I’ll bet we are all intelligent enough to craft a query letter, so I’ll assume everyone who reads this blog post will get theirs into the agent’s inbox. Now, comes the real problem. Once your query lands on an agent’s desk the process is, as you might suspect, subjective. And there ain’t nothing you can do about subjective. So, learn the craft of writing, pen an excellent query letter, be persistent and have faith.

The formula for an effective query is clean and simple and can be found all over the Internet. But in case you’d like an assist, here are some people and their article that tell you how to, and how not to write a query.

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


Tips on Building Your Author’s Platform

In blogging, General Information, Marketing Your Book on February 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

Bookmark and Share

Sitting at a keyboard and typing is only a small part of the industry in which we all work. We’ve all volunteered to participate in The Business of Writing, yet most of us either miss or ignore a major component of what it is we must do to become successful at the craft of writing. That’s marketing our novels. I’m sorry to say, if we ever wish to derive enough income to worry about from those many hours staring at a computer screen, we need to learn how to market, or get the word out about, your writing.

Marketing leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths and I think it’s because they either don’t understand what it is or how to do it. Many people confuse marketing with sales and envision themselves having to don a used car salesman’s plaid coat to hawk their books. Not true. Marketing is simply letting people know your novel or book, exists. In fact, today’s marketing is all about the soft-sell. You establish yourself as someone to know and your prospective readers sell themselves.

Once you decide to market your wares, you have two major choices from which to choose. Hire a professional or do it yourself. Hiring a professional like BookBuzzer or TheCreativePenn is an excellent idea, but it takes money. A quality marketing expert is worth their weight in gold, but like anything else, you’ve got to have the money to make the money. Should you choose to do it yourself, you’re facing quite a row to hoe, but it’s doable for anyone with a bit of time, willingness to learn, dedication and a propensity toward hard work. Today, I’ll offer you a few of the best tips for marketing your book on your own.

First of all, like any endeavor, you need both knowledge and a goal. Your goal is easy. Indentify your target market, those people who might buy your book. Well, it’s a bit more involved than that as you also need to know their demographics such as where they live, how much they earn, their ages, their genders and the like. You should have derived this information even before writing, but developing your market is first and foremost. How to determine your market is beyond the scope of this article, but post your questions and I’ll be glad to help.

Once you have your target market identified, how do you reach them? Well, that’s where the knowledge comes in but today the secret lies hidden within technology. It offers us exciting, inexpensive and effective avenues by which to reach your market. Your first marketing step as a writer involves blogging. It’s today’s preferred methodology to getting noticed. Check out WordPress or Blogspot for no cost options. Read this article for ideas on how to build your blog readership.

You should also get involved with Twitter and probably Facebook. If you write nonfiction, consider Linkden, too. Identify your specific target within these sites and learn how to use social networking to your advantage. Readers are more prone to purchase your book if they know you as a person. Be cautious however, and don’t’ introduce them to too many of the skeletons in your life. They really don’t want to know you that well.

Become a member of niche market sites like Chowhound.com (food and feasting), LibraryThing.com (books & novels) and Yelp.com (metropolitan trends cities). It’s here you’ll find people interested in your genre of writing.

Participate in other writers’ blogs. This is quite effective in enhancing your viral growth as it exposes you to a wide number of people with whom you’d not normally connect.

Publish articles to sites such as Ezine, Scribd and Isnare. They might develop readership numbers that will amaze you. Be sure to have a resource box at the end of your articles listing all those many ways people can reach you.

Learn to use Google Analytics. This will inform you as to who refers readers to you. Visit those blogs and get involved. As long as you leave links as to how they can find you, this is a another proven method to build your audience.

Be sure to educate yourself on the use of keywords. Strong keywords allows Internet uses to find your blog, your web site and other tools you employ to sell your books. A bit of research on the Internet will teach you all you need to know about them.

Search out the better book reviewers. Word of mouth will sell more books than anything else. Review Amazon’s Top 1,000 Reviewers and ask those interested in your genre to put out a good word for you.

Do you belong to a church? Live in a condo association? Edit their newsletters and everyone there will learn you’re a writer.
If you work these and other avenues well they can help to get your book sold. Yes, it takes time, knowledge and effort, but without either professional on hands-on marketing, your book will likely languish.

Best of luck with your marketing efforts and let me know if you have any questions. In the mean time, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

4 Steps to Character Development

In The Craft of Writing on February 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

We all realize one of the most critical components in the craft of writing any novel is its characters. Without effective characterization, the chance of penning a successful novel approaches zero. Therefore, I spend much of my writing time creating those people who will populate my manuscripts. Personally, I use a four-step process for developing my characters.

These four steps are:

  1. 1. Summarize the type of character needed for the story
  2. 2. Find a photo of that person
  3. 3. Interview my main characters
  4. 4. Review my character’s reactions during the editing process

First, I jot down the basic characteristics I’ll need for my hero, villain and any love interest. I focus more on their personality than physical characteristics and I try to envision how this person I’m creating will react to situations I already imagine will occur in the story.

I sort of feel this person out and makes notes as my mind wanders between the character and the story. Other writers fill in formal note cards or databases, many types of which you can find on the Internet. It matters not how you gather this information, but knowing my characters’ personalities before I craft them helps me flesh them out as I write.

Next I locate, cut out and paste up photos of my characters. I physically mount their faces, and if necessary to the story, full body photos of my people. I pay very close attention to the look in their eyes, for I need specific personality types, and the eyes are the harbinger of this. I might take hours upon hours to find the perfect pictures, but when I have them, I paste these photos on a piece of poster board and keep it on my desk as I write. Early in the writing process, I refer to these photos often, especially when I write dialogue, which I think is one of the secrets to effective dialogue. As I become more familiar with the characters as individuals, I refer to their photos less and less, but still keep the mounting board on my desk as I write.

Third, I interview my characters. Yes, it is a formal interview as if I’m speaking to someone for a magazine article. By now I’ve developed a basic storyline so I ask them questions that relate to my story. For example, in an early manuscript, my heroine learned her husband died in battle and she traveled to the field to find his remains. (It was common in the era in which I write.) So, I asked her, “Lorena, it’s late at night and you’ve wandered over this horrid field with a lantern for hours. You’ve just found your husband, dead on the battlefield. How would you react to this?” I allow my instincts about this character to answer for me. If I don’t get an answer that can translate into an effective scene, I consider altering the scene and/or characterization of this person. By the time I’ve reviewed most of my story’s major plot points as they relate to my major characters, I’ve got a firm visualization of who my characters are and how I’ll write about them in my manuscript.

Finally, as I edit my work I study how my characters reacted to the various situations in which I’ve placed them. Did they respond according to the  personality I’ve given them? Did they act as expected? If not, what has to change, the scene, the character or both? The situations in which my characters find themselves have often morphed into something quite different than I’d visualized in my first draft. I consider it imperative to insure my character’s have adapted to these new situations in a fashion consistent with their personalities.

My manuscripts are character-driven and this four-step process insures those people I create mesh with my plot points and storyline without issue.

Are there other techniques or tips you use to create your characters? Let me know and I’ll post them, with appropriate credit, of course.

Until then, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Bookmark and Share

Interview w/ Elizabeth Chadwick, Best-selling Historical Fiction Writer

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on November 13, 2009 at 11:40 am

The talented author, Elizabeth Chadwick, granted me an interview, the focus of which was to assist aspiring authors in learning the craft of writing and helping them reach their goal of publication. I asked Elizabeth Chadwick ten questions as to her experiences in learning the craft of writing, five of which will be discussed today. The remainder will be presented this coming Monday. Her answers are unedited and as she is English, Americans will find differences in spelling and even punctuation. Fear not, this lady is good.

My first question was:

Prior to your becoming a best-selling author, you had to learn the formal Craft of Writing. What was the single most important step you took on your path to mastering The Craft of Writing?

Flying hours I would say.  Sheer time spent actually writing.  I didn’t know I was learning the formal craft, I was just having fun.  I would also say that a cumulative effect of learning the skill has been a habit of reading voraciously across all genres throughout my life.  It’s amazing how much you pick up by osmosis.”

As my father was a naval aviator, I understood her analogy of “flying hours.” She confirms for us that well-known maxim all aspiring authors have heard before; write more if you wish to write better.

She also brought forth a secret it took me a time to understand. She said she was, “just having fun,” in her early writing ventures. What better advice could a writer receive? After all, if you’re not having a good time, you’ll not write as much or with as much passion.

She mentioned of another rule all authors should espouse. A secret to her success was “reading voraciously across all genres.” What better way is there to learn than to read other successful authors?

We’ve all heard these things said time and again, but do we really take them to heart? The lesson she offers in this answer is threefold: have fun, read voraciously and spend time writing.

My second question was:

How long did it take you to learn enough of The Craft of Writing before you were confident enough to seek representation?

“I wrote my first novel at the age of 15 and only didn’t send it off because it was hand written.  As soon as I’d learned to type, (aged 18) I began sending off.  Since I didn’t know anything about the publication business, it was a case of ignorance being bliss and I was fearless.

I used to measure my progress against published novels I’d read and I did notice that my level of competence was improving.  It’s important for any author to have an in-built editor.  To get one of these you need to read a lot across the board and not have rose coloured spectacles about your own writing.  You also have to be adaptable and willing to learn. I should also add that while I began writing things down at the age of 15, I had been telling myself stories verbally with beginnings, middles and ends since first memory – 3 years old.  I didn’t know it was an apprenticeship for the career I had now.”

I find her response fascinating! We see so much of the maturation of a young writer in her words, and a number of tips we can use to enhance our novels. First, of all, Elizabeth Chadwick was a born writer and storyteller. In this, I see the fundamentals of all good novels – storytelling. Elizabeth Chadwick began fleshing out stories at the age of three. If you expect to succeed in this difficult field of writing, the first thing we all must learn is to tell a good story.

As a young woman, Elizabeth Chadwick understood only the barest of basics in publishing, such as the need for a typed manuscript, but little else. She also forged ahead with, as she says, fearlessness and a case of ignorant bliss. (Don’t we all the first time?) The tip I see here is we, book writers, must come into this world of dreams we’ve created for ourselves with a fearlessness attitude and undaunted focus. Oh, yes, you also do need to learn the trade.

She also used other writers as a point of comparison for her own writing. Have you done that? I do. In fact, I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels for not only her magnificent characterizations, but her wonderful settings also. Further, I read David L. Robbins for his vivid, but not gratuitous battle scenes.

Something else I see in her reply that should guide us all is to follow your muse. Her muse spoke to hear quite early in life and she had the sense to follow it.

Her experiences are a guide for us all; become a good storyteller, push ahead with focus, courage and boldness, study other authors and learn from them and finally, follow your mues. (Or as some say, write what bubbles up.)

My third question was:

What was the most difficult aspect to The Craft of Writing for you to master?

To be honest I’ve never had a difficulty. I have learned to make sentences more concise and to cut down the adverbs and superfluous qualifiers.  I have also learned viewpoint control and not to head hop unless the moment calls for it.  I would also add that the craft of writing is, rather like the rules in the Pirates of the Caribbean – ‘more like guidelines really’. You can get so hung up on ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’   that you lose both your voice and your confidence.”

The lessons she offers here are write with a tight control over unneeded qualifiers and adverbs. (Ever heard that one before?) Control the novel’s viewpoint and not to “head hop.”

I really liked the way she interprets those onerous “rules” of writing as “more like guidelines.” Her point is to place your writing skills in the correct perspective so as not to lose your focus. A recent suggestion made the rounds on Twitter. It said a novel should be 50% dialogue. Now, I hope nobody is out there actually performing that calculation, but the point was novels contain a great deal of dialogue. Her response to that tweet was the same as her advice here. Don’t get hung up on all those “rules” for they will only hinder your writing and maybe even cause you to lose your all-important “voice.” Are they worth considering? Sure, but as Elizabeth Chadwick says, only as “guidelines.”

However, as she progressed in her chosen craft, she paid close attention to tightening her writing skills. She made her sentences more concise by eliminating adverbs and qualifiers. (Have you done that with your novel yet?) She also mastered viewpoint control. (Gee, another one we’ve all heard.)

Obviously, Elizabeth Chadwick gained critical knowledge as she progressed, but what was it she learned? All those things we’re still told today. Make your writing tight, by eliminating adverbs and qualifiers. Master viewpoint. Be cautious of all those writing rules – they’re only guidelines.

Question four was:

Do you still struggle with any part of The Craft of Writing, and if so, which aspects still offer you your greatest challenge?

“No, I have never struggled with any part of the craft of writing.  I guess the largest challenge these days re the writing itself is fitting big stories into market-confining word spaces.  But it does help me to make every word work for its living!  The other challenge involves all the marketing and networking initiatives an author is supposed to cover these days.  That takes a lot of time out of what was once just a basic writing day job.”

Ah, how many of us have struggled with cutting our novel down to size? A point tucked away in her words is what she calls, “market-confining word spaces.” This, as with so much of what she says, is critical to publication. The buying public only buys books of certain sizes. “War and Peace” might not be accepted today as it’s much too long for the contemporary reader. People will not buy a two hundred page children’s book. Do you know the “market-confining” limits of your genre?

She also points out that every word must carry its own weight when she says, “make every word work for its living!”

In addition, Elizabeth Chadwick touches upon a critical aspect to the successful writer’s journey. The nasty word here is, “marketing.” These days if you’re not as accomplished at reaching your audience as you are at writing, your chances of success diminish by a large percentage. Learn how to develop an audience, guys. It’s more important than you’d like to think. I was at a writers’ conference not too long ago and the three panelists in one seminar, all successful authors, all agreed on their split between marketing their writing and writing their writing. Seventy-five percent of their time was spent on building their audience and twenty-five percent of their time was on formally writing. Again, this is a “guideline,” but it does indicate the amount of time and effort an author loses to what once was “just a basic writing day job.”

Out last question for today was:

What do you find as the most common blunder relative to The Craft of Writing when you review aspiring authors’ works?

“There are many common ones and I don’t think any set one has the edge.  The main offenders re words on the page are:  purple prose, verbosity, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, stultifying dialogue and characters who are not fully realised and contradict their personalities from one scene to the next.  Re structure it tends to involve loose ends that never get woven into the novel and scenes that go nowhere and have nothing to contribute to the drive of the story.  I will often have scenes in a first draft that are cut at the final edit because they don’t contribute to the through-drive of the story.”

Are you surprised to hear that aspiring still authors make “so many common” mistakes?

The basic lesson to learn from this answer is to cut, cut, cut. Eliminate adverbs, verbosity, loose ends, poor dialogue, weak characters and so on. Cut out anything that does not provide “drive-though” for the story. In effect, anything that doesn’t add punch to your story get’s gone.

I appreciated it when Elizabeth Chadwick said she often cuts scenes as they don’t, “contribute to the through-drive of the story.” In fact, this is such an important message she used the word, “drive” twice in this paragraph. It’s the perfect word for how to eliminate errors in your manuscript. If words, “don’t contribute to the drive of the story,” cut them.

Once more I’d like to thank Elizabeth Chadwick for her time and kind efforts in assisting aspiring authors find their way toward better skills. I trust you found something of worth to you.

You may pick up any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s books from The Book Depository at www.bookdepository.com. (They do not charge for worldwide shipping.)

Elizabeth Chadwick’s web site is www.elizabethchadwick.com.

Her blog can be found at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/Blogs/blogs_livingthehistory.html.

Her Twitter name is @ChadwickAuthor.

On Monday, I’ll finish with my interview with the gifted and gracious Elizabeth Chadwick.

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze