Category Archives: Author Advice

Living a week in an agent’s shoes

I recently had the opportunity to judge a writing contest.  I, and two other brave souls, volunteered to read all the anonymous entries, and choose one winner who would win “the pot” collected from the entry fees.

I am going to admit that this was a grueling experience at times.  I swore, somewhere around the seventh entry, that I would never do this again.  My relief when I’d finally read the last entry, and made my choice for winner, was overwhelming.

Then I got to thinking.  What I went through is probably not unlike what an agent or a submissions editor goes through every day.  They get a mailbox full of submissions, and they have to review them all and choose only one, or none.

Now, consider this.  The people who entered this contest paid an entry fee.  This is one of the reasons I volunteered.  I mean, seriously… if you are going to fork up ten bucks to get into a contest, you gotta know your writing is good enough to have a chance, right? I imagined my mailbox filled with fantastic, wonderfully imagined and carefully crafted stories.

Did I get that? Ummm… Not always.

Now, this is not to say that there were not some great entries. There were. But at times, I held my hand to my head and thought, “What was this person thinking”?

The good thing that came out of this is the realization that what you hear is true. There is a lot of poorly written or poorly executed work out there in the query-sphere.

If you can honestly look at your work and say:

1.       It has been edited multiple times

2.       It has been critiqued multiple times

3.       It has been beta read by multiple readers

4.       I have listened to critiques/beta comments and made changes without thinking “they just don’t understand me” and ignoring them.

5.       I have a story arc with a beginning, middle and end.

6.       There is a journey/change in the main character that makes the story worth reading.

7.       There is conflict.

I could keep going, but I’ll stop there.  If you can say “yes” to all of the above, then you at least have a chance of getting read by an agent or editor. If you work stands out as well written and conceptualized, you will be in the 25% or so that will actually be considered.  This is the place where good writing is a given. This is where you are in competition for the best story.

This is where you want to be. If you answered “no” to any of the list above, and you are querying and getting rejections, there is a possibility you are just wasting their time. (And yours)

What I realized judging this contest is that there must be hundreds of thousands of people out there that are wasting their time by submitting before they are ready.

Do your research. Make sure you have learned your craft.

Don’t be afraid to ditch a story you have worked on if it is not marketable.  Move on to something else. Every time you sit down to write you are better than the last time. Be patient until you can honestly say “This is my best work.”

_JenniFer____EatoN

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Oh yeah? I mean, No! No yeah! — What’s your “yeah?”

Yeah.  It’s my new nemesis.  Oh, I’ve had other nemeses’ in the past, but “Yeah” has just become the granddaddy of them all.

I’m editing out overused words in my manuscript, and while I was searching for “Oh” I noticed quite a few “Oh yeahs”  So I jotted down the word “yeah” at the end of my list to take a look at later.

Imagine my surprise, when sitting down to what I THOUGHT would be a short editing session, and I find that I’ve used the word “yeah” 223 times in a 246 page manuscript.

Oh_No!!!!

And it’s not even like “yeah” appears once a page.  There are several pages in a row that have no occurrences of “yeah” whatsoever.  And then the next page is all lit up with five yellow highlights.

How did this happen? – And how did none of my beta’s not even mention it?

One of my really strong points is dialog.  I can “hear” my characters talk, and I just transcribe.  When both of your main characters are teenagers, the word “yeah” seems to pop out a lot, and it SOUNDS absolutely fine, even though repeated.

But I’m sure a publisher wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about so many “yeahs” on a page.

Yikes!

Through editing, I cut it down from 223 to 67.  A lot of them still appear multiple times on a page, but I think they need to stay this way to keep the “voice” of the characters intact. And hey, they are teenagers. They say “yeah”, ya know?

In my final read for flow, I will make special notice of them, and continue to trim them away wherever possible.

What’s your most recent word nemesis?

JenniFer_Eaton Sparkle__F

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“I’m sending My Novel Out to Query.” Are you sure you want to do that?

I just got an email that really disturbed me.  No, it was not from one of those creepy guys on Facebook who friends you and then sends you scary PMs… This was from someone I actually know.  Well, cyber-know at least.

This person is a critique partner. Someone working on their first book.

What did the email say that disturbed me so much?

“I’m going to send this out to agents. Can you look at my query and synopsis?”

OMG.

Was I worried about helping with a query and synopsis?  Nope. Not at all. I do it all the time.

So what was it that drove a jagged, rusty bar through my heart?

“I am going out to query.”

I feel incredibly thankful for that little angel on my shoulder who whacked me upside the head two years ago and said “Don’t do it. Your novel sucks.”

Some people, unfortunately, do not have a little angel. Or if they do, they’re not listening.

A quote from Dan Blank keeps coming to mind.  It’s something like: “Writing a book for the sake of writing a book is a worthwhile experience. Not all books should (or need) to be published.” (I totally paraphrased that)

Anyway. I’d like to remind everyone that a sizable number of first novels should be placed in a drawer and never thought of again. Call them a learning experience. A small portion of these can be resurrected, but should be used as an outline and completely rewritten. I would guess that less than one percent are worthy of publication.

But does it hurt to try?

Jury is out on that.  If you have countless hours to waste researching agents/editors and then have even more hours to send a manuscript out that has no chance at all at publication – more power to you. The chances of them remembering you and instantly deleting your second or third manuscript are slim, right?

(Did that last paragraph seem slightly jaded?  If so, GOOD. It was meant to.)

My other big worry is that after a few rejections, instead of shelving manuscripts that are not ready, authors will turn to self-publishing. [Cringe] The thought makes me shiver.  You think critique partners can be harsh?  Try a review from someone on Amazon who is angry at you for wasting their time or money.  Have you read those kind of reviews?  I feel so sorry for those authors!

(Aside: For the record, I think self-publishing is great… If you are ready and have received professional line editing and copy editing)

It took me 17 drafts of my first novel before I decided to shelf it.

Two years of work, sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Was it worth it?

 

Totally!I learned tons from the experience.  I took what I learned to my NEXT novel.  And when that was done, I took what I learned from writing my second novel into my third novel (all the while pumping out novellas and shorts and getting professional feedback) And I took all of that experience and dove into my fourth novel.

Each. Got. Better.

And even after I thought “maybe my novel is good enough” I was STILL shy of certain agents, and ESPECIALLY my target publisher.  It was not until agents or editors started saying things like:

 “Your writing is strong, but I do not have a place for science fiction right now”

or things like:

“This is not for me, but if you have another book in “xxxx” genre please send it directly to me at [insert email address]”

… that I started sending out to the agents and houses at the “top” of my wish list. And by the way – They ARE NOT reviewing my first novel. That is still safely sitting on my shelf, waving and smiling at me every day.

My point is, don’t feel pressured to publish your first novel. If you are serious about writing, and you are unsure, just move on to the next one. I guarantee novel #2 will be better.

But if you do decide to go for it, good luck!  I wish you all the best, and totally hope you are in that one percent of shining stars.

JenniFer_EatonF

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The Results Are In! How Did Others Do With Their Breathless Critiques?

The results are in, and here’s how things panned out…

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7.12% – “Other”

7.14% – Received few/unhelpful comments. They did not mention anything about submitting again

21.43% – Received useful comments, but they did not mention anything about submitting again

28.57% – Received comments and an invitation to send a query once they were done.

35.71% – Fast tracked – asked to send in the full manuscript as soon as it is complete.

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Interesting.  It seems a lot of people were fast tracked.  That means there must be some sparkly manuscripts out there.  I wonder what the stats are of “fast tracked” manuscripts that actually end up published?

The world may never know.

Thanks for contributing!

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How to make Your Reader Care About Your Character #2

I am skimming over notes I took from a class about creating characters that your reader will care about.

Disclaimer:  I honestly don’t remember where this handout came from. I’m going to paraphrase the topic and think up my own ideas, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m stealing without giving credit.

It should be a given to an author that they need to create characters that their readers will care about. They do not necessarily have to like the character. Some really great characters are very unlikable. But we need to CARE about them, or we won’t keep reading. Right?

So how do we do this?

1.       Relationships.  (See previous post)

2.       Give them a goal

Ugh. Goals. We all have them, right? We all have something we need to do every day. Some goals we like, others we labor over.  The point is, we can all relate to having to do something.

If your character is wandering around in circles with no clear intent, the reader will not be able to engage.  Even before the inciting incident that is the real start to your story… your character has to have a reason for being… a goal of something that needs to be done (it can be simple, like making dinner)

But soon you should hit the “big goal” that will carry your reader along for the rest of the journey. We have to know what the goal is and have a vested interest in the character getting there.

By the way, the “big goal” needs to materialize in the first 25% of the book or earlier.  This may seem like a given to most of you, but I’ve read some works in progress lately where the author did not understand this. Think about your character’s goal, and make sure it is apparent to the reader.

Everyone wants something.

A reader can connect and care if they have the opportunity to root for your character to get what he/she wants.

So go ahead, give them a goal!

What was the character’s goal in your favorite novel? Do you think this is what made it your favorite?

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How to make Your Reader Care About Your Character #1

I was cleaning off my desk this weekend and I came across a handout from a seminar or class that I don’t even remember taking.  I read through the page and considered my current work in progress.  I’m pretty sure that by this time in my career I am doing what the handout recommends as an almost instinctual part of my writing process.

I almost tossed the paper, but thought there may be some people out there who could benefit from these notes.  And, of course, I tend to learn stuff myself when I write out and analyze notes for posts, so let’s see what happens.

To keep things  short, I will break this topic into 5 separate posts.  One thought to chew on at a time.

Disclaimer:  I honestly don’t remember where this handout came from. I’m going to paraphrase the topic and think up my own ideas, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m stealing without giving credit.

All right:  Creating a character people care about:

It should be a given to an author that they need to create characters that their readers will care about. They do not necessarily have to like the character. Some really great characters are very unlikable. But we need to CARE about them, or we won’t keep reading. Right?

So how do we do this?

1.       Relationships.  Everyone in the world has relationships. They can be good, bad, or just tolerable, but you know what a relationship is, and so does your reader. Seeing a character in a relationship is an easy way to help a reader connect.

Let’s think over some memorable relationships.  I’ll grab a character most people know.

Harry Potter.

Harry lives with his aunt and uncle. Wow, they do not treat him well, do they? Have you ever been treated unfairly? Have you every had to put up with it because you had no choice? Have you ever wished a magic letter would show up and scoot you away? (Well, I’m sure the answer is “yes” to most of what I said, anyway.)

Giving Harry this horrible home life helps us to INSTANTLY connect with him. We feel sorry for him and want him to live up to his potential.  If Harry can overcome the odds, maybe we can, too.

Do you see how quickly and easily the connection is made? In the first few scenes we totally care and we are engaged.

Relationships. Use them.

And if your character is stranded on a deserted island, have him draw a face on a ball so he has someone to talk to. Yes, that has been done, but that helped you to connect as well, right?
Relationships are one of the easiest ways to help your readers care about your characters.

How have you used relationships to develop your characters?

_JenniFer____EatoN

Pronouns. Tricky Little Suckers — Rule #30 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #30

30: Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

Wow… This is a rule I’ve never heard before.  Yes, I’ve corrected manuscripts where they’ve made an error like this, and I’ve had similar errors corrected in my own work… but counting backwards lie that… I never even thought of this trick.

This is great advice!  Many times I’ve written something and wondered if it was confusing.  This like trick may help a lot!

Try this in your own manuscript and see if it catches any errors.

Jennifer___Eaton

No happy shruggers — Rule #29 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #29

I Love Love Love smile and shrug.  I’ve learned to curb my sighing, but I used to be guilty of that too.

I think smiling and grinning are overused in a lot of writing.  I really don’t worry about it in a first draft.  I let them smile and shrug away.  But these words are on my list of little buggers to pare down when I’m all done.

I just go in to my manuscript, do a search for “shrug” and my manuscript lights up like a Christmas tree.  So like a good little editor, I give my manuscript a present and curb them down to once every 50 pages or so.

Smiling Sadly has to do with that “ly” rule.  Almost every “ly” word can be removed from a manuscript.  I try not to type them at all, even in a first draft.

What words do you overuse?  Do you smile sadly while you shrug off your grin?

Jennifer___Eaton

Ok, so, I’ve been a delinquent

I know I haven’t been posting much lately.  I put insane deadlines on myself that no human could possible keep up with… and then I go and meet those deadlines.  But it does keep me writing, which at least is good.

So, What have you been up to?

I finished the first draft of my WIP, and then set it aside to spruce up the novel I am querying.  Then I took that baby out for a few pitches at a writer’s conference.

Have you ever been to a writer’s conference?  This was my first, and I must say it was a great experience.  I only wish that they duplicated some of the sessions, because many that I wanted to go to were running at the same time as others so I had to miss out.

It’s also great to talk to people in the business and get their perspectives on the industry.

Anyway, I think I learned a few things, and of course, once I get some time to digest, I will spit it all back out here for your enjoyment.  Yuck, that was a really gross visual, but hey, it works.

Anyone else been to a good conference lately?

_JenniFer____EatoN

Do you have trouble getting people to comment?

Paper Wishes FinalAs some of you know, I am just coming off a two-month blog tour.  The first month was to promote my Novella “Paper Wishes”

Now Available from Jennifer M. EatonThe second month was to promote my story “The First Day of the New Tomorrow”

Whew!  It’s good to be home.

I have a lot of the same thoughts as the last time I was on a big blog tour, so I won’t bore you… but one thing stuck out to me a lot.

Some blogs are really hard to comment on.

I mean it.  Really really hard.

Does anyone ever have trouble commenting here?  I think I’ve made it as easy as possible.  Just type in your name and go.  No silly codes to enter, nothing to memorize and type in.  Easy Breezy.  Right?  If I’m wrong, please tell me, and I’ll change it.

You see, some blogs I went to took about three minutes JUST TO INPUT THE CAPCHA INFORMATION — and that’s AFTER I wrote my response to a question.  One site I had to do it over and over again to respond to every comment that was posted to me.  AWEFUL!

There was one blog that I gave up on after the system told me FIVE TIMES that I inputted the wrong CAPCHA code, when I know perfectly well that I was correct each time.  Such a pest.

I know those capcha codes and other things are there to keep spammers away, but if they are also keeping commenters away… that’s bad.

So, just a side thought.  If you have a great blog, and you don’t get comments, do a little test.  Don’t log in to your blog.  Try to comment as a visitor.  If you are annoyed by your own security features, imagine what your readers think.

Note:  I don’t know how WordPress does it, but I only get one spam comment about every six months or so.  The rest are automatically caught by their spam filters.  Whatever they do, it’s much better than all that other goggly gook.

JenniFer_Eaton Sparkle__F