On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Types of Publishing for DTBs (Dead Tree Books)

It has never been easier to publish your book. Publishing is changing before our eyes with the advent of the e-reader and e-books, but regular books are still abundant. There are three basic types of publishing extant:

1. Subsidy

2. Self

3. Traditional

I will go over all three of these types of publishing in detail over the next few weeks and discuss how they work. Today is an overview. There are pros and cons to each method.

SUBSIDY PUBLISHING is often called Self-Publishing, but unless you own the company it ain't. Another name for Subsidy is publish-on-demand. I am extremely negative about subsidy publishing in which you pay a company to publish your book. In my experience, you can more cheaply and with better quality publish yourself. I know of only one subsidy company -- Yav Publications at http://authors.interestingwriting.com/ -- that is not a total rip-off and gives authors a chance to make money while marketing their work. PLEASE, if you are thinking of subsidy publishing, WRITE TO ME BEFORE YOU SPEND ANY MONEY! I will give you a nickel's worth of free advice, hard-won in my own publishing adventures. I am not selling anything, but detest what in my opinion are terrible scams that cost writers their dreams.

In a very few circumstances in which you don't want to market your book, Subsidy Publishing might be a good choice. For example, if you have a cookbook or series of essays that you want to make available to a limited group (church, family, club), and you don't want to go through figuring out how to publish yourself, the subsidy company will produce a nice-looking book. The books will be priced high and you will receive little or no money from sales, so this option is only if you are not trying to *sell* your book to the general public.

SELF PUBLISHING is when you form the company, buy the ISBNs, produce the cover and interior PDFs, hire the printer, and sell the book from your own author platform. It's not as complicated as it might sound, although there are many details you need to keep straight. This can be an excellent choice.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING are the companies you're familiar with: Random House, Harper Collins, Tyndale, and so forth. The work you've been doing for the previous few blog entries (query letter, synopsis) are for applying to these companies.

Traditional Publishing is an excellent venue if you can do it. These companies pay you an author advance for your book, and royalties once you've started selling. They also have strong marketing machines behind them to help your book hit the bestseller list.

The best way to approach traditional publishing companies is through an agent. I'll be talking about this in more depth soon.

A fourth type of publishing is E-Publishing, in which your book is available as an e-book instead of or in addition to a DTB (dead tree book). Hmm, I probably should put in a few entries of how to do this also.

So many publishing choices. However, the first thing I always say to anyone telling me he's looking into publishing (finding an agent, forming a company, looking at publish on demand companies) is that you must first make sure your manuscript is ready to go. Yikes, another big topic. Why don't I start with that one on Friday.

Happy Writing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

2012 Genesis Contest for Unpublished Christian Fiction Writers

I'm taking a break from submission series to let you know about this great contest. On Tuesday I'll start looking at how one might go about finding an agent.


For detailed information on Genesis, visit http://www.acfw.com/genesis/

This contest allows non-ACFW members to enter as well. Genesis is a great opportunity for writers to receive excellent multiple feedback on the first 15 pages of their manuscripts. There are two qualifying rounds leading to the selection of the winner in each category.

The finaling and winning entries are recognized to be exceptional, since this is a prestigious contest with strong competition. Qualifying entries from the two rounds are read by editors and literary agents, professional contacts who may be interested in taking on an unpublished writer.

Here is the schedule:

Timeline for the Genesis contest: Genesis opens: January 2, 2012 8:00 a.m. CST

Genesis closes: March 2, 2012 3:00 p.m. CST

First round judging ends (semi-finalists announced): April 16, 2012

Semi-final judging ends (finalists announced): May 28, 2012

Category winners announced: September 22 at the 2012 ACFW Conference Awards Gala in Dallas, Texas.

Categories are:

* Contemporary Fiction
* Contemporary Romance (includes romantic comedy)
* Historical Fiction (not romance)
* Historical Romance
* Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
* Romantic Suspense
* Speculative Fiction
* Women's Fiction
* Young Adult

Entrance fees are $35 per manuscript for ACFW members, $95 per manuscript for non-ACFW members. You can enter as many manuscripts as you want (each accompanied by an entry fee), although you can't enter the same manuscript in more than one category.

I've been a member of ACFW for about five years, and have found it to be helpful in many ways. Good luck to you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 5: The Fiction Synopsis, Continued

The fiction synopsis boils down an entire story into a few pages. You are never going to capture your story perfectly, but you can certainly give a good approximation.

Here are a few thoughts I have on synopses, in no particular order:

* No weird fonts, weird formating, or weird paper.

* Ragged right edge, header and page numbers at the top etc.

* Write in third person present tense.

* Yes, put in the ending! Include the whole plot, spoilers and all.

* You're writing what the story is about, not how it happens. Don't spend lots of time explaining a scene; just give the final point or twist to the story. For example, you would write "Jody and Steve fight, and Jody decides to leave" rather than explaining that the fight occurs during Steve's parents' 50th wedding anniversary and she walks out after dumping a glass of champagne on his head.

* Focus on only the major twists of the story. You can skip the smaller events.

* Similarly, name only the major two or possibly three characters -- more are confusing.

* Don't tell the editor what he's going to think about the story: "This is a heart-rending story of the loss of a love..." "This novel has the inventiveness of Michael Crichton and the otherworldliness of Dean Koontz..." Save that for your endorsers.

* Edit your writing as you would your novel: eliminate adverbs, passive voice, modifiers, and so forth. Get the writing tight and beautiful.

* Once you have a 3-5 page synopsis, boil it down to also make a one page synopsis.

* Always check the guidelines of the places to which you're submitting, and follow them to the letter.


OK, now for getting ready to write the durn thing. These are the steps I usually take to write a synopsis, and have been effective for me. There are other ways to write this, of course.

Figure on writing about 10, up to 15, paragraphs for this document. Before starting, you might want to list all of the scenes in your book, so that you have a shorthand of the story flow.

Open your synopsis with your trusty zinger logline highlighted at the top of the page.

Next, describe the ordinary world of the story and the change. Depending on the complexity of the backstory or the world, this may be short or long.

Next, describe your main characters in a nutshell: who they are, what they want, and why they want it.

Now figure out the main plot points through the middle of the story and any emotional changes that may occur. Stick with only the main story and names of only two characters (or maybe three). Your subplots are fabulous, but will make this sleek document distracting and hard to follow, so leave them out.

The middle section takes five paragraphs, all the way to the final conflict.

The final conflict, resolution, and ending take one paragraph.

For the last paragraph, I like to give the theme of the story. For example, you might something like, "In this book, during the DESCRIPTION OF ADVENTURE the MAIN CHARACTER grapples with X and in a larger context Y." Then in one sentence explain the central essential quandary for your story.

I have two sample synopses and step-by-step exercises in my book The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story. Pam McCutcheon's book, Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach also breaks down this process.

The only way to write the synopsis is to write it, so just go for a first draft and polish from there.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 4: The Fiction Synopsis

The synopsis for the novelist is perhaps the most intimidating document to write as you prepare to submit your work. You need to boil your story down to one or a few well-thought-out paragraphs.

There is no *one way* to write a synopsis, although the synopsis must tell a story engagingly and concisely. Back cover copy synopses are shorter synopses written to hook the reader with questions, and are effective to use in the query letter. Slightly longer synopses of 1 single-spaced or 2-3 or 5 pages tell the whole story, including the ending. I go into synopsis writing in detail, including examples, in my book The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story.

Remember that writing the synopsis is a doable process. A 3 page synopsis will comprise about 10-15 paragraphs and maybe 1000 words.

An absolutely fabulous book for writing the synopsis, and even for general help in building a storyline, is Pam McCutcheon's Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach. This book is quite expensive on amazon, so I recommend if you get it to buy from the publisher Gryphon Books for Writers. The price is $18.95, a bit pricey, but well worth the investment. This book sits in my top writing books hall of fame along with five or so others. Highly, highly recommended.

OK, let's get started.

There is no way that you're going to be able to convey your entire complex novel in a few pages, so the first thing you have to do is pick out the MAIN OUTER story. This is what you'll be writing about.

McCutcheon identifies 5 important points of a story that you'll describe. They are:

A Ordinary World
B New Direction
C Change of Plans
D Black Moment
E Resolution and End

Star Wars as an example: (from McCutcheon's book)

Main Story: Luke's story

Ordinary World:

Luke is working on his uncle's boring farm on the "farthest planet from the center of the universe."

New Direction:

Luke's aunt and uncle are killed, Princess Leia calls for help, and Obi-Wan Kenobi urges Luke to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Jedi Knight.

A Change of Plans:

The good guys are captured by the Death Star.

The Black Moment:

Just as victory is imminent and Luke is about to make his pass to aim for the small two-meter target that will destroy the Death Star, he hears the warning bell as Darth Vader's missile locks onto his fighter.

The Resolution and End:

Han Solo shows up and sends Darth Vader's fighter spinning off into the void. Luke is then free to aim for the target and hits it. The Death Star explodes, the Rebel Alliance wins, and Luke and Han receive medals for their victory.


You may notice that McCutcheon's points line up quite nicely with the Story Posts of the Template:


A Ordinary World (McC: Ordinary World)
B Inciting
(argument) (McC: New Direction)


(adaptation to new world)
C MIDPOINT) (McC: Change of Plans)
(disintegration etc.)


(problem gets worse)
D Darkest Moment (McC: Black Moment)
E Help from Outside
E Climax
E Resolution (McC: Resolution and End)


OK, that's enough for today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 3: The Query Letter

The query letter is the first, and likely the last, example of your writing that the agent or editor will see. You must make this shine if you want to get that delightful nibble where he or she asks you for more.

The query letter can be sent to the agent cold, after a recommendation (say from a client of the agent's), or an invitation (say from a writer's conference). The first step is to research on the web to determine what, exactly, the editor or agent wants to receive. Some want to receive just a query. Some want to receive a query as well as a short synopsis and/or a few pages of the manuscript. Some want an email query, others snail mail, or they might not care. DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU TO. It's tempting to think gee, my book is SO good I just have to let them know more. No, you don't. Believe me, these people are overwhelmed with submissions, and won't thank you for adding to their work or recycle bin. See my entry about this HERE. If guidelines are unclear, this is a judgment call but I'd write a killer query and leave it at that. It's easier to deal with a one page letter than a stack of densely darkened paper.

Don't forget to make it easy for the agent/editor to respond to you if they want more. Include your email, snail mail, and telephone numbers. If you're mailing by snail mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope so they just have to scribble *yes* on your query and pop it in the mail. If you email your query, make sure that hitting reply won't cause the email to bounce, or cause the agent/editor to go through machinations (prove that they're a real person) in order for the email reply to reach you. DON'T call the agent/editor to pitch a story. They don't appreciate being interrupted.

The purpose of the query letter is to hook the interest of your prospect. The temptation is to put in a lot of information, but you should instead make your query short and intriguing.

Think of it this way: suppose you've just met someone and need to chit-chat for a few minutes. Do you want the other person to start telling you his life's story? Or is it more interesting for you if that person throws out an intriguing tidbit and waits for you to ask a question (or not).

Literary agent Noah Lukeman offers a FREE book How to Write a Great Query Letter, available in Kindle or PDF formats, at http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/download.htm. He recommends that query letters should have four general parts:

1. introduction -- why are you writing to this particular person? Target your reason.

2. intrigue -- tell a little about the story, enough to raise curiosity without killing it.

3. justify -- what is your background that makes you qualified to write AND SELL this story?

4. close -- state specifically the action the person can take if he is interested.

The query should be only one page, period. (Have I said that enough times yet?)

Needless to say, make sure this query is as polished as you can make it. The competition is fierce. You may have to send out 30 or more queries before you get a nibble, so put on your emotional armor before you start the process. This is the biz.

I like to include the logline and BCC (back cover copy) descriptions in the main body of the query letter. I talked about composing these in the last blog entry.

And just to show that not all queries have to be cookie cutters of this pattern, here is a sample query from Preditors and Editors:

What if the President of the United States committed a murder in front of you? What if you were a member of his Secret Service protection? Would you arrest him? Would you report the crime? Or would you cover up the crime to protect the nation because of an international crisis?

These are the questions Shari Nichols must resolve in my novel, All Fall Down. At the moment of the murder she professes allegiance to President Halverson, but she questions whether she has made the right choice. A quick promotion puts her into a job that consumes her attention and seems to support the President's action of murder. But within weeks a series of events makes Shari wonder if the President is as honorable as he seems. Shari Nichols digs for the truth and unearths secrets woven deeply within the infrastructure of the government. Secrets that touch even her family, but she may be digging her own grave.

The completed manuscript is available upon request. A SASE is included for your convenience. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Queries are tougher than they look! Make sure you make yours shine.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 2: Preliminary Preparation of the Submission Package

I like to think of the submission process as a two-pronged approach: you need to figure out WHAT you are going to prepare, and WHO you are going to give it to. Today, let's start with the what.

Writers often spend months or even years writing a novel, and next to no time preparing materials to find a home for it. This is a big mistake -- a poorly compiled presentation will doom your manuscript to failure, even if you've written the next Gone with the Wind. Take some time to craft an exceptional submission package.

Before you start preparing your submission package, you need to sit back, take a deep breath, and figure out what you already have. I am going to assume for this blog entry that you've whupped your manuscript into the best shape it can be. This means that you didn't just type *The End* last week -- you've taken some time to edit, cut, reshape, and clarify your prose. This step is critical!!!

Now, for preparing to send it out. First question: what genre is your manuscript? Some genres are romance, adventure, mystery, suspense, and so forth. Some more questions: what are similar works to what you've done? What are some unusual characteristics of your story?

How long is your manuscript? Is this length appropriate for your genre? Many publishers, especially of romances, give strict word limits, and all genres have *typical* word ranges. For example, YA and romance novels might be about 50,000 words, other genres might be 60 or 80,000 words. A manuscript over 100,000 words will be a serious strike against you no matter what the genre; try to pare it down to about 80,000 - 90,000 words if you can.

Next, if you haven't already come up with these, you need to write a 15-25 word logline and a back-cover description of your book. I cover developing these in step-by-step detail in my book The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story. A few examples of loglines include:

The Wizard of Oz: A farm girl is transported to a magical land and must find her way home.
The Fellowship of the Ring: A hobbit must destroy a magical ring of power before it destroys his world.
Romeo and Juliet: Two teenagers from warring families fall in love and must overcome family obstacles of hate to stay together.
The Count of Monte Cristo: A wrongfully imprisoned young man gains freedom and a fortune that he uses to wreak an elaborate revenge.

From my own book, A Lever Long Enough:

Logline: A small military team travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb.

Shorthand tagline that I can use to quickly convey the sense of my book to an editor or agent: The Case for Christ meets The DaVinci Code.

Back Cover Copy:

The Israeli team, led by Benjamin Feinan, has exactly sevent-two hours to collect the video evidence. Failure threatens the existence of Israel and may cause the world to slip into all-out war. Drawn into a web of first-century deception and death, the only way to escape is for Benjamin to change the past. In the present, a traitor attempts to sabotage the mission and seize control of the military complex. Only Benjamin can reveal him, but he is trapped two thousand years away. Even with a time machine, time is running out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Getting Your Material Ready for Submission, Part 1: Why Prepare a Submission Package

You've finished your manuscript, and you want to find a literary agent (or editor). Congratulations! Now what do you need to do? This short series is a quick overview to get you started -- you'll need to do more research beyond this blog to produce an exceptional submission effort.

I have a story from this summer. It emphasizes my point in this blog that you must make your best effort to prepare a submission package.

My cousin finished a memoir and wanted to find an agent. He wrote to about 50 agents without a nibble, and so decided that he would never succeed with traditional publishing. He decided to sign with a publish on demand company. At this point I unknowingly called his mother, my aunt, to chat, and she relayed this information. I told her to tell my cousin to pay NO MONEY, NO MONEY, and to contact me before he did anything else. (I will write about publish on demand companies in later blogs -- but quick summary, they are almost certainly rip-offs. I know of one company, and one company only, that gives a fair deal to the author).

My cousin told me no one had even requested a synopsis or manuscript, but were turning him down at the query stage. "Let me see the query," I said.

His query was witty and well-written. The problem was subtle: he was describing his book, rather than describing WHO WOULD BUY THIS BOOK. I suggested a few tweaks. Explain the context of his theme in the American psyche, and describe the target market of people who might be interested in purchasing his story. Enlarge his platform or people with whom he might come into contact with through the net or in person. Describe the efforts he would and could take to help sell the book, including getting the word out through his platform, finding endorsements, thinking of places that might be good sales venues, etc. It didn't take much.

Forty-eight hours later he'd heard back from an agent who wanted to see his manuscript immediately. A few weeks after that, the agent had shown the book to several houses who were interested, including Random House. She's thinking of holding an auction.

Wow, is that a dream story or what? I'm so excited for and proud of my cousin! Can't wait to read his book :-)

The point here is take the time to do the submission package. Don't orphan your book when it's ready to shine.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Announcing: 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest

This is an announcement I received, and am passing on. For more information go to https://www.createspace.com/abna?ref=478921&utm_id=5957


Great news! Amazon and Penguin Group (USA) have announced the fifth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, an international contest seeking fresh new voices in fiction. The Contest awards two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin Group (USA), including a $15,000 advance. The competition is open to unpublished and self-published novels.

CreateSpace will once again host the submission platform for the contest. Visit CreateSpace to:

* Learn how the Contest works
* Note key Contest dates
* Create a free account (if you haven't already) to enter the Contest
* Connect with other authors to discuss the Contest

Prepare your entry today. The submission period begins on January 23, 2012. The Contest submission period ends on February 5, 2012, or when the first 5,000 entries have been received in a category, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Setting Your Goals: An Exercise

I just read an interesting article that said people who write down a goal double or more the chance of accomplishing it. We've all heard to write things down, of course, but maybe it's a chestnut that needs to be revitalized. In this spirit of the new year, let's give it a try.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke:

How do you eat an elephant?
One piece at a time.

This process works with any large task, from prioritizing goals, to writing a novel or other large piece of work, to anything else you may wish to accomplish in your life. You start with an overview, then keep breaking down the big tasks into smaller and smaller pieces until each task is manageable so that you can make headway.

The first time you do this, it might take you an hour or more to organize your goals to write them down, but it’s time that’s well worth investing. You don’t need to wait until right before New Year’s Eve either – anytime is the right time to focus your life. Also, create a folder on your computer or get a notebook and write on it GOALS in big letters. You’ll want to get into the habit of writing down goals with the date as you think of them, big and small, and you can refer to your notes as you start to take action. Writing down your goals will clarify them in your mind and allow you to take specific, positive actions to accomplish them.

Finding your goals can be a repeated two-step process: first write down all your ideas for something, and then take time to winnow and prioritize. Both processes are essential, and they shouldn’t be done concurrently. This process can get messy after the first stage, but you need enough material to choose the best solutions, not just the quickest ones. If you’re stuck, try free-writing your thoughts (and make sure you WRITE them, not just THINK them). For example, “When I was a kid I wanted to sail around the world, and the idea still appeals to me even though I have many obligations and haven’t sailed in years. Hmm. Do I like the idea more of being on the water, or of visiting exotic places, or of doing something that people are impressed by? I think it’s the idea of being free, and no one being able to catch me. Well, there is the lake nearby and lots of people sail there every weekend; surely I might be able to at least start with this…”

Be open to crazy ideas, then find the realistic kernels hidden within those clouds. Ready?

1. Write down what you want to accomplish in your life. You know the drill: think of what someone might say about you if you died tomorrow or what you’d like them to say differently if you died in seven years, think of what might be on your tombstone, how you might be remembered by important people in your life, and so forth. What sort of legacy do you wish to pass on to the next generation? What are some things you could accomplish that might bring this legacy about? Take time to contemplate your own mortality and what you want to do with your brief time on Earth.

2. Keeping your life goals in mind, what would you like to accomplish in the next five years? Put down anything and everything you can think of, then study this list and choose the most important goals. You may want to divide them into different categories – mind, body, spirit, work, family, personal – then pick the top one or few for each category.

3. For each goal, break it down into two or more steps that need to be taken. Imagine this date next year, and think about the progress that would satisfy you. Be realistic: you’re not going to earn a PhD in a year, but you may investigate schools, take a few prerequisite courses, or sit for the GREs.

4. Break down each year goal into steps. Figure out how much you might realistically do each month on each goal. You may want to concentrate on one for a few months, and then switch, but always have reasonable amounts to do for each month. Choose a concrete endpoint. For example, if you wish to write a novel in a year, your monthly goal might be “produce 20,000 words” rather than “write every day.” The more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to evaluate whether you have actually fulfilled your goal.

5. For each monthly goal, again break it down into four weeks.

6. If you wish, you can break down your weekly goals into day goals.


Once you have your goal list you have a good sense for where you want to aim your efforts. Now comes reality.

A goal sometimes sounds reasonable on paper, but when you start to implement your plan you find it’s not quite so easy. For example, if you want to write that novel in a year and calculated so many words per month will get you there, you may realize after writing for a few days or weeks that you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re simply producing many pages of garbage (and/or becoming very good at Spider Solitaire). Step back. Should you outline your story before writing it? Should you read some how-to books, or join a critique group? Should you lower your word output from 1000 words a day to 300? YOU ARE NOT FAILING IF YOU HAVE TO MODIFY OR CUT BACK! As long as you’re doing something, and making progress, you are doing more than most people ever do to fulfill their dreams.

Another technique that many people use is a “to do” list for daily tasks. Some find these helpful, but others find them overbearing and guilt-producing. I like to have only one task on my “to do” list, and once I finish that to add another item and start work on that, but since I need to remember tasks to add to my “to do” list I may be engaged in semantics – a sublist from my true “to do” list. Oh well. Other people swear by using palm pilots, or having computer alarms, or whatever. Play with different organizing tools and tricks, and see if any of these helps you to become more productive. The most critical and basic one, I believe, is simply to write things down no matter which formats you use.

Good luck pursuing your dreams.