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, February 26, 2013

26 Golden Rules for Writing Well

some basic rule's of grammar to which we would all Do well to adhere, to:

1.Don't abbrev.
2.Check to see if you any words out.

3.Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.

4.About sentence fragments.

5.When dangling, don't use participles.

6.Don't use no double negatives.

7.Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.

8.Just between you and I, case is important.

9.Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.

10.Don't use commas, that aren't necessary.

11.Its important to use apostrophe's right.

12.It's better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.

13.Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.

14.Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop

15.Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.

16.In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas to keep a string of items apart.

17.Watch out for irregular verbs that have creeped into our language.

18.Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

19.Avoid unnecessary redundancy.

20.A writer mustn't shift your point of view.

21.Don't write a run-on sentence you've got to punctuate it.

22.A preposition isn't a good thing to end a sentence with.

23.Avoid cliches like the plague.

24.1 final thing is to never start a sentence with a number.

25.Always check your work for accuracy and completeness.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Life for a Real Life Literary Agent (in Training)

As an aspiring writer, how is your query received by the agent? Read on for a little first-hand description.

I read an interesting essay on the Amazon Create Space community by someone (Mr. Mysterious) who’d done a two week internship (7 work days total, since there were snow days) in NYC last winter. I wrote to ask for permission to post this on my blog and unfortunately didn’t receive a response, so am taking the liberty here of just summarizing his observations and impressions because they’re so helpful. I’m assuming this is OK since this guy posted on a public forum loop.

Mr. Mysterious worked for an agent mainly reading queries and samples – since this agency requested a synopsis and first 5 pages when querying. He estimates during his time there that he went through 300-350 queries, averaging about 50 per day. For eight hours (not including lunch or bathroom breaks, or other duties and time expenditures), that might be about six or so per hour, or even more roughly one every ten minutes. This isn’t much time to impress someone who is reading, say, eight pages per submission (1 page query, 5 page sample, 2 page synopsis).

Many of the queries were “way too long,” and he found himself skimming the long ones and/or those with detailed plot descriptions. He felt shorter was definitely sweeter, and he paid closer attention to the concise ones. Queries were usually mediocre, and the handful that weren’t often had sample writing that was.

Mr. Mysterious always read the sample, even if he didn’t like the query. If the query didn’t have a sample, he requested the author to email it back in the body of the email.

After a day, he stopped reading the synopses:

1. Some were too long, occasionally even longer than the sample.
2. After awhile they started to sound the same.
3. If he didn’t like the sample, he didn’t care about the synopsis.
4. They took a long time to read, and when going through a large pile of correspondence the principle is: the faster the better.

The authors didn’t always follow the requested guidelines for number of pages (the longest sample was 20 pages), and although Mr. Mysterious didn’t immediately disqualify these writers, he was definitely annoyed and gave a less careful reading.

Out of 300-350 queries, Mr. Mysterious found exactly ONE that went into the YES folder, and 40 into the ?MAYBE? folder. These query samples had skillful writing (voice, characters, settings, etc.). A few maybes were included even though he didn’t like the samples simply because the writer had some good credentials: a former literary agent or previously pubbed by a reputable publisher and/or major magazine. Many of the credentials cited in the queries were trivial or irrelevant. Credentials only mattered to the intern when they were of something/someone he’d heard of.

The agent who was mentoring this intern rejected the YES, and from the maybes requested pages from one and left two others as possibles. The rest were rejected. The accepted ones he didn’t quite remember but doesn’t think they had credentials in their queries. Neither the agent nor Mr. Mysterious liked the query from the writer from whom she requested pages.

I was fascinated to read that Mr. Mysterious found the same terms appearing in many queries. For example, GUARDIAN – there were a lot of guardians in these samples. He didn’t mention what sorts of genres the agent specialized in, but it sounded like YA and adult, science-fiction-y adventure.

Here’s a quote from the intern’s post: “A lot of queries were like, Main Character is just your average kid/just wants to be your average kid, EXCEPT HE SHOOTS LIGHTNING OUT OF HIS BUTT WHEN HE FARTS.

“A lot of queries, especially YA Urban Fantasy queries, read like they’re all written from the same template. Off the top of my head.

“NAME, a [number] teen year old at [school name] has enough to worry about with [insert generic school/teenage problems], without [insert discovery of paranormal abilities, an ancient conflict, discovery of paranormal abilities AND an ancient conflict]. It will be up to Name to [stop conflict, learn to control abilities]. That is, if he doesn’t get [insert fantasy problem and/or generic school/teenage problems,] first.

“Jake, a thirteen year old at Springwood High, has enough to worry about with not making the base ball team and getting dumped by text message, without a sect of ancient warrior chipmunks bringing their civil war to his town of Springwood. As the prophesied Tailless One it will be up to Jake to bring peace to the chipmunks, if he doesn’t get his heart broken by text message again first.”

This intern also found many girl meets boy stories, where the guy is just too amazing for words. After a few too many samples like this he rolled his eyes and passed on all of them.

Another interesting observation is that writers wanted to “start with a bang,” for example a plane crash on the first page. Mr. Mysterious found this stuff not compelling, if not frankly boring. I would take a guess here that this is so because if you (the reader) don’t care about the characters yet, you don’t really care what happens.

Here’s another quote: “As an intern reading the first few pages of your novel, I was about the most detached person in the world from your story. I wasn't doing this for fun. Or as a favor, cause I knew/liked you. I was doing this, because it was my job, and as you may have guessed, a rather monotonous job at that (though certainly not without its rewards and excitement.) What this means is, the world might be ending in your story, but I was sitting there in an office, tired from my commute, hungry cause I skipped breakfast, and with a lot more queries after you to get through. And the world outside my window? Still there.

“As such, your primary goal in those first five (imo) should be to make the reader, be he agent, intern, or prospective buyer, care. If you make the reader care, he'll be hooked whether you drop a bomb on him or not. If you fail to make him care, then no matter how many bombs you drop, they'll all be duds. (lol, couldn't resist.)

There were so many queries that he quickly started looking for reasons to reject. Some of these were:

1. Lots of typos.
2. Grammar or tense issues.
3. Blandness, clich├ęs, not being interesting.

Mr. Mysterious kept reading especially if the samples had Voice and/or Humor. He suspects there are two types of Voices that are professional: an overt or stylized voice that is immediately intriguing, and a subtle or realistic style of voice. Some examples of voice that he gives are:

Overt/Stylized: Coen Brother’s The Big Lebowski, Chuck Palahuik’s Choke, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Doestoevsky’s Notes from The Underground, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian. These overt voices portray exceptional, unique characters with stories that leap off the page.

Subtle/Realistic: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, anything by Hemmingway, John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Orwell's 1984, a lot of classic plays like The Glass Menagerie, and Death of a Salesman. You could imagine someone you see in the supermarket being able to tell these stories. This style often occurs in literary fiction.

5-10 pages for a sample may not be enough to capture this type of subtle voice well, and may not play well to a hurried agent or intern. However, different agents specialize in different genres, so you should look carefully for the type of agent that takes your type of stories.


I find it interesting to think that this intern found himself jaded and impatient after only a few days on the job. Keep this in mind when presenting your story. And thank you, Mr. Mysterious, for your sharp insights into the pubbing biz.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Resources for Finding a Literary Agent

You want to find agents that represent works similar to yours. In other words, don't go to an agent who exclusively takes nonfiction if you are trying to sell a novel. Don't go to an agent who has literary-type authors if you're trying to sell a blockbuster adventure story.

According to literary agent Noah Lukeman (see his free kindle book), remember that you want to make a list of at least fifty agents to whom you can submit your manuscript. The only way to find this many is doing lots of (mostly) internet research. Fifty is a big number. You should determine competing similar books to yours, then research these books on google and amazon to find agent and other information such as sales. Research the authors. If you can afford it, go to appropriate writer's conferences or seminars to meet like-minded writers, authors, or business people who might have suggestions. Enter contests, especially judged by professionals. Ask, seek, knock.

Do google searches for "literary agents" or literary agencies" or your genre. Also check out blogs about writing, publishing, or by the individuals whom you may be interested in. The following specific websites may also give you a few leads:

www.publisherslunch.com -- this newsletter is offered in both a free and paid version, and gives lots of information about recent deals and the agents who brokered them.

www.publishersweekly.com -- the website for Publishers Weekly has a "Deals" link that describes recent major deals, and also has a free weekly e-newsletter for which you can sign up.

www.writersmarket.com -- they offer a free newsletter that may contain valuable tidbits.

www.writersdigest.com -- this website has a number of good articles and links, including the 101 best annual websites for writers, and provides a free newsletter for which you can sign up.

www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog -- helpful blog.

www.agentquery.com -- a free searchable database of agent and agency information.

http://michaelhyatt.com/literary-agents-who-represent-christian-authors.html -- Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has compiled a list of the 40 top literary agents with whom his company works. Since Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher these listed agents work with Christian works either partially or exclusively, but if your work falls within the "Christian" category by all means check it out.


Now for a few quick don't as you submit your material to literary agent:

1. Don't make it long -- short is definitely sweet. Unless specifically requested in submission guidelines, just send a one page query, no matter how good you think your stuff is. If the submission guidelines request other things, send only exactly what is required. Don't put in extra pages just because you think the person is going to *love* it. Instead, be respectful and winsomely entice the person to ask for for.

2. Don't be overly informal. Snail mail is probably better than e-mail. Unless the agent definitely wants e-mail for submissions, snail mail seems (at least to me) more formal and to be taken more seriously. REMEMBER TO INCLUDE YOUR SELF-ADDRESSED STAMPED ENVELOPE (SASE) and contact information.

3. Don't be a pest. Don't call or drop in to visit the agent -- everything should be done through the postal or internet services. Make sure that your manuscript is in its final version, and don't send updates or modifications until you get an interested response -- then, talk about it.

4. Don't be weird or desperate. This means type your stuff on regular typing paper, with a regular font. Don't hide little gifts or money between the pages of your manuscript, or have sparkly things pop out of the envelope when it's opened-- if your work can't stand on its own, then you shouldn't be doing this.

I was furious with one person I was trying to help, whose manuscript had a l o o n g way to go. I told him to work on it, but also since he asked I told him, sure, he could start thinking about agents. I gave him a list of some possibilities but warned him it was only for reference at this point. The next week he dang submitted his manuscript, and a week after that called every agent on the list to tell them he wanted an answer because he was sure his book would sell a million copies. Thank goodness he didn't use my name. I'm sharing this information with you, dear friends, and I'm trusting that you'll be careful.

One more story: having no agent is definitely better than having a bad one. I made the mistake of signing with a well-known agent whose unfortunate tactic (as I learned later) was to sign many writers, then make the rounds and throw as many manuscripts to the editors as possible. If the manuscript didn't sell after about six months, he cut off all contact. This happened to me because my manuscript wasn't ready for the big leagues, but sadly this man didn't even have the courtesy to tell me who had seen it. I know it was seen, BTW, since I received a call from one editor and was given the names of a few other houses which I have no reason not to believe were accurate. When I'd severed the relationship and finally figured out how to whup my book into shape, no other agent wanted to touch it. I finally decided to go the self-publishing route which has been a real education and good in some ways, but frustrating as you can imagine in other ways.

So there you go. Email me if you have any questions.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Finding a Literary Agent

Your literary agent is an expert in the publishing field, and knows who wants what. Therefore he will be able to show your manuscript to the people most likely to buy it. Furthermore, once a deal is on the table, the literary agent negotiates optimal terms for you that you would probably never receive on your own. As your manuscript develops into a book your agent helps to shepherd the process with your interests in mind, and keeps everyone happy. Finally, as you continue to write books your agent continues to work with you to develop your career.

I'm going to assume that your manuscript really is ready to move to the next level. You've decided you want to find a literary agent to help you market your manuscript to traditional publishing houses. Now what?

The first thing you must decide is that you're going to put as much work into finding an agent as you did for writing your manuscript. This involves two steps: preparing your submission material, and sending out to agents.

To prepare your material you'll need to write a one page query letter (see Noah Lukeman's free book) as well as prepare writing samples. For fiction, you'll already have finished your manuscript and edited it twenty times so that it's smooth and beautiful, and the length falls into the correct genre word count. You need to prepare a one page synopsis, a 2-5 page synopsis, and have researched marketing: similar books, ideas for selling your book, platform development, and so forth. (I review this process in more detail in my book, The Story Template). For nonfiction, publishing houses usually want only a book proposal and a sample chapter or two, since they want to shape the book into a good fit for their house and the market. There are good books with instruction for book proposals; read them carefully, implement their instruction seriously, and nail your presentation. Remember that you need to write this material with an eye for WHY OTHERS WILL BE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING YOUR BOOK, not just describing what your book is about.

Second step is applying to agents. Rule Number One is APPLY TO ENOUGH AGENTS. Agents take a long time to respond. You don't want to send out one hopeful letter and chew your nails for six weeks until a negatory response comes in. How depressing is that? Instead, make a long list of agents to whom to query. Noah Lukeman in his How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent recommends compiling a list of at least fifty agents, prioritizing them, and then querying them in batches of ten. This way you don't have as much emotional energy riding on each letter, and get through the process efficiently and quickly.

Rule Number Two is DON'T GO TO ANY AGENT THAT CHARGES YOU A READING FEE. Legitimate agents don't. Check out the Association of Author Representatives canon that describes the ethical conduct expected of literary agents. The AAR is the standard and preeminent group for literary agents. An agent who makes his money with reading fees is not going to be making his money with selling books. This includes scams like ABC agent telling you he might consider your manuscript if you get it edited by XYZ book doctor. When you go to XYZ book doctor he charges hefty fees and maybe makes some good suggestions, but when you take it back to ABC agent he says it's still not good enough. Or something. This scheme involves a kickback to both parties, and can go for several cycles before the writer's hope gives out.

Now, if the agent just wants you to clean up your manuscript and suggests you might want to hire a book doctor, without naming names or making promises, this is a different story. Listen because he just gave you a free piece of valuable advice that your manuscript is close but not yet up to where it needs to be.

OK, finally, how do you find literary agents? This blog entry is already long so I'll pick this up again next time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Should You Get a Literary Agent?

With the advent of print on demand printers, and especially e-readers, the publishing world is in flux. Every few weeks I read an article of how a self-published author, or especially a kindle-published author, has made a million dollars without going through the machinations of a publisher. 'Tis true; one can publish a DTB (dead tree book) for as little as $75 to load the file to the printer, plus the cost of an ISBN (about $300 for 10) and whatever it costs to produce a cover and interior PDF. E-books can be converted and listed for free.

Even so, at this point there still is an important role for traditional publishers. These publishers vet manuscripts to only choose the best of the best, then buff them with editing, cover design, and so forth to make them truly lovely. Furthermore, as anyone in "the biz" will tell you, a nice-looking book is only the first step -- getting the word out to sell the book is a huge deal. Marketing platform is generally way superior for traditionally published books, and the author bypasses many hurdles a self-published author must jump. This is why I still usually recommend to newbies that they try hard for a traditional publisher. If they keep getting a "no," that's a red flag that their manuscript isn't ready to be published yet. There are circumstances in which self-publishing is a good choice, but too many rejections isn't one of them.

The first step in starting the publishing process is always to make sure your manuscript (for fiction) or book proposal (for nonfiction) is as good as it can be. Determine your word length, your genre, and your competition. Write up a marketing plan: there are excellent books about how to write book proposals, so check these out. You want your manuscript to stand out from the crowd; you want the professional looking at it to think that you really know what you're doing.

Next, you need to find the professionals to receive your book proposal. Writers occasionally receive a direct invitation from an editor or agent to submit their work, say, at a conference, but most of the time writers are sending out the query and materials cold.

In general, seek to find a literary agent rather than an editor. The literary agent takes you on as a client, buffs your manuscript, and uses his knowledge of the editors and publishing houses to find a home for your book. Once an editor is interested the literary agent negotiates an advantageous contract for you, and basically acts as your advocate with the publisher to make sure things go as well as possible. In return for his expertise, the literary agent typically takes 10-15% of all monies paid to you, and believe me, he is well worth it.

As you might imagine, finding a literary agent who agrees to take on your work is not as easy as one might hope. Noah Lukeman, an agent in the biz, says that you may have to query fifty or more agents before you find one who will take you on. If you are getting so many "no's" I recommend you check your query and submission materials to make sure they're really working well for you.

As always, my refrain for anything in the publishing biz is NO MONEY! PAY NO MONEY until you clearly understand for what you are contracting, and have thoroughly researched all of your options. Literary agents should receive no reading fees. No application expenses. No other monies of any kind until they have actually brokered a deal. The Writer's Guild of America http://www.wgaeast.org/ and www.wga.org/lists requires strict guidelines for listing WGA agents. Occasionally the literary agent will sound so reasonable as he explains why his agency requires costs, but think to yourself: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck... PAY NO MONEY.

So, let's assume you want to find a literary agent. We'll go into that next.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Movie Based on an Illustration

Hollywood is looking for ideas, so keep 'em coming!

I just read that actor Dwayne Johnson has bought full-length movie rights to Alex Panagopoulos' fantastic depiction of how teddy bears may defend us once we go to sleep.

Reference: http://io9.com/alex-panagopoulos/

Personally I believe it is angels, not teddy bears, who defend us..

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Great Market for Self-Published Books

An important and often overlooked market for self-published books is public libraries, and you need to prepare for this market before publication.

This market requires a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN). An LCCN is a unique identification number for your book in the Library of Congress’ catalog record. Since you’ll be applying before publication you need to get a Preassigned Control Number (PCN) (http://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/ ). The PCN requires cataloging in publication (CIP) data, so you will also need to get your book data, called publisher-generated CIP data. The librarian I chose gave me a good price and fast turnaround of a few days at http://www.cipblock.com. There are other people who do this also; you can compare prices etc. with a google search. The CIP data allows individual libraries to categorize your book for their own shelves.

If you obtain a PCN, you will need to send a copy of your final book to the Library of Congress once it’s published.

Good luck!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mixed Metaphors

I couldn't resist.


Every year, English teachers from across the country can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners.....

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse, without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River .

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap,only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.