I’m giving away a query and first 250-word critique to a random person who makes a comment on this post between the time it goes up until 8am Central Time on September 24th, 2018 (that’s Monday). All you have to do to qualify is tell me one small thing you did to help someone else within the last week. It could be a smile, taking someone coffee, laughing at someone’s terrible joke. I don’t care. I just need to see some good people doing good things.
Thank you to every single person who shared their experiences and good deeds. I know it’s not usually in our nature to toot our own horn, but I also think it’s uplifting to see all the good that’s being done in the world.
After having a couple people read it, all of whom said it was !Wonderful!, I thought, It must be good enough to be published then.
My chest tightened, and my stomach fluttered.
So I researched how to query on the internet. One issue–reliable sources. Another issue–outdated sources. I wasn’t sure who to trust or where to go for help. The biggest issue–I didn’t know anyone else who wrote novels. So I gave it a try.
I queried fifteen agents.
Some rejections came, and I thought they were written just to me. Oh, they thought I would find an agent! It just wasn’t right for their particular taste.
I queried fifteen more. About ten more rejections. And they all began sounding the same.
I mean, if it was decent, one out of thirty might’ve liked it, right? After another fifteen queries and some rejections, I’d had nineteen months of heartbreak.
I’d written another novel and half of the sequel to the one I was querying in the meantime. Because by then, I was addicted to it.
Every agents had said they liked Young Adult, Science fiction.
A side note:
Whenever you’re researching on the internet, look at people’s credentials, but also look at when the article or advice was written. For example, a lot of agents used to want the title, word count, genre, and age category paragraph of the query at the bottom, right before your bio. Now, most of the agents (at least the newer ones) want it at the top. Another addition within the last several years is an introductory, personalized sentence about why you’re querying them. And within the last couple years, comparable titles have become a thing to add as well.
That said, most agents aren’t going to throw out your query if you don’t do it exactly that way. They’ll give you the time (and I know this because I read queries for an agent) and read the entire query. But knowing how they prefer it shows a level of dedication and professionalism that speaks to what kind of client you’ll be.
So what was wrong with my manuscript?
I had a great idea, but my writing wasn’t publishing quality yet. I made a lot of errors that new writers make.
And that was okay.
Something I was doing that wasn’t okay was translating the rejection of the manuscript to a rejection of me. It wasn’t enough to keep me from trying though.
All my effort went to honing my craft. And I made a plan.
First, learn to write well. If querying took that long, I didn’t want to waste another eighteen months querying and burn another forty-five agents. So, I wanted to wait until I knew for sure that my writing was good enough.
Second, learn to edit. Because your writing is only as good as your editing. I wasn’t going to throw away those stories. One was a planned trilogy with a prequel, number two already half written. The other could be a series, and I already knew how book two would begin and end.
So how could I learn when I didn’t know anyone and lived in rural New York?
I went to book clubs and libraries and independent book stores and asked the authors I met how they did it. And every single answer was different. (This is something I later realized would be the one thing that remained consistent throughout publishing–everything is different and subjective.)
I read books and analyzed them. Outlining plots. Following character arcs for primary, secondary, and even tertiary characters. Mapping structures of worlds. I tore the books I loved apart and saw them in a completely different light–as an author and editor rather than a reader.
One of the crucial people I met then was author Therese Walsh. She’d published her first book and was writing her second, but more than that, she was building a community of writers through a website called Writer Unboxed. It wasn’t very big back then, but it’s since become one of the best places to go for quality information on writing. She was building a community. She was giving back to the writing industry and gaining an invaluable network. I wanted to be like her, I just needed the opportunity.
Later, after moving to Kansas, I began taking classes from authors and editors in the business who could teach me the art of writing. I went to conferences and found a critique group.
For years, I soaked up as much information as I could.
This is the kind of post I’ll be updating as time goes by, but over the years, I’ve learned more from books on how to write craft than from any agent or editor or workshop I’ve ever taken. Most of these I’ve read more than once and have highlighted, marked, stuck post-its in reference spots, generally used and loved them to the point of abuse. I’m like my poor daughter who loved her baby chick so much she hugged it to death–literally.
The first book on writing craft I ever read was a set of editorial letters from the celebrated editor Ursula Nordstrom to her clients, namely Maurice Sendak, E.B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Shel Silverstein, Garth Williams, John Steptoe… You get the idea. It was the moment I knew I wanted to be published, because I wanted an editor like that. I knew I needed someone in my corner who would be my creative partner in all of this mess that is writing.
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom,
Collected and Edited by Leonard S. Marcus
She trusted her immense intuition and generous heart–and published the most. Ursula Nordstrom, director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, was arguably the single most creative force for innovation in children’s book publishing in the United States during the twentieth century. Considered an editor of maverick temperament and taste, her unorthodox vision helped create such classics as Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and The Giving Tree.
Leonard S. Marcus has culled an exceptional collection of letters from the HarperCollins archives. The letters included here are representative of the brilliant correspondence that was instrumental in the creation of some of the most beloved books in the world today. Full of wit and humor, they are immensely entertaining, thought-provoking, and moving in their revelation of the devotion and high-voltage intellect of an incomparably gifted editor, mentor, and publishing visionary.Ursula Nordstrom, director of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls from 1940 to 1973, was arguably the single most creative force for innovation in children’s book publishing in the United States during the twentieth century. Considered an editor of maverick temperament and taste, her unorthodox vision helped create such classics as Goodnight Moon, Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and The Giving Tree.
Leonard S. Marcus has culled an exceptional collection of letters from the HarperCollins archives. The letters included here are representative of the brilliant correspondence that was instrumental in the creation of some of the most beloved books in the world today. Full of wit and humor, they are immensely entertaining, thought-provoking, and moving in their revelation of the devotion and high-voltage intellect of an incomparably gifted editor, mentor, and publishing visionary.
Once I realized my current writing abilities were less than industry standard (to put it gently), I wanted to improve so badly. I asked someone I knew who was a major in some kind of English or Journalism what books they studied in college about wriitng. And they told me about…
The Elements of Style
by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
You know the authors’ names. You recognize the title. You’ve probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. A new Foreword by Roger Angell reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered.This book’s unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of “the little book” to make a big impact with writing.
This little book became my writer’s bible. I’ve read it so many times over the years, I had to buy a second copy. In hardback. It’s just a standard, and I love it.
Since that time, I’ve always tried to open my mind to more and more opinions, but I have to say, I don’t agree with all writing craft books. I’ve enjoyed them, taken what I can and left the rest. I used to feel guilty for wanting to argue a point, but I’ve realized that what makes great writers is their fresh and unique way of doing things. So I don’t think we all have to agree on everything. It would be a boring world of literature if we did. And what works for one writer won’t necessarily work for another.
So these are the books I’ve used, read, and loved. Some more than others. But I’m not going to bias you one way or another. Because they’ve all had something to offer and made me a better writer, especially a better editor, in the process.
In no specific order…
by Stuart Horwitz
In Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula, Stuart Horwitz returns with his trademark clarity to help writers craft a powerful plot and an effective outline for their works-in-progress. Whether your manuscript is an advanced draft or you are just starting out, whether you are working in fiction, film and TV, or creative nonfiction, you will learn a new approach to structure that will transform the way you look at your writing. Along the way, Horwitz offers detailed, concrete examples that reveal how the Book Architecture Method works with everything from literary classics to blockbuster films. And you won’t have to resort to using a formula–which may seem risky! But it can be done.
The next book is like a companion novel or workbook to Book Architecture, and reading both was helpful.
Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method
by Stuart Horwitz
The first draft is the easy part…
In Blueprint Your Bestseller, Stuart Horwitz offers a step-by-step process for revising your manuscript that has helped bestselling authors get from first draft to final draft. Whether you’re tinkering with your first one hundred pages or trying to wrestle a complete draft into shape, Horwitz helps you look at your writing with the fresh perspective you need to reach the finish line.
Blueprint Your Bestseller introduces the Book Architecture Method, a tested sequence of steps for organizing and revising any manuscript. By breaking a manuscript into manageable scenes, you can determine what is going on in your writing at the structural level—and uncover the underlying flaws and strengths of your narrative.
For more than a decade this proven approach to revision has helped authors of both fiction and nonfiction, as well as writers across all media from theater to film to TV.
Steering the Craft
by Ursula K. Le Guin
A revised and updated guide to the essentials of a writer’s craft, presented by a brilliant practitioner of the art.
Completely revised and rewritten to address the challenges and opportunities of the modern era, this handbook is a short, deceptively simple guide to the craft of writing. Le Guin lays out ten chapters that address the most fundamental components of narrative, from the sound of language to sentence construction to point of view. Each chapter combines illustrative examples from the global canon with Le Guin’s own witty commentary and an exercise that the writer can do solo or in a group. She also offers a comprehensive guide to working in writing groups, both actual and online.
Writing Irresistable Kidlit: The The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers
by Mary Kole
Masterly and concise, Steering the Craft deserves a place on every writer’s shelf.
Captivate the hearts and minds of young adult readers!
Writing for young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG) audiences isn’t just “kid’s stuff” anymore–it’s kidlit! The YA and MG book markets are healthier and more robust than ever, and that means the competition is fiercer, too. In Writing Irresistible Kidlit, literary agent Mary Kole shares her expertise on writing novels for young adult and middle grade readers and teaches you how to:
Recognize the differences between middle grade and young adult audiences and how it impacts your writing.
Tailor your manuscript’s tone, length, and content to your readership.
Avoid common mistakes and cliches that are prevalent in YA and MG fiction, in respect to characters, story ideas, plot structure and more.
Develop themes and ideas in your novel that will strike emotional chords.
Mary Kole’s candid commentary and insightful observations, as well as a collection of book excerpts and personal insights from bestselling authors and editors who specialize in the children’s book market, are invaluable tools for your kidlit career.
If you want the skills, techniques, and know-how you need to craft memorable stories for teens and tweens, Writing Irresistible Kidlit can give them to you.
The Art of X-Ray Reading
by Roy Peter Clark
Roy Peter Clark, one of America’s most influential writing teachers, draws writing lessons from 25 great texts. Where do writers learn their best moves? They use a technique that Roy Peter Clark calls X-ray reading, a form of reading that lets you penetrate beyond the surface of a text to see how meaning is actually being made. In THE ART OF X-RAY READING, Clark invites you to don your X-ray reading glasses and join him on a guided tour through some of the most exquisite and masterful literary works of all time, from The Great Gatsby to Lolita to The Bluest Eye, and many more. Along the way, he shows you how to mine these masterpieces for invaluable writing strategies that you can add to your aresenal and apply in your own writing. Once you’ve experienced X-ray reading, your writing will never be the same again.
Writing the Breakout Novel
by Donald Maass
Take your fiction to the next level!
Maybe you’re a first-time novelist looking for practical guidance. Maybe you’ve already been published, but your latest effort is stuck in mid-list limbo. Whatever the case may be, author and literary agent Donald Maass can show you how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel – one that rises out of obscurity and hits the best-seller lists.
Maass details the elements that all breakout novels share – regardless of genre – then shows you writing techniques that can make your own books stand out and succeed in a crowded marketplace.
You’ll learn to:
establish a powerful and sweeping sense of time and place
weave subplots into the main action for a complex, engrossing story
create larger-than-life characters that step right off the page
explore universal themes that will interest a broad audience of readers
sustain a high degree of narrative tension from start to finish
develop an inspired premise that sets your novel apart from the competition
Then, using examples from the recent works of several best-selling authors – including novelist Anne Perry – Maass illustrates methods for upping the ante in every aspect of your novel writing. You’ll capture the eye of an agent, generate publisher interest and lay the foundation for a promising career.
Made to Stick
by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The instant classic about why some ideas thrive, why others die, and how to improve your idea’s chances—essential reading in the “fake news” era.
Mark Twain once observed, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus news stories circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas—entrepreneurs, teachers, politicians, and journalists—struggle to make them “stick.”
In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the human scale principle, using the Velcro Theory of Memory, and creating curiosity gaps. Along the way, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds—from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony—draw their power from the same six traits.
Made to Stick will transform the way you communicate. It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures): the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of the Mother Teresa Effect; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice.
Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas—and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
by Stephen King
Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.
“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
I’d love to hear what you’re currently reading to improve your writing craft!
Thanksgiving Day, my family was gathering for the traditional feast. The golden-brown turkey sat, half-carved, surrounded by decimated side dishes of candied yams and mashed potatoes and gravy.
“What’s up with you?”
Should I say it out loud? Gulp. “Well, I wrote a novel.”
“A novel? Well, I’ll be darned. You wrote a whole book?” My uncle’s eyebrows rose when I nodded. The clink of silverware on plates quieted down. “Wow! You’re gonna be the next J.K. Rowling!”
My cousin chimes in. “What’re you gonna do with all the money?”
“Yeah, I could really use some help.”
The most painful thing…
The accomplishment of writing a novel took the backseat on a very long bus. They asked what it was about and responded with a, “Huh. I don’t really read that.” I’d devoted hundreds of hours to it, but there was no way for them to understand that it was becoming a part of who I was in a way I didn’t even comprehend. But I felt it.
My family tried to be supportive in their own way by telling me I’d be as successful as J.K. Rowling (and they could really use the financial boost, too). But that also sets up the expectation that I’m no good unless I sell millions of copies. And I hadn’t even decided I wanted to be published.
Fun Fact: The majority of authors sell around 10,000 to 15,000 copies of a novel.
And read it? That was a whole other mixed bag of emotions. Some wanted to read it, like my mom and gram. That made me so nervous. The mom in my novel was the villain. Yikes! And what if they hated it? What if it actually was terrible?
Most of my family didn’t want to read, which made me feel a whole different kind of lame. Like I wasn’t worth a few hours of their time.
The reality is, most people think that if you write a novel, the getting it published is easy. Even self-publishing, which is a much more direct path, takes editing, copy editing, dumping some money into a cover, and a part-time marketing job to sell a decent number of copies. A select few people know how difficult it is to take a manuscript and get it across the Big-5 finish line. So digest comments about your writing while also keeping their blissful ignorance in mind. They probably don’t mean to hurt you. They most likely don’t realize they’re doing it. I know that over the years since this, my family has watched me struggle and improve and been supportive to the best of their ability.
It takes a lot of courage and fortitude to even write a novel, and by the time you’re finished, it’s such a part of you. Having that be rejected and criticized and even just passed by can be a painful experience. But if you never share your novel, you’ll never find a whole other joy that comes from the writing process–the connection with your reader. And it’s worth it. You’ll find that people who read your books will gain things from it you never intended. They’ll have joy in an escape of your making.
You can share it with your family, let them read it, but don’t make them your critique partners. Your mom or gram or sister are most likely not going to give you the real critique you need. Find and connect with other writers out there who write in your genre and age category. It matters. And as you edit other people’s work, you’ll see an improvement in your own writing as well.
Or maybe you just want to write the first draft. Sometimes all we want is to give ourselves the escape. If that’s what writing is for you, you shouldn’t feel like you have to publish your novel. If you have a dream to be published, then go for it! I’ve gone back and forth over the years, not wanting to publish, wishing I could, hoping to go Big-5, thinking Independent presses would be a better way to go. Every one of those feelings and avenues is valid and should be respected.
And when you come out about your writing to people, give yourself a break, too. It’s okay to have all those feelings. Just don’t stew in them or let them get in the way of your dream.
My family lived in a tiny house that didn’t take much to clean. My kids had all just gone back to school. I was doing some freelance work with solid modeling–a remnant from my engineering days–but I found myself with time. It felt surreal. So after I’d remodeled the bathroom, I sat down one day with the idea, a character, and basic outline for a first chapter in mind. I’d just jot it down.
Words spilled onto the page. I had no idea what I was doing. But in that moment, I fell in love with writing in a way I’d never done with any other type of art or work. Five hours later, I got a call from the school that I’d forgotten to pick up my kids.
The key to overcoming that blank page is ideas. I’d had kept so many stories for so long in my head, when I finally sat down, I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t know how to type then but forced myself to keep my fingers in the right place and stare at the keyboard as I learned to type while writing the story. There’s a post here on where to come up with ideas.
Several months later, by the time I’d finished the first chapter, I had 230,000 words in my file.
What I didn’t realize then: I used a lot of those words to build my world, to tell myself all the backstory of who my characters were, why they had these fascinating traits that made them so unique, and all the other things an author needs to know about. (But the reader doesn’t need to know all those things.) Still, I had my first manuscript.
And it was a win!
Even if you ever get published, you should take the time to celebrate every single success. Because the completion of a first draft, the completion of a revision, every step is important in the process.
I remember dreaming about sending it to publishers and knowing they’d all love it as much as I loved it. I didn’t even know about agents, what a query was, A synopsis–impossible to get all that into three pages, which is what the standard was at the time. (Now it’s one.) But I didn’t care. I’d written a brilliant-to-me novel.
In a way, I’m glad I was so naive. It gave me the chance to relish the fact that I’d done it without the worry of how difficult the publishing industry is to navigate. And that’s something that’s quickly taken away from you by the rejection. If you can find a way to never let go of that feeling, no matter who rejects you, do it. I’ve lost and found it several times over the years, and it’s a precious gift to write a book 100% for the joy of what you get out of it.
Ideas are common. Good ideas are less common. High concept ideas are rare. The good news is, they can be constructed if you know how.
When you’re writing, you’re constantly creating. It takes a lot of energy and mental effort. I think of my brain like a battery. It needs recharged. When I’ve spent all day expending creative energy, it needs to be fed with experiences, listening to other people’s thoughts and ideas, and discovering new things about the world. We also need an environment where even bad ideas are allowed to be shared, where mistakes can be made without shame, and our minds are allowed to go to new places without fear of what others will think.
So every day, I like to make sure to learn something new and write down one possible way that idea could be used as a premise for a story. I read the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I especially like their Demystified articles. Or I ask a questions about how something is done. I used to love watching “How It’s Made” with my kids. There’s so much information out there now, it’s easy to learn new things.
Most of these ideas will be okay. Some will be terrible. Some will be great.
As a storyteller of any kind, the ideas that garner the most attention and usually reach the largest audience are high concept ideas. There are the general tenants of a high concept idea or premise:
The ability to entertain a mass audience…
This just means it needs to appeal universally. It should have at its core something that will ‘speak’ to or is a common experience for most people. It’s the human experience.
An emotional focus….
This will usually manifest as a theme that resonates emotionally with a lot of people.
Asks a ‘what if’ question…
These are questions you could ask yourself or that could arise from combining ideas together. More about this later. But it’s the question that creates curiosity. Like what if instead of normal animals in a zoo, you could see dinosaurs and add in a theme part ride or safari–Jurrasic Park.
It’s unique and original…
Not everything about the story will be unique, and rarely are things original. But things that are done in a more unique format or medium that showcase an idea in a different way can make something higher concept. An example is the movie Avatar. It took a basic story like the Pocahantas legend and added in the idea of aliens and then added in the idea of body-borrowing. Mix that with our next tenant.
With movies, this is easier to conceptualize. For the written word, it has to be vivid, use specific words that create new and amazing worlds.
Now take two or three of your own amazing ideas and put them together. They can sound crazy. They might sound outlandish. But that’s how to make things fresh and exciting and different. If you do this enough, you’ll begin coming up with high-concept ideas that you love, that are ideal for showcasing the theme you’ve been toying around with, or fit perfectly with that main character you’ve always connected with.
Here are some other places you can look to learn how to get new ideas…
How does the metaphorical lightbulb go off? Is it a flash of genius? The power of crowds? These heady talks explore the nature of ideas themselves: Where they come from, how they evolve, and how each of us can nurture them.
I began college as an Aerospace Engineering student. I’d watched Top Gun a hundred-plus times and wanted to be Kelly McGillis. I loved planes. They fascinated me. I skipped class to go (with a guy) see the space shuttle land at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. I skipped class to go see the SR-71 at the Pima Air Museum. I also skipped class to ride (with a different guy) in an Aston Martin to get Dunkin’ Donuts.
And it was always Math and Physics I skipped. I should’ve known then that my passion was words.
But alas, I’m truly fascinated by all kinds of things. So after two years of Engineering, I found another love in the world of Biochemistry and received a Bachelor’s in that field and worked in a plant sciences lab. I loved it. I think I could’ve loved a lot of things. And then during a terrible pregnancy, I had to quit. After many complications and several months of recovery, I started my own company bidding and installing signs for new construction. I loved that, too, because it let me be at home with my kids and have a way to earn money. After two more children within three years, I ended that business to focus on my kids.
And I loved it. Every minute? No. But really, my kids fascinated me. They were like little science experiments, creations, and I’d never felt so lucky or blessed to be a part of something so remarkable as being a mother. Some people have told me I missed my calling in life because I spent my best years on my kids. They can think that. I certainly don’t regret it one bit.
But all of that life experience gave me ideas. Experience is the best thing for creativity and emotional resonance. If you’ve never been through things, it’s nearly impossible to write about it.
I was doing things worth writing as well as all the mundane chores that go along with life. Occasionally, I’ve felt behind when I hear about people who have been writing novels since they were in middle school or high school and end up published in their twenties. While being truly happy for them, I also used to feel like I was somehow not as good because I didn’t begin writing until later in life.
Yes, I won an Arizona State poetry contest when I was in second grade. But it didn’t stick.
Maybe I won’t ever be as good as those writers. Maybe I will. In reality, this is my journey, and the only person who can allow me to be upset by it is myself.
The problem is comparison.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Ever. Just don’t. As many books as there are in the world, there are even more writing journeys. Your journey is never wrong. It might be complicated. It might take you somewhere you didn’t plan. But every step will teach you something if you let it, which will only make you that much more prepared for the future.
I’d love to hear what your day job is and if you love it as much as writing.
I stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and stared at a wall. The brownish red of the brick and dirt that covered my backyard created the backdrop of a wasteland, the occasional tumbleweed or dry grass breaking up the soil. Over the years, I stared at other backyards or back-splashes day after day. Vacuuming, mopping, pulling weeds, folding clothes, I only vaguely saw it all through the fantasy worlds playing out in my imagination.
Snow White sang, but my voice scares away the animals (including my children). So the only way I survived being a full-time mother of three was escaping into the worlds I created in my head.
I loved my kids more than I can express with words, and they’re brilliant and funny and wonderful. But spending 24/7 with children and cleaning and gardening and cleaning some more–it’s not a recipe for intrigue. And that’s what I craved. I wanted to travel the world, taste foods I’d never heard of, see animals outside a zoo with amazing abilities too strange to imagine, learn about ancient cultures from their ruins.
But diapers had to be changed. The little people needed read to and taught and bathed and occasionally rescued from one another.
So I told myself stories and created worlds of my own that were every bit as fascinating to me as the real world I couldn’t get to. And that’s how I became a writer.
How did you become a writer? I’d love to hear your story!
While I do think getting an agent is the best route to go…
We don’t all have the luxury to find an agent who loves our manuscript the way we hoped they would. If you’re looking for an alternative to self-publishing to get your book out there, you might consider these imprints. Some of them even take books on that have been previously self or traditionally published, as long as you have the rights back.
Remember, it’s best not to query agents and publishers at the same time. Go one route or the other, or exhaust one and then the other.
Most of these publishers close on occasion and then reopen when they’ve sorted through their slush. Patience is still required. 😉 You can follow them on social media to see when they reopen.
Also, take note that several of them do not read queries but only take pages or the full manuscript via submission forms. Do your homework and read the submission pages carefully!
Another alternative are mid-size or smaller, independent publishers that can help you garner a fan base that can help you get an agent or bigger deal later on.
They accept submissions in science fiction and fantasy, fiction of all other types including but not limited to general fiction, historical fiction, horror, mystery, paranormal, suspense/thriller, urban fantasy, and women’s fiction. Children’s and Young Adult books for the chapter book, middle grade, and young adult audiences.
Big, high concept historical and contemporary romances! Primarily, inclusive and diverse romances that reflect our world–all sexualities, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, body types, disabilities, and ages!
Digital-only imprints focused on romance and women’s fiction titles.
Their contract was a point of contention for a long time, and royalties are split 50/50 with no advance, but it’s a viable way to get your book out there and start getting fans. You can read more about the initial controversy here.
A digital first imprint. The SMP Swerve team seeks for romance authors. From their page: We are looking for dynamic and diverse voices, compelling stories, and authors who are ready to build their brand.
DAW accepts unsolicited submissions of science fiction and fantasy novels. No short story collections, novellas, or poetry. The average length of the novels they publish varies, but is almost never fewer than 80,000 words.
Scroll to the bottom to find their submission info.
They occasionally shut this page and it’ll seem like an error. It just means they’re closed.
All of their works have spiritual underpinnings akin to The Life of Pi, The Screwtape Letters, etc.
From their site: HarperLegend seeks to discover and publish new authors of visionary and transformational fiction in the digital first format . We know that there are many many writers out there who work in this genre. If you are one of these folks, we want to help your work reach the world. We hope that you will embrace our offer to submit your work to HarperLegend.
The firm is renowned for its international list of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books.
Scroll down to the word ‘Editorial’ and you’ll find this:
Unsolicited submissions are accepted at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All submissions must be submitted through the mail—we do not accept electronic submissions, or submissions delivered in person. Please include a cover letter describing your submission, along with the first 50 pages of the manuscript. If you are submitting poems, please include 3-4 poems. If you wish to hear back from us, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your submission. If you wish for us to return your manuscript, please include a self-addressed, appropriately sized and stamped envelope with your submission (we cannot return manuscripts if you do not send this envelope with your submission). We will reply in three to five months of the receipt of the submission.
Schwartz & Wade, Penguin-Random House, an imprint of Random House Books for Young Readers
Accepts submissions directly from authors. Schwartz & Wade publishes about 15 to 20 books a year, mostly picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction, non-traditional nonfiction, and graphic novels. Schwartz & Wade also accepts unsolicited picture book manuscripts and proposals for longer books.
Make sure that your submission is a good fit for our small imprint. All submissions may be sent to: Schwartz & Wade Books, Submissions Editor, 1745 Broadway, 10-4, New York, New York 10019.
To review titles currently published under the Schwartz & Wade imprint, visit this link.
publish only science fiction and fantasy. Writers familiar with what we have published in the past will know what sort of material we are most likely to publish in the future: powerful plots with solid scientific and philosophical underpinnings are the sine qua non for consideration for science fiction submissions. As for fantasy, any magical system must be both rigorously coherent and integral to the plot, and overall the work must at least strive for originality.
Swoonreads is an imprint of Macmillan that accepts all genres of novel-length YA! Anyone can upload their ms to the site and the community of readers and writers can read it and give feedback. Three times per year they select books to publish in print and e-book, based on reader feedback.
This is also a great place to read YA novels!
Many editors also take unsolicited submissions when you meet them at retreats, conferences, or occasionally through contests. Organizations like SCBWI often have editors featured in their newsletters that will also open for a brief window to those belonging to the organization.
If you find anymore, please contact me through the contacts page and I’ll try to include them here.
I’ve never heard of anyone (other than agents) who feels the way I do about a synopsis. I haven’t always felt this way. I used to think they were busywork from agents who wanted to cut down on their number of submissions. (This isn’t the case.) But I love the synopsis. If you don’t have one for your novel, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
A synopsis is an amazing device that can not only help you get an agent but aid in every stage of your book’s life. Before you write it, a synopsis can iron out your plot and ensure your pacing works. During your drafting, it can keep you on track. After the novel is polished, the synopsis shows agents you know the ins and outs of a novel.
What’s the purpose of a synopsis…
A synopsis will show agents and editors that you know how to plot and execute an effective character arc. It can showcase voice, give the clever twists, and guarantee that the agent or editor isn’t wasting their time by reading the full manuscript.
This is scary! I know. Even putting this truth out there is difficult. Putting a book out in the world in any way is difficult. But reality is that a synopsis can actually help you feel more secure about what you’re submitting, because it’s forcing you to analyze and know your plot, characters, and world well enough to prove that it’s working. If it is working, awesome! If it’s not working, it lets you fix it before you burn through your list of agents.
When to write the synopsis…
If you’re a pantster, it’s best to start your synopsis after the first draft. For you, the fun of the writing is in not knowing where things are going to go and letting the characters lead you down the path with them. And that’s fun! I’ve written like this and sometimes still do.
If you’re an outliner, it’s best to nail down your synopsis once you’ve finished the outline. For you, the synopsis is only going to tighten things and make sure your outline is succinct before proceeding. It’ll give you one more assurance you’re on the right path.
How to write the synopsis…
Always use present tense.
Use transitions to smooth over the missing stuff. (After many failed attempts…)
Leave out subplots if you possibly can.
Minimize secondary characters.
Keep it to one page, single spaced, with normal paragraph indents.
Have a header with your last name / TITLE. Add a page number to the header if you can’t manage to get it to one page.
Have Synopsis, TITLE centered at the top, then leave one space, and begin with the paragraphs.
The names of characters are in ALL CAPS the first, and only the first, time we see their name.
The most effective synopsis will showcase the plot, goals and motivations of the characters, include some voice, the theme, and tone, and of course the unique parts of your world.
For Voice, write the synopsis as if you were the main character giving a summary of the ‘high points’ to a friend you meet while waiting for a subway. You have a couple of minutes to rattle off the major events, the surprises, and the wrap up.
The tone will be dictated by the specific words you use to make the narrative feel a certain way.
As the plot and characters unfold, the theme should be self-evident by what the character’s goals and motivations are, the way the conflict and plot push them to change, and by the feeling we’re left with at the end. How has this journey made us question the world around us and/or ourselves?
The character arc should be plain. How did they change throughout the novel? What did they learn, how did their moral premise shift and allow them to overcome the villain at the climax? This will come as tidbits of perspective throughout the synopsis.
The world and it’s uniqueness should be included with minimal telling. Try and show the world as you show the forward movement of the plot. For instance, when ZinZin picks up her wand and blasts a hole right through the toe of the Headmaster’s shoe, but it fizzled before she could steal his nail to make her stew. This tells us character, plot, and world all in one.
Lastly, the plot. I’m going to use a simple five paragraph essay to showcase the easiest way to format a synopsis.
Translate the following paragraphs to what happens in your novel. They might not line up perfectly. Writing is all about smudging and manipulating, and that’s fine. Maybe you’ve taken a trope and turned it on its head. Maybe you’ve stretched the key incident out or put it sooner. So long as you have a reason, great. This is a very basic outline.
Paragraph One, The Inciting Incident and Upping of Stakes:
Introduce main character (hero/heroine), their main flaw, the enabling circumstances, the opponent. The hero as an ordinary person in this world who shows hero potential. The life-changing or inciting incident near the beginning. (by 10%) The lock in, or something terrible that ups the stakes just before Act 2.
Paragraph Two, The Key Incident and Introduction of Ally:
The MC reacts to the life-changing event and seeks out an ally or is brought out by the ally. Ally must be established with a basic modus operandi that will qualify them to be the most well-suited person to help MC out of their predicament. They make a plan, usu the MC’s not so great plan that sounds great but will ultimately fail because they think that they can remain the same and overcome their problem as they are. (We all want to be good enough now—but we aren’t.) The MC struggles to hold onto flaw or not recognize it while still trying to react to the inciting, life-changing event. The MC and ally must have a confrontation.
Paragraph Three, the Midpoint:
Your main character recognizes their main flaw. This is sometimes referred to as the the Moral Premise, where the protagonist stops working from a false moral premise and starts working from a true moral premise. In other words, they figure it out and can now work toward a realistic goal.
Paragraph Four, The Climax:
After recovering from the previous debacle, the main character now fully allies with ally and prepares for the final battle/confrontation with opponent/antagonist. Of course, the opponents are rallying as well, so the stakes are increased because there are more bad guys doing more bad stuff. By the end, it appears that failure is inevitable. We must see the resolution of the main flaw and how it allows the hero to confront the antagonist and win. Or lose if this is a cautionary tale.
Paragraph Five, The Wrap Up & New Equilibrium:
This is where we see the transformed hero in contrast to the beginning. They reach a new ‘normal’ where they probably didn’t get everything they wanted, but they have what they need and often something better. And because I’m a hopeless romantic, hopefully they get their HEA as well.
Always tell the ending.
I see a lot of synopses, and a good one can make all the difference in getting a request. I know this isn’t easy. If you need more help, you can always contact me for more synopsis help on my editorial services page.