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Friday, July 30, 2010

Hey Buddy, Don't Get Cutesy With Me...

When we ask most agents how to avoid rejections on query letters, the basic information is the same: do your research (aka don’t send a MG/YA manuscript to an Erotica agent), be respectful (never send to “Dear Agent”), check your spelling, and state your plot succintly. Making simple mistakes and not following submission guidelines accounts for at least half of slush pile rejections.

But what if you’re doing everything right, and still getting form rejections? The good folks over at Writing-World.com talked to 50 editors about problems with manuscripts coming in for short fiction submissions. I believe that they’re applicable to our novel manucripts as well. So go ahead and take a look, scan your manuscript for any of these issues, and decide whether or not a change might improve your story.

These are the problems that plague stories that meet all the basic requirements, but still don't quite "make the grade."

Seven Deadly Sins

Several editors had their own pet peeves to share. Here are seven problems that can speed your story to the rejection pile:

Preachiness- "Stories that present an obvious moral, without nuances, subtlety, or complexity, are the first to hit the [reject] pile," says Skylar Burris of Ancient Paths.

Cliches- "I did, actually, receive a story that began, 'It was a dark, stormy night.'," says Tom Rice of Elbow Creek Magazine. "It shows that a writer is not particularly careful with the quality of the story."

Outlandish names- This is another peeve of Tom Rice: "Nothing pulls me out of a story more quickly than thinking, 'You know, no parent in their right mind would have named their child that.'" Tommy Zurhellen of Black Warrior Review agrees: "Don't be cute. When I see Mercutio or Hezekiah, I drop the story. Write about real people."

Lack of knowledge- "If your story revolves around hacking into computers, it's best that you at least know your way around your own computer," says Tom Rice. "If you are writing a story about the Old West and you want to include an Indian character, make sure that the tribe he/she was from actually existed within the confines of the territory you are using."

Autobiographical stories- "Leave the baggage in your own house, don't put it in an envelope to send to an editor," says Andrew Gulli of The Strand Magazine. "The great writer is the one who despite having bad parents and despite all the difficulty is able to create something so completely opposite that it is very believable. It is easier said than done."

Cute Titles- "If we get another title like 'Getting Vanessa' or 'Moving Shane' we will sue somebody," says Zurhellen. "Don't be cute. Keep it simple and short."

Stupid cover letters "Give us your name, the story, some previous pubs, and sign off," says Zurhellen. "Editors don't want to know how long you worked on it, or what your mom thinks of it, or what someone semi-famous said about your writing, or who rejected your last story." Don't include your resume or CV, and keep your cover letter to one page. And make it interesting, says Don Muchow of Would That It Were. "I do not like authors who are scared, humble, diffident or otherwise unsure of themselves. Send me the kind of biographies you'd tell me at a party, not the kind you'd put on your resume. If you don't think you're interesting, no one else will either."

And here are the five big fiction mistakes they listed as being reasons for rejection:

Bad Beginnings
-No sense of voice

-Too many adjectives and adverbs.
-Using "big" words when simple ones would do.
-Too much detail or backstory.

Undeveloped Characters
-Characters the reader won't care about.
-Characters who do not grow or learn.
-Using stereotypes.

Poor Plots
Editors complained of two basic plot problems: Trite, hackneyed plots, or no plot. Ian Randall Strock says many of his rejections are the result of "the author sending me a really old, lame idea that's been done to death for decades, and the author hasn't done anything new with it." Many felt too many writers were deriving their plots from television rather than real life. "We don't want last week's Buffy plot," says Diane Walton.

No Point
Editors -- and readers -- aren't just looking for great action and strong characters. They also want a sense of "why." Why should I read this? Why did you write it?
"This is not to say every work should address an Aesopish moral or a grand theme, but rather every story should contain at its core a reason to be," says Max Keele. "In fact, that is my single personal demand from a story: That it add up to something. That it shock me, scare me, unnerve me, make me think, or cry, or vomit. Something."

**For the weekly round-up of great blog posts, click on the links at the top right**

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bestselling Novel 101: First, Grab A National Geographic Magazine...

How to Write a Bestselling Novel...Tips that just might work

I was browsing the internet last night and came across what I thought was a farcical article about creating a zinger of a novel. It turned out to be the school project of a university student. After a few guffaws and chortles and all manner of mean-spirited thoughts along the lines of, “who IS this guy?” I took a look at it again.

Step One: Go to the bookstore and buy a National Geographic magazine. Then find a quiet place, page through it, and select your setting.

Silly me, I thought a plot line of some sort should come first. But you know what? The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a snobby McSnoberson I was being. Why the hell not grab your setting from National Geographic? It’s full of foreign locales that would make very original stories for middle grade and young adult readers. However, if you do that sort of thing and end up with a novel set in the new and upcoming Dublin (N.G. does lots of urban pieces of major cities too), you should probably back up your setting with plenty of research other than the sentence printed under photos.

Here are a few more tips I found on various websites that made me do a double-take:

Make sure you have a hero, a wingman or sidekick, one main villain (maybe with sidekick villains, but they would be easy to beat on their own), and a girlfriend (for the hero—the sidekick doesn’t need one, but can have one if he’s not needed to beat the main villain)—at least four big characters are needed to keep people from being bored, and you can have up to six other guys. More than that is too many to keep track of.

I saw this and thought maybe the author was referring to rules in comic books (which I have a healthy respect for, but don’t read). Then I thought again. HARRY POTTER kind of follows those rules (at least in the beginning—the last couple of novels have enough characters to populate Delaware). So do many Jane Austen novels, not to mention Dickens. Maybe it’s worth factoring in—do you have at least four main characters? This tip is probably not necessary, but something to think about; if you can’t name the characters in your book on two hands, then think about dropping a few.

Your novel should have two main characters C1 and C2 (a man and a woman) and two secondary characters C3 and C4 (also a man and a woman). C1 should fall in love with C2 during the course of the book, or, if already in love, their love should deepen. A subliminal attraction should also exist between C1 and C4 to increase tension.

What about C2 and C3? What are they doing while C1 and C4 are busy with their “subliminal attraction”? Nope, this rule just seems mean to me, but I thought you YA authors might take a look at your manuscripts and see if it hits home (there’s not as much emphasis on love in Middle Grade reads).

When you hit a wall or get writers block, insert a fight scene.

This is hilarious—I remember being really stuck on a middle grade manuscript last year (I eventually moved on to another Work-In-Progress). The premise had the kids visiting an Amish farm (don’t ask—it was an Amish-kid-from-Lancaster-County-gets-a-taste-of-the-cheese-steak-eating-Philly-kid story that didn’t pan out) and I just got really bored with the plot. In hindsight, I should have started a fight of some kind—there are so many handy materials around to make a fun fight on an Amish farm, right? Pies, chickens, straw hats—damn, it could’ve been gold. Anyway, a “fight” could be as simple as an argument between characters. Fights are great because they show how your characters behave under duress—are they cordial fighters? Sarcastic? Below-the-belt hitters? Go ahead, throw a fight in the mix—you might be surprised what your character does.

And finally...

Have two cups of coffee and one large crunchy apple twenty minutes before you start to write.

I had to include this one—I haven’t tried it, but it made me laugh. Coffee is a diuretic and apples have lots of fiber, so maybe this person was thinking you should end up on the toilet (which, let’s face it, is where many of us get our best ideas).

So there you go, some random tips for creating your bestselling novel!

As always, if you haven’t browsed around my links yet, please make yourself at home.

**If you’re ready to query your manuscript for an MG or YA novel, I highly recommend Casey McCormick’s website, Literary Rambles (scroll down on the right to “Researching Agents”). In addition to what agents are looking for, she lists interviews and other goodies**

Friday, July 23, 2010

Smells Like A Novel ~ Writing With the Five Senses


Several months ago, I read an interview with an author I can’t remember (great intro, right?...keep a’reading, the point is coming up)

BUT, I remember what she had to say about writing descriptions, which is something I’ve struggled with over the years, either overdoing it with too many adjectives/flowery language or writing too sparsely to place the reader into the scene—i.e., “It was Tuesday. It was hot.”

I happen to love food and cooking, so I enjoy reading scenes that reside around a dinner table or café. I find myself slightly disappointed when a specific food is mentioned, but not described. I want to hear the crunch of the lettuce and red onion slices in a salad, feel the creamy mashed potatoes pressed onto the roof of my mouth, smell the delicious aroma of garlic, marinara, and basil melding with mozzarella and parmesan, and see the perfect symmetry of a well-laid raspberry tart.

I’m gonna stop with the food angle because it’s making me hungry (and don’t worry—I would never serve mashed potatoes with lasagna).

The point is (YAY—here it is!), you can do the five senses thing in ANY scenario in your novel and leave your reader with a more satiable read.

Was your main character caught in a random summer thunderstorm? If so, describe the smell of fresh water on hot concrete. And what does it taste like when a drop hits his face and drips on his lips and tongue?

Are a bunch of kids sitting in the school classroom during your scene? Maybe it smells like adolescent B.O. and the teacher’s reeking cologne-of-the-week.

What does it sound like when your character is at a girlfriend’s house, waiting for her parents to confront him about staying out late with their daughter? Perhaps there’s a low hum from the ceiling fan and the sound of Jeopardy is in the background.

These things all help to set your reader firmly into the your story; they get the reader involved (“Hey—that’s totally what rain smells like!” or “Oh my God, that reminds me of the school locker room that smells like dirty shinguards and stale pee”).

So without further ado, I give you…

The Traditional Five Senses (a classification attributed to Aristotle)-


Take a look at these, check your manuscripts for scenes that can take a little plumping, and have at it. Even if the taste of rubber in your eraser-chewing protagonist’s mouth doesn’t make the final cut, thinking about this stuff helps put you, the author, in the scene as well. Which is exactly where you should be...unless you’re in the kitchen making lasagna and mashed potatoes.

**Don’t forget to check out Adventures in Children’s Publishing for best-of-the-week posts from the blogosphere (Link at the top right)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paying bills (and other methods of PROCRASTINATION)

Last month, I walked into my husband’s home office for the fourth time in six hours and sweetly asked, “Hey Chris—did you get to the electric bill yet?” (Certain bills are in his name and the stupid companies won’t let me pay them for some reason). His thinly veiled scowl told me the answer even before he opened his mouth. “I’m getting to it,” he said.

WHAT I WAS THINKING: “Gee, but the thing is, you’re actually not ‘getting to it’ at all. I told you that if it didn’t get done last week (when you said you would do it), there would be a penalty. Now there’s a penalty, and you said you would get it done first thing this morning because I told them it we would call by noon at the latest. Then you got wrapped up in reading Philly stats and forgot. Then you forgot again. And again. Which is not incredibly bad in itself; just don’t say, “I’m going to do it next,” and then forget. That’s rude and makes you look like an idiot whose wife has to tell him to pay the bills that are in his name. Sack up, be a man, and quit making me do manly things like pick up the damn dog poop, mow the lawn, and pay the bills. (I know, I know—my head voice isn’t exactly a feminist these days)

WHAT I SAID: “Okay, thanks.”

Only weeks after the semi-monthly incident did I realize that it was, gulp, ME that was being a procrastinator. What the hell did I care? Sure, there would be monetary punishments, but that would just mean that Chris wouldn’t be able to play golf that month—big deal. The truth was, I was deliberately annoying him because it was something to do other than get my word quota in for the day.

There are some days where it seems like I will do ANYTHING besides face a plot gap in my current manuscript. I do the dishes and laundry, or I weed the garden. I throw out anything suspicious in the refrigerator, take the smelly garbage to the bear-proof contraption on the curb, plan a nice dinner, scratch the plan for dinner because we’re going to lose money on a bill and need to go cheap, plan a cheap dinner, make cheesy menu for dinner that includes “love and kisses” on the a la carte section so that my husband will forgive me for being a nag once a month, and read blogs.

One morning, when the baby was taken a morning nap and Chris was working in the city, I decided to fix our leaky bathtub faucet to avoid writing—my characters were offering me nothing to write about—it wasn’t MY fault. Anyway, after spending fifteen minutes online researching home repairs, I went down to the crawl space under the house to turn off the water so I could fiddle with the faucet. The crawl space light was on, which seemed weird. Then I heard a strange scuffling and saw a long thin shadow of a wire or something move across the floor. I froze. Then the shadow moved again, without the noise. I totally freaked out and thought somebody was down there! This was largely due to the fact that the previous night we had come home and the back door was unlocked when I was positive I had locked it. Anyway, I dropped the lid to the crawl space after loudly saying, “CHRIS, I THINK I’LL JUST FIX THE FAUCET TOMORROW,” and went over to the neighbor’s with the baby and called the local cops, who have nothing better to do than check out stuff like that. He cruised up twenty minutes later, and checked it out. Turns out there was a “decent-sized animal” who had taken up residence down there; the cop saw the droppings (must have been a thrilling morning for him).

I’m pretty sure that whole morning was subconsciously driven by my reluctance to face a blank page. Okay, maybe not, but on the whole, I procrastinate with writing at least once a week. I love writing—it’s my passion and I want to get better, so why the hesitation? I’m not sure, but I think it’s okay once in awhile, as long as I’m aware of what’s going on.

I think a lot of it has to do with goal-setting. Several posts ago, I mentioned the problem with deadlines creating a “work” mentality, which can be a double-edged sword. Goal-setting can be like that too. For me, I’ve learned that it’s best to knock out at least a few hundred words first thing in the morning, and leave then myself at a place where I know exactly what’s going to happen next in the dialogue or scene. That way, it’s not nearly as intimidating to come back.

It’s the same thing as exercise for me—I get my push-ups and sit-ups done first thing, and you know what? It feels good to accomplish things that you tell yourself you’re going to do. It’s very easy to lie to yourself about writing goals—nobody’s there to listen to you and say, “I’m GETTING to it, okay?” …which means that nobody’s there to say, “Um, actually, you’re not.”

POINT BEING, you can’t bullshit yourself—you know exactly when you’re taking a break to read a few blogs that are essential to your writer’s education (that’s what I tell myself anyway), and you know when you’ve moved across that line and are flat-out PROCRASTINATING. So watch yourself and your writing habits—it’s okay to take a break, even for a few days, but don’t be gone too long.

Just so my massive readership doesn’t take this post personally, please realize that I’m fully aware that this post is basically a letter to myself, not to you good folk who probably don’t use the “P” word . And yes, I’m also fully aware that by writing this blog, I’ve avoided thirty solid minutes of time with my manuscript. That’s okay though—blogging is part of my writer’s education, right? :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

While You're Waiting...

The link list to the right has a few places to submit to while you’re waiting to hear back from agents, or if you need a break from your manuscript.

Let’s face it, a good response to your query letter comes down to whether or not the agent reading is interested in your plot. Period (well, not quite period—try to skimp on the grammar mistakes and awkward phrasing too).

BUT, it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a line or two at the end, stating any memberships etc., along with the words, I have written for the online magazines/publications _____, _____, and ______. It shows the agent that you care about making writing a career. Some of these guys don’t pay you, but my opinion is that a writing credential counts for something regardless of payment. In many cases (not always) online magazines get back to you faster than print magazines like Highlights, which can take up to 6 months.

**Make sure that, if you include a publication in your query letter, it’s relevant to the genre you’re writing—sadly, not too many agents will care if you wrote an article for Poodles Today! if you’re submitting an adventurous time-travel novel.

For you MG writers, there’s a whole website dedicated to Kids Magazine Writers—these include fiction and nonfiction, so if you’re writing a novel about horses or science class or fashion, why not check out a nonfiction kids publication on these topics—it’s good practice and stretches your writerly brain. Plus, this list includes interesting online magazines like CROW TOES QUARTERLY, a unique publication that accepts submissions in dark and eerie stories for ages nine and up.

For YA writers, I chose two new websites to check out:

YARN Magazine: YARN publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry, and essays for Young Adult readers, written by the writers you know and love, as well as fresh new voices...including teens.

YA Lit Review: We publish Young Adult and Childrens fiction short stories and poetry. Please do not send in stories with adult themes, language or content. We greatly appreciate writing samples in the form of mini-reviews on books in the YA/Childrens genres. This demonstrates an understanding of the content we review and publish. Stories should be 5,000 words or less. We will consider longer, serialized stories, but it is very rare. **These guys are partial to teen writers, but accept adult work too.

For Both—Flash Fiction, anyone? Though it might not be your typical genre, and these little buddies can take longer than you think, why not try writing a story under one thousand words. Take a look at other examples on the websites to see what makes a good product. If you’re happy with yours, send it in. Seriously, no harm done—it gives you more experience writing, and you might just get a nice response—who knows.

Flash Fiction Online: Accepts stories 500-1,000 words. Great website with pieces by award-winning authors and previously unpublished folks too.

Flash Me Magazine: Same deal; they accept stories under 1,000 words.

I’ve submitted to several of these places with varying degrees of success (including a few publishing credits), and always have a good time trying something new while taking a break from novel writing.

I’m on vacation until next week, so you won’t see more posts for a few days. Hope everyone’s enjoying the sweltering heat of July (or moderate heat or cool breezes or summer rain…today just happens to be sweltering hot where I am). I’ve got the kiddie pool blown up in the backyard and plan to take a dip with Charlotte (see my profile picture) later today.

Hope you’re having some fun too!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Put on your dancing shoes (or at least your headphones)

Do you need to bring some real feeling to a scene, but find yourself running into clichés or even worse—no words at all (come to think about it, maybe clichés are worse than no words at all)?

Try taking a big fat break and turning on a few tunes. That’s right, I’m suggesting you get your ”Butt-In-Chair” bottom up from wherever it’s currently planted and think about your current manuscript and its scenes. Then go grab your CD collection or i-Pod (or mixed tapes, ha!…or 8-tracks, God forbid…my first car was a 1979 Buick Park Avenue, with an 8-track player and a CB radio- hot, I know...especially when I was going to high school in 1998), and make a little soundtrack to your novel.

I know that lots of people listen to background music to help them write, but this is the first time I heard a specific song and it really helped me see where I needed to take the manuscript. Here’s the short story of how I discovered this novel approach to listening to music (pun is very lamely intended):

I wasn’t necessarily struggling with a chapter coming up in my WIP, but I didn't exactly know how to go about it, until BAM! BAM! BAM!

(that’s the distinctive sound of Patty Griffin hitting me over the head with a blunt object, i.e. her song, “Not Alone”)

Before I knew it, I was picturing the scene vividly in my mind while driving (very safely) to the post office, and I can’t tell you how exciting it was!!! (though you might be able to guess how exciting by the three, count'em THREE, exclamation points I just used). I could feel the emotion that my characters would be experiencing, and couldn’t wait to get home and type out a few notes, namely, “listen to that song any time you want to remember what the scene should feel like.”

I know that it’s taboo for authors to even mention the word “movie,” (even if Orlando Bloom would totally play your main character’s love interest), but making a “novel soundtrack” isn’t a half bad idea. I’ve just discovered the one song and got 2,000 easy words out of it in an hour, which is something along the lines of a record for me. I’m not saying the writing is gold; I’ll be going back to polish it later, but the raw emotion I was going for is there already, which is nice.

Give it a try if you’re stuck—even if it doesn’t work out, there are worse ways of spending an hour, and who knows? Maybe a song will inspire an idea for your next project.

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Submitting your manuscript

I was browsing around the blogosphere and found this older post from Day by Day Writer on when to submit your manuscript. I’ve been at this stage a few times with different approaches. I really like the third paragraph, which states the advice that agent Kate Schafer Testerman gives (kt Literary—takes YA and MG!)—scroll on down and give it a look.

It’s easy to get bogged down in revisions—after all, we’re told time and time again to make it as polished and shiny as possible before submitting. For me, that can lead to being overly paranoid, and I end up changing a paragraph five times, only to realize I liked the first version best. It can be overwhelming, but my method is:

1) Write first draft, making notes on a separate document of things to go back and improve/check for later (i.e.—give Character A more personality, create more tension, check for realistic dialogue). I don’t want to slow down momentum, so I usually just push through—still, if a plot point occurs to me, I just add it to my Suggestions/Corrections page and work through it later.

2) Go back and fill in any holes, utilizing the above-mentioned separate document.

3) Read-through and improve dialogue, check for grammar/spelling.

4) Solicit the help of a beta reader—at the same time, post first pages for feedback on sites like AW—lots of agents ask for the first 5-10 pages with a query, so it’s important to nail these.

5) Hopefully find beta #2 and #3 (even finding 2 is great though)

6) Take beta advice into account and apply to manuscript at your discretion.

7) Start querying and continue to tweak manuscript a little

8) Send out letter, and pay attention to rejections with letter only versus rejections with pages attached—consider changing opening or query based on rejection type.

9) Repeat step 8.

10) Repeat step 8.

Anyway, check out the post—I’ll list links to the agent advice she mentions on a side bar.

When to submit your manuscript-Day by Day Writer
March 22, 2010

This will definitely be my last revision before I submit, but the question of when to submit a manuscript, when to know it’s done, always leaves me a bit nervous. I submitted my first novel too early, then did a bit of a rewrite and submitted to new agents. Ultimately, although the book got lots of great feedback, it wasn’t as good as it should have been and it didn’t land an agent. I don’t want to make that mistake this time around, but how can I be sure when it’s ready?

There is advice on this out in the writing blogosphere, such as agent Mary Kole‘s post, agent Jessica Faust‘s post, and one from Omnific Publishing. They all talk about revising and revising, getting other writers that you trust to read it and give you notes, leave your manuscript for a month or so and look at it again. But after you’ve done all that, how do you know if it’s as perfect as it can be?

I like agent Kate Schafer Testerman‘s advice best: If you’re down to just tweaking, i.e. fixing word choices, etc., and the main story and characters are as good as they can be, then you’re ready to submit.

I’m at that point. I’ve fixed my story holes in previous revisions, fixed plot problems, made the characters stronger. I’ve also had the manuscript read by several beta readers and gone through the book with their notes. Now, I’m tweaking. I’m fixing word choices, making sentences stronger and paragraphs clearer. So, when I’m done with this round, I’ll start submitting.

Of course, there’s always that nervous thought that maybe I’m too close to the story to see other faults or that maybe my best won’t be good enough for the publishing world. For the first, I’m trusting my beta readers. For the second, well, those thoughts will always be there, so, my advice to myself: Trust yourself. Trust the work you’ve put into this book, your heart, your time, your passion. Trust that you have done your best, because that’s the most important thing.

And ultimately, if I don’t get the attention of someone in publishing, I can always try again with another book.

What do you think? How do you know when you’re done with a manuscript?
Write On!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Johnny Luigi-Montoya and the Vampire Whale of Destiny...or, It’s the Concept/Hook, Stupid!

Would you read a book entitled Johnny Luigi-Montoya and the Vampire Whale of Destiny?

Quite a few agents, particularly Young Adult ones, are requesting big hooks and “high-concept.” That doesn’t mean that nice, quieter books don’t get agented and published—of course they do. Agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency (one of the biggies) is fond of saying “Good writing is always trendy” (or something along those lines—“is always in style”, “is always what I’m interested in”—I’m paraphrasing here). That said, what does “high-concept” entail? Usually, you need a big hook.

Aliens and world domination? Killer bees released in Vegas? The discovery of a vampire whale destined to save the world? Opinion of the definition seems to be differ quite a bit, but one thing is certain: my early writing was definitely NOT “high-concept.”

Now, I’m no expert, but I do frequent a number of sites that offer free critiques and feedback. I remember early into my writing experience, I had two query letters that received numerous comments, but none of them had anything constructive to say. Don’t get me wrong, reading things like:

“this sounds great!”
“good flow and pacing”
“you hit all the right points”
“looks fun!”
“sounds polished and ready to go!”

is an ego boost for sure.

The thing was, they were wrong—they certainly didn’t mean to be wrong, and I wish that agents shared their opinions of my letter. Sadly, that was not the case. Full of confidence, I sent the query out and got maybe two requests out of forty-some agents. Good feedback is awesome—it keeps the motivation going and gives you a little pat on the back when you need it. But the negative stuff is gold. And these critiques all failed to tell me what I really needed to hear: my hook was CRAP. Or if it wasn’t crap, at least it was boring.

I started reading lots of query letters that people put up for review, and some of the plots astound me. No wonder I wasn’t getting offers—why didn’t I think of doing an erotic paranormal fantasy where someone is stunned to realize that the liquid in the decorative blood necklace hanging around their neck, that they inherited from an eccentric relative, isn’t just normal everyday necklace blood— it means that they are about to be given in sexual sacrifice to the Vampire King, who gleans his power by having lots of sex.

My sad little plot at the time dealt with middle school bullies…I was so naïve. Now, maybe it would have worked if the bullies were secretly 1,300-year-old robots with squirrels controlling them and the squirrels were planning a world takeover. That’s a hook.

The fact is, seeing the demand for big hooks/high-concepts made me take a hard look at my writing. Did it make more sense to consider something a bit edgier, more adventurous, or dangerous—a plot where the stakes were higher than hurt feelings and a beloved dog dying? It didn’t make me switch genres and try to write something that I’m not (although my husband and I had a fun time coming up with the bizarre title that leads this post).

HOWEVER, it made me consider my audience. I realized that, while my plots were interesting to me and catered to my affinity for realistic settings, I was doing something wrong. I was writing for myself, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but if you’re looking to make novel writing a career, it may not be the best path to get on. It wasn’t leading me to publication anyway.

I definitely have not done a 360 (the Vampire Whale of Destiny idea is up for grabs), and I want to be clear that I am not mocking or knocking the paranormal genre (or dystopian or any other genre)—on the contrary, I sincerely admire writers who have created wonderfully imaginative worlds—what would the world be without Tolkien? I LOVE LOTS OF PARANORMAL BOOKS!

That said, I am not that type of writer, and probably never will be. I have, however (on occasion), made a concerted effort to insert a little more spice/substance to my plots specifically to create a bigger hook.

How about you? Any thoughts on writing for yourself versus considering the demand out there, and partially catering to what is being read?

Perhaps the ideal answer is to do a little bit of both. Then again, by the time a trend is out there, sometimes it’s a mistake to hop on board—that’s why agents are complaining about all the “Twilight copycats.” (By the way, I feel really bad for the authors who truly have a passion for those plots, and are getting rejected purely on the basis of overwhelmed agents receiving too many similar requests…who knows how much longer before dystopian queries get burn-out rejections too).

Opinions on high-concepts and big hooks?

**Post disclaimer: Please do not read this and misunderstand me. I know that saying “paranormal=high concept” is not accurate. I just used it as an example, because it was fun to do so. High concept is more along the lines of anything where the stakes are high—could be a gang, could be a teen pregnancy debacle, could be a suicide club, could be a ‘save the last rainforest’ story…you get the idea...**

**There are a few links at the top right of this blog that deal with hooks and high-concepts--feel free to check them out! :)