Wednesday, March 31, 2010

0 Believe It or Not

We've all read books where we concsiously thought, "That's ridiculous. No one really acts that way."  This article, orginally posted on Dystel and Goderich's blog today, has entirely relevant advice in crafting characters and their responses to the plots we create. As I read through this article, I realized even more the genius behind Martina's complications worksheet. These two concepts work hand in hand beautifully!

Happy Writing!

2 Three Tips to Activate Your Writing

As I completed my judges' forms for the The Sandy literary contest this past weekend, I had to examine why I usually knew after the first paragraph whether or not I was going to enjoy the story. And it wasn't just the idea that grabbed me or made me give a mental sigh. 

Some manuscripts (and books!) are technically written well. The writer  has followed "Strunk" rules--no unnecessary adverbs or adjectives, no cliches, no passive voice--but the writing is so bland that, even if the plot is exciting, I have to force myself through the first thirty pages. I start craving details. Other manuscripts make me feel like I need a shovel to unearth what's going on in the story under all the layers of words. In either kind of manuscript, I have a hard time "picturing" the scene. It may just be a personal preference, reading is very subjective after all, but I have to be able to see a story to really like it. To love a story, I have to understand how what I'm seeing feels to the characters.

I recently read a critique that Jeanne Lyet Gassman did for a writer who had written a 400,000 word novel. In two tips, Jeanne neatly summed up a lot of the thoughts I had while judging the contest, so I asked her for permission to repost some of those here. I've edited them to make them a little more general, and added a third tip about imagery and emotion.

Bottom line? You can activate your writing and reduce your word count in three easy steps:
  1. Anchor your scenes around an active, emotional image. Make sure your scenes aren't taking place in empty space, give your characters something to do while they are talking to each other, and make sure that the things they interact with in the scene give them the opportunity to reveal both character and emotion.
  2. Be selective in your descriptions. Make sure there is one specific, central image in each scene or paragraph. If you are in a forest, we don't need to know every single type of tree in the forest, but at the same time, we need to know the kind of tree the protag is sleeping under.
  3. Let your verbs do the heavy lifting. Reduce the number of passive and being verbs, including: is, was, were, could, seem, might, appear, etc., and make the verbs themselves more descriptive to eliminate the need for adjectives and adverbs. Instead of "she was walking quickly," which is a linking verb of being with an adverb, you could use "she walked quickly," which is an active form of the same basic verb coupled with an adverb. An even better fix is simply "she jogged," which is a precise verb that eliminates the need for the adverb.
Happy writing!


For more info and tips from Jeanne:

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

0 Thank You Editorial Ass! A New Contest!

Contest! Contest! Get your contest while it's hot!

Happy Entries Everyone!

2 New Children's/YA Agent Alert

Ali McDonald, who joined The Rights Factory in January, is moving into an associate agent's slot there with a view toward developing her own list of children's and YA authors. She hopes to go from 3 clients to 25 clients by the end of the year. Take a peak at their website for submission requirements and additional information:

Good luck!

0 Sorry Folks!

Contest is closed!


0 Got Your Pitch? Here's a Contest!

If you think you've mastered both the art of one paragraph pitch AND hooked your reader within the first paragraph of your masterpiece, has announced a contest to help you check your work. The contest will be judged by Jason Yarn at the Paradigm Agency, and it's open to any genre except short stories and romance. Although the announcement page says the contest will open at noon Eastern time on March 29, as of right now the submission form isn't working yet. Check back, and meanwhile, perfect your pitch and hook. They are critical to getting your manuscript signed with an agent, your book published, and your reader ready to pay the price of admission to the world you've created.

Good luck!


Monday, March 29, 2010

2 Who Hasn't Been There?

The step of physically sending out your query or manuscript is daunting. An envelope and some stamps should be easy, right? You've been careful to avoid using a crazy font, scented paper, or anything we've read about a hundreds times over. Editorial Anonymous shared this post, and while it is a bit frantic, we can all relate. Once again, the Golden Rule in the world of publishing should be thou shall do thy homework.

Happy Mailing!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

5 Conferencing to Sell Your Manuscript

Especially if you have a manuscript ready for publication, going to trade conferences like SCBWI and Backspace is something to consider seriously. At a good conference, you can get inspired and educated and humbled by the talent around you, but you can also make contacts that could take you one step closer to making your book a reality. To get the most out of a conference, be prepared. There are some simple tips to help you get the best return on your investment.
  • Know your goals. Are you really ready to submit? Or are you going to learn and improve a manuscript that still needs work?
  • Take advantage of pay-for-critique opportunities. Whether you feel your manuscript is ready or not, don't let an opportunity for a professional perspective pass you by.
  • Be prepared. Research the agents, editors, and authors who will be attending and what they have published. That way, you will have killer questions and well-crafted conversation starters ready.
  • Be selective. Since conferences require time and money, choose conferences that you believe are beneficial for you.
  • Know your pitch. It’s important to be natural  and succinct in your delivery if you get the chance to speak with an agent or editor. Have your one-sentence pitch perfected. 
  • Show what's in it for them. In addition to your pitch, make sure you can identify why it's right for a particular agent or editor. "Persuade them that your work fills a gap in their list, or is the ideal followup to another work they've sold/published. Tell them how you've already established a marketing foothold in your target market, and so on. Remember - it's a business!" (Thanks Jon Bard!)
  • Don’t be shy. This is hard for us writer types, but if you’ve invested the time and money to attend a conference, take yourself out of your comfort zone to connect.
  • Network. Take down email, facebook, twitter, blog and other contact information and start making lasting friendships. Bring plenty of business cards and pass them around.
  • Be professional. Contrary to what we would like to believe, appearance does matter and first impressions do count. If you want to be considered professional, act the part.
Further Reading:
How to Get the Most From a Writer's Conference Even if You're Shy
Why a Writer's Conference is Important
The Conference Schmooze
Writers' Conferences
Happy Conference Season!


5 Writing a Synopsis -- An Easier Approach

As writers, we focus naturally on the query letter as the bane of our existence. It is so hard to write a good one. But what happens when you get that right and, gulp, an agent suddenly asks you for a synopsis to go along with your full?

In my case, I thought I was in great shape because I had several versions that came organically out of using the Complications Worksheet to do my plotting and revising. The first synopsis rang in at just under eight single spaced pages, which is fine for what is called the "long synopsis." But agents also need a "short synopsis." Not only does this sell the book to the prospective agent, but it's also the version an acquisition editor uses to decide whether or not to take the book to marketing, and the version the marketing and promotional staff uses to write your book cover blurb. In other words, the short version has to be the best thing you've ever written.

Even paring mine down to what I thought was the bare bones, my short version was still two pages too long. Clearly, it was time to do a little research. There had to be a trick to getting the short version right.

And there was. A couple of articles I found suggested turning the idea of "condensing" the manuscript on its ear and "expanding" the query letter instead. After all, the excitement and "hookiness" you are going to need should already be in your query. That's where you've distilled the essence of your story, so it's a logical place to start.

Really you only need to answer thirteen questions to understand what is important in your story. You can do this before you draft or during revision, but you can't write an effective query letter or synopsis until you know what your story is really all about.
  1. Where does your story begin and how does this show or hint at some unhappiness on the part of your character, a secret yearning or problem in his or her world order? Give a one-sentence or brief paragraph description that sets the stage of the world and situation that is "normal" for your character and hints at the problem that makes continuing like that untenable? 
  2. Who is your protagonist and what are the special traits, strengths, and weaknesses that will come to play in the plot? Get down to the core personality characteristics and skills of your character that lead him or her into trouble and back out of it. What is your character clueless about? What's his or her fatal flaw? How does what he or she needs to resolve in his or her world conflict with what, deep down, he or she needs to make him or her whole as a person?
  3. What's the inciting incident? What event tips the scales of the current status quo and makes the character first start to confront what's wrong with his world so that he/she is unable to continue leading his or her current life?
  4. What's the first big decision on which the story turns? What's decision does the protagonist make after the inciting incident that leads him or her out of the normal life and into the action of the story? How does that contribute to his/her self-awareness or outlook about the life he/she has been living?
  5. What happens to the protagonist as a result of that decision? What characters does he/she encounter and how does the situation worsen, endangering him/her physically, mentally, or emotionally?
  6. What's the midpoint twist? What happens that drives the character into an EPIC change of thought, behavior, character, or plot/direction? 
  7. What's the change in the character's emotion? How does the midpoint incident change the protagonist's awareness of self, own character, understanding of other character's or of the circumstances to make them see the world differently than before? How does this lead to a new decision for how to proceed?
  8. How does incomplete understanding the protagonist just gleaned lead to a catastrophe that snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? It looks like whatever plan the protagonist concocted is going to work, but there was something wrong with it and just when the protagonist looked like he or she was going to win, something catastrophic happened to make everything go wrong at the last minute. This could be the antagonist out-maneuvering the protagonist, but why didn't the protagonist see that coming?
  9. What does this realization, coupled with the catastrophe, make the protagonist see when searching his or her soul at this darkest moment? The protagonist is utterly defeated, emotionally as well as physically. Not only have things gone pear-shaped, but he or she has to face the truth about something in his or her life or character that makes it seem impossible to continue. 
  10. How does the protagonist pick up the pieces and find the strength to continue? Somehow, the protagonist digs deep and discovers that he or she has to keep going. Not only that, but now fully armed with self-knowledge, he or she makes a decision that will lead up to the final make or break confrontation. This can set him or her up for defeat or victory, and the knowledge doesn't have to be accurate. That all depends on whether you want a happy ending, or whether a happy ending is even possible. : )
  11. What's the final confrontation? How do all the events so far lead to a coming together of the parties where the story question can be decided once and for all? If possible, this should pit not only the antagonist against the protagonist, but also the protagonist against him or herself by forcing a decision that makes him or her give up either what he or she needs to be complete as a person against what he or she needs in order to effect the change in circumstances that needed to be repaired.
  12. How did the final confrontation change or resolve the situation? Tie up all the loose ends and subplots, not just for your main character but for all the main characters, and look for some way to underscore the theme of the book, the lesson that you want the character or the reader to take away.
  13. Where does the story end? Leave the reader with a snapshot that suggests what will happen in the future and shows the change in the characters circumstances and character from the beginning of the book.
If you can answer those questions, you can easily distill the story down to as little or as much information as you need. 

Apart from knowing your story, regardless of whether you are preparing a long synopsis or a short version, there are a few additional things you have to do:
  1. Lead with a hook.
  2. Introduce your setting and main characters.
  3. Clearly define your main plot points, conflicts, turning points, and what's at stake.
  4. Write well and give a sense of the style in your novel.
  5. Weave everything together with smooth narrative.
  6. Make the reader care.
  7. Indent your paragraphs and double space anything over a page.
  8. Avoid extra carriage returns between paragraphs.
  9. Stick to two or three pages for a short synopsis, eight to ten for a long synopsis.
  10. Use third person, present tense.
  11. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  12. Include the following in the upper left hand corner: 
    Synopsis of "Your Title Here"
    Genre: Your Genre
    Word count: Your Word Count
    By: Your Name
  13. Include your address, phone number, and email in the upper right hand corner .
Happy marketing!


Want to know more? As usual, some of the best advice came from Nathan Bransford's blog, but there is a lot of great information out there. See the links below:

Nathan Bransford on How to Write a Synopis
Literary Lab Synopsis Pointers
Fiction Writers' Synopsis Tips
Guide to Literary Agents on Writing a Novel Synopsis
Publish A Bestseller Synopsis Tips
Susan Dennard's One Page Synopsis Template

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Friday, March 26, 2010

0 Writers Rejoice! Hope from the Slush Pile!

BookEnds, LLC is renewing my hope that unsolicited manuscripts can find their way into the hands of an editor. Check out this post and enjoy a happy ending to the week.
Happy Submitting!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

0 Is Using a Freelance Editor Worthwhile?

Martina and I were just talking about this topic recently. Freelance editors come at a hefty price, but literary agent Rachelle Gardner seems to make the case on her blog that they can be a very valuable asset if used properly. Maybe you've been considering contacting one. Check out her post today before you go any further. It may help you make the call a little bit easier.

If you're a member of SCBWI, you can access a list of freelance editors by logging into the website and going to the publication guide. Freelance editors can be found under the directories and resources section.

Happy editing!

0 Pimp My Novel Breaks It Down

Pimp My Novel has posted a quick and dirty blog that will take you on a whirlwind tour. It will help you understand acquiring representation with a literary agent, securing a contract with an editor, and when and how your book will hit the market. And it promises to accomplish all this in just five minutes.

Now if only getting an agent was that easy!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

0 Another Way to Catch an Agent's Eye

Dystel and Goderich originally posted this story of a YA author getting published. It just goes to show you have to keep on top of what's new out there. Though the competition is fierce, the possibilities are endless.

Happy AgentInBoxing!

0 Children's Magazines, Anyone?

Any aspiring writer should consider submitting work to children's magazines. It's a great way to gain credibility and boost your confidence. You still have to do your homework, though, on submission guidelines and current topics of interest. Check out the article below for writing ideas:
Marketable Topics for Children's Magazines

Click here for a comprehensive list of children's magazines, along with links for their submission guidelines. Each magazine typically specifies what types of writing they are currently looking for.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

0 Lawn to Lawn

Lawn to Lawn Lawn to Lawn by Dan Yaccarino

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recently, I stumbled upon this new picture book after reading reviews singing its praises. There's no doubt, Lawn to Lawn by Dan Yaccarino is a wonderful adventure kids will love. Click on the review below for more details about this story and what makes it fabulous. After all, staying on top of what's new and currently selling is an integral part of being a successful writer.

View all my reviews >>

Happy Reading!

1 Brainstorming Tip: Declarative Sentences

Can't see where your plot is going? Struggling with a characterization? Wrestling with a cardboard setting? Here's a brainstorming tool I just found and wanted to share. Mary Kole, an associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, suggests writing 100 declarative sentences about whatever story element you're trying to fix. Suppose you have a character, Boring Goering, who you don't know well enough:
  • BG is twelve years old.
  • BG always uses 100 words when 10 will do.
  • BG blurts out everything she thinks.
  • What BG blurts out invariably gets her into trouble.
Revelation: BG isn't all that boring. (And now all I have to do is find a way to succinctly and non-boringly show that BG's too verbose. Hmmh. Why is it every silver lining seems to be backed with toxic lead?)

Anyway, Mary  Kole's article is here:



0 Changing the Font: Great Revision Tip

You know the Oscar Wilde quote about spending the morning putting in the comma and the afternoon taking it out again? I just caught myself doing the reverse with a few words in the manuscript I am rewriting, and I finally realized that my eyes and ears (yes, I revise OUT LOUD) are used to seeing and hearing the ghosts of edits past. As so often happens, I was reading the blog from Mary Kole, and came across a post that offfered the perfect solution to my problem. It's a simple fix, but then so are most brilliant tips.

The solution? Change the font on your manuscript. Your eyes will see it from a whole new perspective and you'll be able to see what's really there.

Want to know more? Here's the link:

Happy revising!


2 Life with an Agent: The Submission Process

It's tempting to think getting an agent is the hard part of getting published. After that everything else is going to be easy-peasy, right? Um, no. That isn't true even if you have a perfect manuscript and a great agent who believes in your work; a lot of work remains before your manuscript turns into a book, and some of it is yours. There's been a lot written about the editorial process once a manuscript has sold, but how an agent actually makes the sale is covered less frequently. Here's a great post from Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management describing this part of the process. Hopefully, it will spark questions for you to ask your prospective agent before you sign on the dotted line.

Happy writing,


0 And the Debate Rages On

Should you submit your work directly to publishers, or should you try to find an agent? This question continues to be a hot topic out in the blogosphere. If you're in the process of submitting your work, Editorial Anonymous has an interesting take you won't want to miss.

Happy Submitting!

Monday, March 22, 2010

2 Is Your Writing Good Enough?

Have you ever heard of the the Dunning–Kruger effect? Nathan Bransford just blogged about it, and I found the post completely fascinating. In brief, the effect explains why all those completely tone-deaf singers on American Idol are convinced they're going to win, while the best singers suffer from a deep-seated conviction they don't really belong on stage.

The same effect works on our ability to judge how well we write. I don't pretend to know anything about cognitive bias, but I do know that the more I spend time with writers, the more I am amazed by the talent that is out there. When I was at SCBWI New York this past January, I was astonished at the creativity of the work submitted for critique, and I'm blown away by some of the entries I'm in the process of judging for the Sandy Contest right now. I suspect most of those writers would say they didn't have much talent.

If you consider it, maybe it's not so much about cognitive bias as it about what Socrates observed so long ago: "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

The take away? If you feel great about your writing, go and read a great book. If you believe your writing needs improvement, keep working--you're probably right on track.

Happy writing,


36 How to Create a Book that Will Keep Readers Reading - Plot Worksheet

A great resource!
Want to create a book readers can't put down? A book you'll itch to write? A protagonist you'll love? An antagonist who will give you shivers? And (simultaneously) the first draft of a synopsis you can send to literary agents?

Like many writers struggling with the question of how to create a good book, I've spun my mental wheels researching and experimenting with different methods of plotting: outlining versus free writing versus turning points versus notecards versus snowflake method etc. Since I've finally found something that works for me, I thought I'd share my Complications Worksheet here to help you simultaneously develop action, motivation and character depth by piling trouble on your poor protagonist. It will help you create a book that keeps readers turning pages.

It works equally well in developing a first draft and in checking that the draft you've written has enough story behind it to hold together. While I'm using it to plot my new novel, The Dream Weaver, Marissa and I just did a cross-check on The Wind Walker to make sure I hadn't missed anything in the last few drafts. Checking Marissa's answers to the questions really helped me understand what she was reading into my story, as opposed to what I believed I'd put there. (Am I lucky in my critique partner, or what?)

Try the Complications Worksheet as a thinking tool. Before you start, I encourage you to cruise through the links at the end of the post so you add or subtract whatever you need. Then answer the questions in the worksheet with your story and characters in mind.

ACT ONE – Separation

(Adult, Long YA: 30 to 35K Words/YA: 20K Words/MG: 6.5K to 13K)

1. The Jump Start
The first scene in the story where a protagonist with limited knowledge of a problem is drop-kicked into action on page one as conflict begins.
  • What is the opening image that will stick in the reader’s mind?
  • What is the opening mood?
  • What is the opening tone?
  • What is the opening conflict?
  • What is the protagonist’s outer desire?
  • What is the protagonist’s hidden need that she will fill at the end of the book or series?
  • How does the protagonist demonstrate that she doesn’t really understand the problem?
  • What is the central theme of the book and how does it relate to the opening scene?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • How is the antag introduced or foreshadowed?
  • If the antag is only foreshadowed, is there a main minion who appears? Is this main minion a recurring character central to the overall plot?
  • Prior to the opening, what internal and external forces have been at work to make the protag suffer?
  • How are these tied to the protag’s hidden need?
2. Introducing Trouble – The Call to Action
Rightly or wrongly, the protagonist makes an action-based plan and takes the first steps to cope with the trouble.
  • How is the protagonist called or propelled into action and moved out of her usual world?
  • Why is the situation urgent?
  • What are the overall consequences if she refuses to act?
  • What is the potential overall payoff if she accepts the call to action?
  • How does the call to action conflict with what she wants?
  • Why does she believe she is unwilling to change the status quo?
  • How does this conflict what she needs?
  • What does she personally stand to lose?
  • What could she gain and how does this relate to her hidden need?
  • How does she demonstrate a slight, new awareness of her needs?
  • Have both of the following important characters been introduced:
  • Love Interest/Main Mentor?
  • Antagonist’s Main Minion?
  • Foil?
  • How does the protagonist actively demonstrate her reluctance to change the status quo?
  • What action does the protag take in an attempt to evade or compromise? 
3. First Threshold - Trouble Gets Worse
Something happens to thwart the protagonist’s plan, the stakes get higher, and the protagonist does something she wouldn’t have done or been able to do at the beginning.
  • How do the protag’s attempts to refuse change make the immediate trouble worse?
  • What happens to overcome her reluctance to accept the call to action and commit to change?
  • How does she get over the first threshold and demonstrate she is already changing?
  • Is there a threshold guardian? Who is it and how does it bar her way?
  • How does crossing the first threshold thwart the protagonist’s immediate wants?
  • How does that push her toward what she really needs?
  • How does it increase the overall stakes?
  • What is the overall story problem as it has now been introduced?
  • What is the theme of the story?
  • What should the reader hope for the protagonist?
  • What should the reader fear on her behalf?
ACT TWO - Descent  

 (Adult, Long YA: 25 to 30K Words/YA: Words 16K Words/MG: 5.5K to 11K)

1. New Reality, Self-sacrifice and Still More Roadblocks
The protagonist accepts (or is forced to accept) the new status quo and amasses the helpers and resources to help her fight in the escalating conflict and experiment with the first change. She learns that she must sacrifice or delay getting what she wants.
  • Who are the following characters:
  • Additional Allies?
  • Additional Mentors?
  • Threshold Guardians?
  • What is the antagonist’s goal?
  • What is the antag’s plan to achieve his/her goal?
  • What training or knowledge does the protag receive or what does she learn to help her set her plan in action?
  • Who (or what) is the threshold guardian she must win past?
  • What tests must she pass to demonstrate her fitness for her stated goals (her overall mission, not necessarily the plan she has just made)?
  • What does she do to win over new allies?
2. Experimenting with First Change - Increased Determination but the Plan Goes Wrong
The protagonist makes a plan to deal with the escalating conflict as she understands it, but either doesn’t have sufficient understanding of the problem or isn’t yet willing to make a large enough permanent change, sacrifice, or commitment. As a result, she makes things worse and narrowly escapes disaster.
  • What is the protagonist’s plan to cope with the new reality and get back to her usual world?
  • How does she prepare to put her plan into action?
  • How does the antag’s plan thwart the protag’s plan?
  • What does she do in executing her plan that makes the antag’s job a little easier?
  • How does the antag take advantage of the error?
  • What does the protag do in response to the antag’s move?
  • How does the protag demonstrate heroic or admirable qualities in her response? (This is especially necessary if a mentor provides assists!) 
3. Burning the Bridge – Tiptoeing toward Big Change
As the stakes get even higher, the protagonist shows that she has changed too much to go back to the same environment/outlook/cubbyhole in which she began the story. She knuckles down and continues training, amassing knowledge and allies, and working toward the ordeal ahead.
  • How does the attack increase the overall stakes?
  • How does the protag change in response to the attack and failure?
  • What does the protag now know or understand that she didn’t know or understand before?
  • Who is the new threshold guardian and what does the protag do to get over the threshold?
  • Once over the threshold what does the protag do to foreshadow acceptance of self-sacrifice?
  • How has the protag changed?
  • How has the protag demonstrated a greater awareness of her needs?
  • How does she demonstrate that she has not completely relinquished the desires with which she began the book?

(Adult, Long YA: 20 to 25K Words/YA: Words 14K Words/MG: 4.5K to 9K)

1. Striding off Toward Doom –Testing the New Resolve
Taking the first actions in a new plan that takes the full reality of the situation into account, the protagonist is now aware of the stakes and accepts the real or potential sacrifice. She is pushed to the edge of her endurance, resolve, and skills, and struggles to prepare herself for the upcoming confrontation with what she believes is everything she has. She is defeated by the antagonist or a chief minion in a prelude to the climax, but vows to continue fighting.
  • What does the protag do to prepare herself?
  • How does she demonstrate courage and determination?
  • Do these win her any additional allies?
  • What does she do to demonstrate that she has accepted participation in the struggle?
  • What tools is she given in reward to help her in her fight?
  • How is her new resolve and knowledge tested?
  • What propels the protagonist into the test?
  • What hard choices does she have to make?
  • How does she break the rules, cross moral lines, compromise her integrity, or otherwise set herself up for failure?
  • How does the antagonist take advantage of it?
  • What does the protagonist rely on that fails her?
  • What does she do to temporarily drive the antagonist away?
  • How does she demonstrate that she has changed?
  • How does she demonstrate a greater awareness of her true needs?
  • How do we know she hasn’t completely given up her stated goals?
  • Is there a sense of escalating action?
2. Attempting the Change – The Midpoint Confrontation or Ordeal
The protagonist encounters the antagonist in the big ordeal, engages, and fails spectacularly.
  • How does the antagonist’s plan manipulate the battle to throw more obstacles into the protagonist’s plan?
  • What shows the protagonist’s rededication to the ordeal?
  • What twist sheds light on a previously misunderstood situation?
  • What shortens the timeline or propels her into the battle before she is truly ready?
  • How does the antagonist take advantage of it?
  • How does the protagonist lose allies?
  • How is the protagonist injured?
  • How does she display heroism and selflessness she didn’t even know she had?
  • What does the protag do to temporarily drive the antagonist away?
  • How have the stakes increased?
3. The Dark Moment – Abandon All Hope
The protagonist is knocked down, wrung out, and soon to be beyond recovery. She can't imagine surving this much pain or loss.
  • What steps has she taken toward further understanding or achieving her true need?
  • What new revelations start to make her believe she can’t ultimately win?
  • What new understanding helps her understand the consequences of losing?
  • What does she realize she is losing that she cannot bear to lose?
  • What demonstrates her renewed dedication to defeating the antagonist?
  • Why does she do it?
ACT FOUR (Or ACT THREE) - Resolution

(Adult, Long YA: 15 to 20K Words/YA: Words 10K Words/MG: 3.5K to 7K)

1. No Alternative Except Fighting On
Finally understanding the full consequences of losing, the protagonist cannot live with them. She finds a new plan, a new weapon, or a twist on something she has already done that will allow her another, probably futile, crack at the conflict.

  • What does she do that will throw away her chance at happiness in favor of pursuing her stated desire and simultaneously fulfilling the task she has accepted?
  • How does she demonstrate she understands the magnitude of her loss but believes she has no choice?
  • Who else understands or pushes her into making that sacrifice?
  • Does that individual have the protag’s best interests at heart?
  • Does that individual want the same outcome the protag and her allies have been fighting toward?
2. Resurrection: The Ultimate Showdown
The protagonist rejoins the struggle and attacks the antagonist head on in a gamble for all or nothing. They fight and only one of them emerges victorious. The other may, possibly, live to fight another day but the goal set forth his/her goal has been thwarted.

  • En route to the battle, does the protag demonstrate any character development that will improve or hinder her ability to fight the antagonist?
  • How has she changed since the beginning of the book?
  • How does the final battle tie back to something the she feared or hated in Act One?
  • How do the location and the battle circle back toward the beginning conflict?
  • How has the antag changed (if at all)?
  • What has the protag failed to consider in her battle preparations?
  • How does the antag capitalize on it?
  • What surprising revelations or twists emerge during the battle?
3. The Hero’s Return - Loose Ends & Wrap Up
The vision of the new world order, either positive or negative, that suggests how things will fare for the protag and antag after the battle.

  • How does the protag reunite with her allies?
  • How do they respond?
  • Is there more conflict to come? (A sequel?)
  • Is there ultimately potential for a happy ending?
  • Did the protag get what she wanted?
  • Did she get what she needed?
  • Is the overall goal accomplished?
  • If not, what suggests a small hope that it can still be accomplished?
  • What has the protagonist learned?
  • What is the closing visual that will stick in the reader’s mind?
Here's to creating trouble! Happy complications....


Sources and Additional Information:
Alexandra Sokoloff: The Index Card Method
Diana Peterfreund: In Which the Author Contemplates Structure
Jennifer Cruisie: The Not-Really-An-Outline for Plots
Jennifer Cruisie: It's the Structure Stupid
Johanna Harness: Phase Drafting
Randy Ingermanson: How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method
Writer Unboxed: The Three-Act Structure

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Friday, March 19, 2010

8 It Could Happen to You

Sometimes, nothing does the trick like a good old-fashioned reminder. As you read Karen Schwabach's tale of getting published, consider carefully the status of your membership to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Then, consider whether or not you've been reading that bi-monthly Bulletin that comes your way. If there's a chance you're not even a member, this may give you one more reason to join.

A Tale of Getting Published

Who knows? This could be your story to share!

Current members can view all SCBWI publications online. If you're not a member, you may join using the link provided:

                               SCBWI Website                                  


1 The Secret

So, what's the secret to getting a yes from an agent?

Was it me, or did we just learn nothing?


3 Who Are You Calling Dummy?

Unless you are also an illustrator, creating a dummy for the picture book you are writing may feel like an unnecessary step. Every agent and publisher out there will tell you never to send one in with your submission. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't make one for yourself.

Creating a mock-up, or dummy, for your picture book text is very useful, and it can open your eyes to details that go beyond merely well-written prose printed on a full-sized page. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so you need to consider the pauses and suspense of page turns while evaluating pacing. In addition, you have to give the illustrator something to illustrate on every page, or every pair of facing pages. Knowing where your pages may be turned and where your visual images are anchored can give you a better sense of how an editor or illustrator will view your work. With a picture book, there's a specific format everyone has to follow, so you can't just arbitrarily cut out a page.

Almost every picture book printed is thirty-two pages long. Picture books are printed on one large sheet of paper, which is then cut into individual pieces. These pieces represent four pages of your picture book. They contain the front and back for both the left and right sides. Four of these sheets are sewn together, creating sixteen pages, or a “signature.” Two signatures will be used to create the final product adding up to a total of thirty-two pages. While picture books can be created in multiples of eight, sticking to thirty-two pages is still the best bet. Printing picture books is expensive, and you don’t want to give a publisher another reason to reject your work.

So, how do you go about making a dummy? There’s no single answer for this question. And again, it’s important to remember this is strictly an exercise--you will never submit the dummy, that means you can approach dummy-making in whatever way works best for you. I usually use Microsoft Word and insert page breaks where I want them, add an extra break at the beginning, and then view the document in two-page view. This mimics a picture book format, and I just have to remember to subtract one from the page count as I work. Another way I like to do it is to cut 8 pieces of 8 ½ x 11” paper into half sheets, assemble them and staple them into a mock-up book. There are many templates available online to illustrate the dummy layout. (Check the links below at the bottom of this post.)

Once you have created the basic template you intend to use, there are further considerations. Several of the pages of the dummy will be what publishers refer to as “front matter.” This can include a half-title page, a full title page, a copyright page, and sometimes, a dedication page before your story begins. While the precise page layout is widely debated, the chart below includes some popular picture books and their layouts. These may help you to determine what’s feasible for your own picture book:

Making the dummy is only the beginning. It's true value doesn't emerge until after you have made it. While looking at what you have created, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Is the text spread evenly throughout the dummy?
  • Do you have too many pages?
  • Too few pages?
  • Is there a lack of forward movement anywhere in the story?
  • Does the action sag in the middle?
  • Is there enough action to support at least thirteen double page spreads and two single pages?
  • Will there be enough scene variety for illustrations?
  • Does your story’s main focus emerge on or before the third page of text?
  • Does the climax appear one or two pages before the end?
Now that you've made your dummy, you can visualize the finished product and see the problems.  Practice reading it aloud several times. Consider tape recording yourself reading. Not only will you see the problems more clearly, you will hear them more clearly, too.

If you're writing picture books, creating a dummy can be an essential part of the writing process. So what are you waiting for? Happy dummy making!


For More Information:
Editorial Anonymous Tackles Dummies
Knowing Your Layout
Creating a Dummy
Planning Your Picture Book
Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

Thursday, March 18, 2010

6 Writing a Query Letter: What Makes Agents Reject

There is probably no topic writers research more thoroughly than the query letter. But often, we don't start that research until after we've piled up the rejections. I wish I had been more aware of query letter do's and don'ts when I started submitting, so I am going to aggregate all the various snippets of Thou-Shall-Not advice I have found into one place.

Here we go. If there's an agent with a particular rant about an item, I'm including the name in parenthesis. If there is no name, it's because too many agents have mentioned it to list just one. Raise your hand if you've sent a query that included any of the following:
  • A rhetorical question instead of a solid hook (Nathan Bransford)
  • A gimmick like a cup, mug, or 12 place settings of Limoges (Janet Reid)
  • Forwarded material that includes the rejection letter from another agent (Intern C.A. Marshall)
  • A link to a YouTube video plugging your manuscript (Jessica Faust)
  • Offers to pay extra commission or pay up front for representation (Jessica Faust)
  • Any mention of how much your children, nieces, husband, mother, teacher, or other readers love your book
  • Credentials that mention you've been writing since pre-school, kindergarten, elementary, middle, or high school
  • Discussions about your dream of writing
  • Comparisons between your writing and that of Neil Gaiman, Stephanie Meyer, J. K. Rowling or...(insert name du jour)
  • Promises that your book will be an instant best-seller, or that it is better than Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings...(insert book du jour)
  • Any reference to Oprah and her bookclub
  • Assertions that readers of all ages (or any age in particular) or all genres will love your book
  • A minimum (or any mention) of the advance you would like to receive
  • Suggestions for who should star in the film version
  • Irrelevant descriptions of your personal life or how you came up with the book idea
  • References to your "fiction novel"
  • A salutation addressed to "Hey," "Dear Agent," the agent's first name, or any synonym of friend
  • A salutation (in a query to an agent) addressed to "Dear Editor" or "Dear Publisher"
  • A salutation addressed to the wrong name, "Whoever," "Whom it May Concern", or "Insert Name Here"
  • Carbon copies to other agents (especially dead ones) (Laura Bradford)
  • Assurances (aka threats) that you will call, email, write or visit the agent to follow-up (ever)
  • A request for representation of work in a genre the agent doesn't represent
  • A spoiler for the ending of your novel
  • Any attachment (in an email query) unless the agent specifically requested one from you
  • Anything that deviates from the agent's submission guidelines
  • Anything written in less than a professional tone
  • Anything that deviates from What Agents Want
I'm sure there are more things agents hate. Murphy being good at his job, I'm sure I will find out by including one to an agent whose representation I would love to have. (My apologies in advance!)

To complicate things, not every agent has the same preferences in how they like to have a query letter written. Some, like Jessica Regel, prefer "one paragraph about the book and one paragraph about you." Others, like Janet Reid, prefer you to send her "two paragraphs showing me what the book is about and enticing me to read more." Others want the query letter to be a mini-synopsis. In a nutshell, this means you need more than a query letter; you need a hook, a short pitch, a pitchy synopsis, and a longer synopsis to include for those agents who like to see that along with sample pages. Many agents include samples of their preferences or even how-to's on their websites or blogs.

I've decided to think of the process of getting a manuscript published as if it were a work of fiction. I, of course, am the intrepid protagonist and that mythical creature, the agent, is the second gatekeeper. (The first gatekeeper involved the more enjoyable process of actually writing drafts one through eight of the novel.) From this perspective, I can allow myself to make mistakes and fail spectacularly. After all, a journey without nail-biting suspense wouldn't be worth making.

What do you think? Have you come across any query letter don'ts? What mistakes have you made?

Happy querying,


P.S. - Like this? The list of THOU-MUSTs for query letters is listed here.

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

5 Emotion Thesaurus

Had to share this article and the link to the thesaurus. Completely awesome--and works great in conjunction with the word cloud. If your word cloud suggests you are using words like head, or eyes, or frown too often, it might be time to make your gestures more specific.

Thanks to the spacefreighters blog for a fantastic article.

And here's the link to the thesaurus overview:

Happy writing!


P.S. Angela, the Bookshelf Muse, also has a symbolism thesauraus, a setting thesaurus, and a color, textures and shapes thesaurus now. Amazing tools for writers!

4 How to Write a Query Letter: What Agents WANT to See

Okay fellow submitters, back to the mysterious art of the query letter. As I’m wrestling with the beast, I decided to see if I could figure out what agents want to see, instead of concentrating on what they don't want. It's been a bit of a revalation, and I thought I would share the results of my research.

We already know that query letters have to be great, or your manuscript won’t get read. Fact of life. Second fact, if your first paragraph isn’t good, the second paragraph won’t get read. Just like in your manuscript. And now for the really bad news. If your first sentence isn’t good…

Well, you get the idea.

The question is, what do agents consider good? See below for a list. It starts with the easy basics and proceeds to the more elusive elements that separate the soon-to-be-published from the gotta-keep-trying.

Query Letter Minimum Requirements:
  • Agent’s name properly spelled, in the same font as the rest of the letter
  • 12-point font, single-spaced, two returns between paragraphs, no indentations
  • Inclusion of the title in caps or italics, genre, protagonist’s name, and your contact information
  • Word count appropriate to the genre
  • Confirmation that the book is finished
  • Inclusion of the writer’s writing credentials (if any)
  • Personalized snippet about the agent, the agent’s blog, or a client or book the agent reps
  • Grammatical correctness
  • A target length of 250 to 350 words
  • A first-sentence hook—the one thing about your book that makes it unique enough to stand out in the marketplace
  • Description of the complicating incident, antagonist, plot and protagonist’s goal
  • Enough specific details to complete the differentiation from other books, without bogging the query down in clutter
  • A sense of strong conflict and characterization
  • Active voice in present-tense, third-person POV, cleverly written to suggest the style in the manuscript
  • Solid, rhythmic flow from the beginning of the query to the end
  • Writing that’s up to the level of the genre and the nature of the story
  • Writing strong enough to defy any trends that could work against the story
Not convinced? I'm going to include some some responses and examples directly from the agents’ keyboards.

Let's start with the always pithy Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown who likes specificity:

And provides query critiques:

Examples of good query letters:

And even a query letter mad lib (formula):

Then there's an example from Jessica Faust at BookEnds, LLC of a query that launched a successful career:
(Other examples are also available on the BookEnds blog--well worth a trip!)

Next, we have a page of all things query from agent Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency, LLC:

And finally, a recap from on what to include and what not to include:

There's also a fabulous on-going Guess the Plot feature on Evil Editor's blog that will knock your socks off:

Now, taking into consideration what I've learned in researching query letters from the "What We Want" instead of the "What We Don't Want" perspective,  have I gotten my queries right? Nope. That's why we all have to keep improving our research as well as our writing. Excuses don't matter. The right query letter has to get results.

Need more info? Check out this list of What Agent's Don't Want in a Query Letter. Successful Query Letter Examples are here.

Happy submitting,


About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2 To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question

Now that we've joined the blosphere, along comes writer Claire E. White with an article that asks all the questions we should have asked before we started. To Blog or Not to Blog carefully outlines the pros and cons of blogging as well as the types of blogs an author may elect to use. No matter what approach you take, one fact remains true: in today's competitive market, author blogs are a must. An inherent benefit is that you end up writing (hopefully) every day and thinking about your craft. So read the articles below and take the plunge.

To Blog or Not to Blog

Blogging as a Career Boost

The Intern's Perspective on Author Blogs

Happy blogging!


Monday, March 15, 2010

2 Thank You for Rejecting Me

While I've personally never sent a thank you for receiving a rejection letter, this insight from BookEnds LLC points out situations in which a thank you could be appropriate. When you consider the number of query letters agents receive each day, getting some gratitude for slogging through a whole manuscript and providing constructive comments doesn't seem too much to ask. On the other hand, don't they get enough mail already?

Here's one agents perspective:

Thank You Notes

Tell us what you think!


Sunday, March 14, 2010

8 Using Wordclouds for Revision: The Secret Trick to Expose Your Writing Sins

Want to check if your manuscript suffers from word overuse? Create a quick and easy word-cloud. The more often a word shows up, the more prominently you'll see it in the cloud. You'll be amazed at what you find when you look at your words from a new perspective....

We all make mistakes in early drafts--and I'm a firm believer in letting the creative juices flow without self-editing as I go. (I'll let you know how that works out if I ever actually manage to accomplish it.) But since I wanted to try this out, I took the opening 10,000 words of the first draft of The Dream Weaver, the YA Paranormal I am currently working on, and ran a quick analysis.

It was easy to spot the words I had overused, and the words weren't even much of a surprise. (See my post on using a Pre-Submission Checklist.) Still, a quick search and replace made the manuscript instantly stronger. Not only that, but as a bonus the process let me catch all my similes and look at them out of context to see if they really worked. And, the places where I used some of these words were clearly missed opportunities that let me put in much more specific language and details. I ran another check and had a much better result.

Bear in mind, this is a twenty-minute quick and dirty revision on 10,000 words. I obviously have a lot of work, and many, many drafts left to do even once I finish this manuscript.

To give you an idea of what a published manuscript might look like, here's the cloud for the first 10,000 words of Cassandra Clare's YA Paranormal, City of Bones.

This may not be the ultimate revision tool for writers, but it's a fun one. For those of us with the ADD-like symptoms of writer's revisionoia, it's a great place to get a lot of payback for very little effort.

Couldn't resist adding one more. Here's a word cloud of Twilight, which looks much more like mine. I wonder if that's the difference between first person and third person POV. Hmmh. Might be worth doing more of these to check. I wonder if there's a pattern?


More info and many thanks:
Thanks to the folks at for describing how we writers can apply this tool:

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

0 Have You Made a Query Blunder? This Will Cheer You Up!

The fabulous folks at Old People Writing for Teens have begun a new series of blog posts collecting query faux pas tales from both writers and agents. For those of us who check our work compulsively but still manage to have Wile E. Coyote falling-off-the-cliff moments as soon as it's too late to get the query back, this is a welcome source of comfort!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

0 Be Up Front

In the world of picture books, you have to make every word count. Author Ann Whitford Paul's book Writing Picture Books encourages picture book authors to go through their manuscript and identify critical elements. Mark up your manuscript by underlining the first mention of the main character, the main character's desire, the time, the place, the tone, and the "wow" moment. Ideally, these elements are placed as early on in the story as possible.

For further reference:
Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul


0 Sucking Readers Into Your Novel

Suzannah Windsor Freeman from Write It Sideways has a lot of fantastic posts on craft and writing in general. Here's one I thought was superb and very under-emphasized in how-to books and posts!

11 Writer's Pre-Submission Checklist: What To Do Before You Query Agents

Getting ready to submit a manuscript? Since I always have a harder time spotting problems in my own work than in someone else's, I went back to my favorite books on revision and style to develop a pre-submission checklist. I figured I'd share in case it can help you from missing something obvious that would result in automatic rejection or keep an editor or editor from wanting to read more. Reportedly, any of the items on the following checklist will send a manuscript directly to the 'no' pile.
  1. Copyright symbols or statements. You don't need them, and no agent or editor is going to steal  your work. Really.
  2. Improper formatting. Manuscripts should be double-spaced in 12-point Courier (still preferable) with one-inch margins all around. Print a clean, new copy for each submission on standard weight paper using a laser printer.
  3. Excessive use of exclamations points or question marks. These are fine when used sparingly in dialogue, but usually hint at a deeper problem with the writing when used in narrative.
  4. Overuse of italics, capitals, underscores, or bold type. Let the writing speak for itself.
  5. Passive or negative voice. Avoid is/was ...ed sentence construction and stick to primarily to subject-verb-object patterns to convey action. Do a search for "ed " to can catch these problems. Also search for "it was", "it is", "there is", "there were", and "there are" phrases throughout your manuscript. Finally, search for use of the word "not" to help you rephrase negative construction into positive statements.
  6. Throw-aways and bloat. Remove meaningless, redundant, or overused words and phrases from your manuscript or replace them with something more specific or interesting. Common words to watch for include: that, the, just, really, matter of fact, otherwise, actually, I think, I feel, you know, well, and generally. Each of us has our favorites, and it's astonishing how many times we use them in our writing. 
  7. Too many adjectives and/or adverbs.  If you can find the right verb or noun, you don't need the modifier. And if you have to have a modifier, make it truly illuminate what you're describing.
  8. Poor word choice. To paraphrase Stephen King, any word you found in the thesaurus is probably not the right word. If in doubt, use a dictionary to get the subtle differences between synonyms.
  9. Bad grammar and awkward syntax. Don't deviate from the norm. Keep words that belong together next to each other in a sentence, and sentences that belong next to each other together in the paragraph. If a sentence or word doesn't relate to what came before and will come after, remove it or reorder.
  10. Cliche and derivative work. Cut anything from your manuscript that is commonplace or has already been said or done by another author in a similar way. Your writing and story, and every element in it, should be uniquely yours.
  11. Overstylized or over-written. Don't try to make a statement with your language, syntax, or punctuation. Use language to tell the story as clearly as it can be told, and use syntax and punctuation to make the language flow without hindering the reader's progress. Let emotion come from letting the reader experience events with the characters.
  12. Commonplace, boring, undecipherable or overly-clever dialogue. Show readers only the crux of what your characters say to each other as they move forward in the story and learn about each other. Let your characters say only what they would actually say at that particular time and place in the story and in their relationship with each other, and don't try to force them to convey information to the reader. Never include commonplace greetings and fillers, but at the same time, don't try to make the dialogue so clever and sparkling the reader can't undertand what the heck is going on. 
  13. Dialogue at a standstill. Two people rarely stand in an empty room talking to each other without interacting with the world around them or reacting to what is being said. Long stretches of dialogue without movement are both implausible and dull.
  14. Unclear or inappropriate dialogue tags. It is critical for the reader to know who is speaking, so unless an accompanying action has already made that clear, use enough dialogue tags to ground your readers into the scene. "He said" is an invisible dialogue tag. "Said he" is less invisible, but a reader can adapt if it is used consistently. If your protag screams, cries, squeals, hisses, or otherwise deviates from having a normal conversation, let us hear that through the dialogue and see it through the action, don't tell us in the tag.
  15. Repetitive or distracting sentence structure. Mix up simple, compound, and complex sentences judiciously, and make sure your usage works within the pace and structure of your scene. Avoid using sentence structure to artifically drive the story, however. While longer sentences slow down the pace, and short sentences can increase the tension, the sentence structure has to be appropriate to what is going on at that moment in your story.
  16. Cardboard or useless charcters. This is usually a symptom of the characters not being alive enough for the writer, or of the characters not having specific goals to move the story forward. If the character isn't integral to the story, don't include her. If the character isn't interesting enough to come alive for the reader, go back and ask yourself what makes this character an individual. Find out what she wants and how that goal puts her in opposition to at least one other character in the story.
  17. Lack of plot. If nothing much is happening in the first few pages of the manuscript, you probably haven't started in the right place or there isn't enough plot to keep the reader hooked. And for the record, having something happen doesn't require car chases and death defying leaps. Important things can happen quietly between two characters, or a character can have an important realization all by herself. What happens isn't as important as the actions and interactions between your characters that ultimately take them somewhere other than where they were when your story began.
  18. Awkward pacing. Does the pace within your scene move too slow or too fast? Does your character need time to reflect a little afterward? Does the reader need time to adjust before moving into another tense scene? Are your scenes building in intensity or do you let them fall flat? Are you keeping your reader reminded of the character's problem? If you've let your tension dissipate, go back and add a teaser or a decision that makes it clear the danger or conflict isn't over.
  19. Invisible settings. Modern readers don't always want a lot of description, but your action has to take place somewhere. Think of each scene as a movie set. What do the characters interact with? What sparks a memory or emotion in them? Make sure these elements are unique, but remember Chekhov's gun on the wall: whatever you include in your description needs to be there for a reason.
  20. Grating sound or voice. Even if the sentence structure is technically correct, sentences can just sound wrong. If they don't flow when read aloud, if their rhythm is off, the reader can't enjoy the story. Voice is a similar issue. If the narrator's tone sounds too old, too scholarly, too self-consciously witty, or too mean, the reader won't be able to see beyond it to the action and emotion of your work. Try tape recording the first five to ten pages of your manuscript and playing them back. If they sound off or uncomfortable, it isn't time to send your work out quite yet.
Obviously, the checklist I've presented above isn't comprehensive. And just because the rules are there in black and white doesn't mean you're going to catch all of them in your own work. (I can't tell you what it's like to look at my own stuff and find that I've sent something out with glaring problems! Ugh!!!)

Just as every writer has a unique style and process, we all have an individual approach toward self-editing. Working with a critique group or a fabulous partner like Marissa (I'm so lucky) is one of the best ways to catch problems both small and large. It can also help you identify habits and problems to add to your own checklist. But ultimately, you are the one responsible for your work, so before sending it off to an editor or agent, always give it one, last pre-flight check.
Helpful Additional Resources:
The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah LukemanThe Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
What Agents Hate from Writer's Digest
7 Reason's Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter from Guide to Literary Agents

About the Author

Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

0 Some Insight from the Intern

My personal favorite? Definitely number 10.


Friday, March 12, 2010

0 Putting Rejections in Perspective

Some of my favorite books were rejected multiple times:
  • Madeleine L'Engle stacked up 26 rejections for A Wrinkle in Time
  • Richard Adams was rejected 26 times for Watership Down
  • Dr. Seuss received 24 rejections for his first book
  • Richard Bach collected 20 rejections for Jonathan Livingston Seagull
  • Meg Cabot got 17 rejections for The Princess Diaries
Some of the rejections received by authors of amazing books put form letters into a whole new perspective:
  • An editor at the San Francisco Examiner wrote to Rudyard Kipling: 'you don’t know how to use the English language.'
  • A letter rejecting the The Diary of Anne Frank described Anne as without 'a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.'
  • And a rejection received by Kenneth Grahame for the classic The Wind in the Willows called it 'an irresponsible holiday story.'
And my favorite:
Most honorable Sir,
We perused your MS.
with boundless delight. And
we hurry to swear by our ancestors
we have never read any other
that equals its mastery.
Were we to publish your work,
we could never presume again on
our public and name
to print books of a standard not up to yorus.
For we cannot imagine
that the next ten thousand years
will offer its ectype.
We must therefore refuse
your work that shines as if it were in the sky
and beg you a thousand times
to pardon our fault
which impairs but our own offices.
Chin up, everyone! Clearly, the problem isn't always with the story or the writing. Timing, in publishing as in life, is nearly everything. But if you keep writing, improving your craft, and submitting, the timing will eventually work in your favor. Or so I choose to believe!


The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile  by Noah Lukeman
Rejections of the Written Famous by Joyce Spizer
Famous Rejections by Suzie Smith
Rotten Rejections from Writer's Services
Writers and Rejection: Don't Give Up by Debbie Ridpath Ohi