Monthly Archives: April 2016

Getting Noticed In a World Flooded With Voices

Something I find interesting is how many times I hear agents and editors talking about wanting a story that is unique. They’re not looking for the same old same old. They want something new, the next big thing.

This is intriguing because of how often I see the opposite being true. I’m sure you know at least one book that seems to be the carbon copy of another book, or movie, or TV show, or newspaper article…you get what I’m saying. Off the top of my head, both Obsidian and Fifty Shades of Grey appear to be rip offs of Twilight. Think of all the books that followed The Hunger Games: Divergent, Matched, The Maze Runner, Red Queen, and more. Heck, a number of people even say that The Hunger Games was a rip off of Battle Royale.3876549126_2584d97157_z

However, despite the above examples, writers still need to be individuals. The market is over-saturated with books just like other books, and if you are trying to mimic another book solely in the hopes of also being a bestseller, then your character’s voice won’t be authentic.

Also, in a world inundated with people who all believe that they can be bestselling authors, you need to stand out, and be different in a good way. (Don’t query agents saying that your novel is the next bestseller. Don’t tell agents that God told you to query them. Don’t mass query agents with the salutation of “To whom it may concern.” Hint: agents actively look for reasons not to read your query, writing sample, etc. They have too much to do and too little time to deal with all the work they already have.)

How do you stand out among the myriad of voices?

I’d like to say that if you write an extraordinary novel and query letter, you’ll get published. But that’s not always, or even usually, the case. Think of all the books you’ve read where you can’t understand why they were published, or how many times you’ve gotten a positive query letter rejection. (Two examples from me are (1) that my query was fantastically written, but that the agent is currently not taking on any more YA authors, and (2) the agent enjoyed my novel, but my book was too contemporary for the present market (funnily enough, a year later, John Green became extraordinarily popular with his novel The Fault in Our Stars, and the YA market was flooded with books about overly intelligent kids with cancer.))

Most times an agent selects a novel based on how well that agent clicks with the book. Using John Green as an example again, I am not a fan of his writing style, however my cousin and all her friends were aghast when they discovered I didn’t read his novels. Whether you like something is completely subjective, no matter how much you may pretend you’re being utterly objective.

So, what can you do?

  1. Focus on your voice. It can be easy to get lost in studying other authors’ works, especially if they sold well. But this won’t help you in the long run, because you need to develop your voice. If you can’t recognize your writing style, it will show in your writing.
  2. Allow others to help you. Look for contacts within the writing community. You never know if a friend of a friend is the brother of a top-tier literary agent. Also, let others read your writing. Let them give you feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, a favor, or to offer to take your professor out to dinner if she critiques your writing past what was required for class.
  3. Get involved in the community. Similar to above, surround yourself with people who know the writing world. You’ll learn what to do much faster if you’re around people who already know what to do.
  4. Do the writing. This is a lot easier said than done. After having spent years in the writing community, even getting a MA in Writing, I know how much work crafting a story is. However, I know several people who casually say they’re going to write a novel and get it published. It’s difficult for me to not roll my eyes because they are either not serious about writing anything, have no clue what goes into writing, or are disillusioned about the writing world. (It astonishes me how many people don’t realize how much work goes into completing a well-written novel.)

One of the biggest aspects of writing to consider, and this may be part of the reason why so many poorly written novels not only get published but become best sellers, is that readers are able to empathize with the characters. A professor once told me that if you don’t experience any emotions while writing, then readers won’t when reading your work.

Lastly, results take time. Often in the literary world, results take years. Those stories you hear about how a writer got an agent after one week of querying or how a writer got a six-figure deal on a first novel are heard about for a reason. They rarely happen. So, be patient, work hard, develop your individual voice, and don’t give up.

How do you try to get your work noticed?

(Photo courtesy of Amy West.)

Thinking About Self-Publishing? Here’s A Quick Reality Check.

Self-publishing seems to be all the hype right now. Whether you first try to get an agent or go straight to publishers and are unable to get their attention, or decide to skip attempting the traditional route altogether, you’re looking into self-publishing.

It seems like a good deal. You don’t have to mess with any of the middle men, who take the majority of the money your novel makes. You have the freedom to choose how you want to represent your work. You even get to select what you want your book cover to look like.3407402643_7d11d2717f_z

You’ve heard the success stories:

  • Andy Weir’s The Martian was originally self-published in 2011. It’s now been re-released through Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, and was made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was not only first self-published, but also was based on fan fiction. The rights for this novel were obtained by Vintage Books, a subdivision of Random House, in 2012. Selling over 125 million copies, this book was made into a movie that earned over $571 million worldwide.
  • Mark Dawson’s self-published John Milton series has sold over 300,000 copies. And while that in itself is impressive, Amazon pays for Mark to speak at seminars and workshops, sort of like their poster boy for the self-publishing world. To learn more about Mark’s success story, click here: “Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer.” 
  • Amanda Hocking self-published out of a need to make some desperately needed money. Over a period of about 20 months, Amanda sold 1.5 million books and made more than $2 million. To learn more about her story, click here: “Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online.” 

What you don’t hear so often are the hundreds of thousands of people who self-publish in the hopes of making enough money to quit their day jobs and end up not finding success.

Talking Writing’s article “Three Money Lessons For Starry-Eyed Authors” discusses the truth of self-publishing.

In this article, three lessons are addressed:

  1. “There’s Way Too Much Competition”
    1. It’s really easy to self-publish. Therefore, everyone and their grandma feel like giving it a try. On one hand, it’s great that people have the freedom to see their work published. On the other hand, most times the work wasn’t ready to be published, or in some cases, should have never seen the light of day. (I’ve seen multiple self-published novels that have misspelled titles.) It’s this other hand that causes a lot of problems because (1) your work gets lost in the noise and (2) a stigma forms about self-publishing.
  2. “Literary Fiction Is Still the Ugly Cousin”
    1. Literary fiction, as opposed to genre fiction, has never been all that great at selling books in the traditional publishing world. Literary fiction sells even worse in self-publishing.
  3. “You Can Drive Yourself Insane Tracking Sales”
    1. Having the ability to check real-time sales is both a blessing and a curse. When your book is selling well, you get a positive boost every time you check your sales statistics. However, when your book isn’t selling, the real-time sales can become a black hole that takes over your life.

These three challenges aren’t meant to deter you, if you’re interested in self-published. They’re here to show you that you most likely won’t get rich quick with self-publishing and that self-publishing involves a lot of work (potentially more work than traditional publishing because you are responsible for doing and paying for everything). But, like with everything, self-publishing presents opportunity, and with opportunity, there’s always a chance of phenomenal success.

Have you ever self-published or been interested in self-publishing?

(Photo courtesy of khrawlings.)

Awesome, Inspirational Writing Quotes

Writing is not easy. Sometimes you just want to toss your work across the room and go watch TV. Here are some quotes to help you stay the course:

4443408315_906c16c83e_z“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as a writer.”

–Ray Bradbury

“Should you find a wise critic to point out your faults, follow him as you would a guide to hidden treasure.”

–The Buddha

“I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.”

–Herbert Bayard Swope

“The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.”12249844655_3a22c0a7e9_z

–Eleanor Roosevelt

“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.”

–Harper Lee

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

–W. Somerset Maugham

4733445650_b12112648e_z“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy and that hard.”

–Neil Gaiman


What are some writing quotes you follow?

(Photos courtesy of Peter Morris, Andy/Andrew Fogg, and nicoleleec.)

Writing a Series: The Fun of Starting the Next Novel


9111774612_bfd9ca1b69_zBook series, whether it’s a trilogy or longer, are popular in the literary world. After book one, readers want to continue on with the story and characters. They want to see what happens next. However, writing the next book – to use a cliché – is easier said than done.

For this reason, often the following books within a series aren’t always as good as the first, especially the second novel within a trilogy. Many times the second novel in a trilogy is seen as the bridge between an extraordinary beginning (the first book) and a heart-wrenching ending (the third book).

The middle book is a transition between the start and finish, and often times doesn’t include as much drama, excitement, and action as the first and third novel. Instead of increasing the tension from the first novel, the second book’s plot drags. The thrill wears off, and the characters become tiring.

Did you know that there’s a term for this phenomenon?

Middle Book Syndrome

(Aka Sagging Middle Syndrome)

Basically, this occurrence results from weak plot structure. In other words, the writer didn’t lay out how the trilogy was supposed to go. This could have taken the form of in-depth planning or a one-page synopsis for each novel. However, if the writer only saw the very beginning and then figured the rest of the story would come to him later, this tends to create an implausible story overall, since the steps leading to the finish are fuzzy. (If the writer can’t see the steps from the starting line to the finish, neither will the readers.)

Granted, the second book can be more challenging to write than the first and last. In the first book, the story and everyone in it needs to be introduced, and if the genre is fantasy/science fiction, a new world must be brought to life. Everything is new.

In the final novel, tension is ratcheted up. Readers are looking at battles and deaths and any other sort of excitement that leads to the massive climax.

The middle book must somehow maintain and increase tension, while not leading to the conclusion. The second novel already has many of the puzzle pieces from the first novel. More pieces will be introduced, but a good chunk must be reserved for the final book. Therefore, the puzzle has to continue to be put together in the second book without showing readers the entire picture.

Not so easy to do.

One way to prevent middle book syndrome is to remember cause and effect. Each action has a reaction. Everything a character does causes something else to occur. Cause and effect allows each piece of a novel series to be part of a whole. (To see more about how “every part of a novel should be integral to the whole,” click on the “Sagging Middle Syndrome” link above. For more on how to write a trilogy, check out “How to write a book trilogy: 5 crucial steps”.)

I am currently working on a trilogy, and for each question I introduce in my first novel (plot, subplots) I record it on a separate document. Therefore, I’ll know which strings I have to continue with while writing the second book. Having this other document also helps me to remember what questions I’m introducing, so that I won’t have awkward loose ends.

Added to that, I know how I want the trilogy to end, and am currently working on a one-page synopsis for my middle book. The story might change as I get deeper into the trilogy. My first novel certainly has, but it helps to have the big picture, and some of the smaller, connecting pieces, so that I can work on cause and effect.

What do you think? Ever read any trilogies/series that had the middle book syndrome?

(Photo courtesy of Richard Binhammer.)