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Why You Should Read Your Genre: A Correction

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 16 April 2014 · 30 views


by S. L. Duncan



I know what you want to know. You come here, browsing our various posts, searching for that elusive answer to the question we all asked ourselves and whomever else would throw us an answer when first starting out.

What, above all else, can I do to improve my odds of getting published?

There are a lot of answers to this question. A lot of books written that offer pages and pages of tricks of the trade and career advice. I've paid for one or two myself. Some of them may work for you, most will not.

But I want to offer you something more simplistic: buy a book in the genre in which you wish to write, and read it.

Revolutionary, right? Okay. Maybe not. You've probably heard it before. If not from me, then from any number of other authors. I’ve been giving that answer every time I’ve sat on a literary panel because, let’s face it, that’s usually the first question you ask. But I’ve come to realize, you’ve been taking my meaning all wrong.

And that’s my fault for not being clear. When I tell you to read a book in your chosen genre, I don’t mean do it so you can learn how those authors did it.

No, no, no. 

First, I’m not even sure by reading a book, you can figure out how that author writes. I could be wrong, here, but if you read my stuff you’re not seeing the process that got me there. The crap sentences. The cut pages. The endless redlining. Don't even look at my trunk. Not to be too cliche, but the journey is everything.  It's the hours learning your craft, the dedication and sacrifice. It's the party you missed and the nights of trial and error. The wadding of paper and the full waste basket. 

Let’s suspend belief, though. Let’s say, somehow, in reading an Andrew Smith novel you figure out how to retro-engineer his writing and learn how to write just like him. His nuance. His voice and word usage and sentence structure. That’s fantastic! Congratulations. The problem is, there’s already an Andrew Smith out there, and he’s doing just fine.

So, let me clarify and restate my answer. If you want to better your chances at getting published, go read a book in the genre in which you wish to be published. Read two. No, in fact, read a shelf worth. Now, in truth, you should be reading them already. And if you have been...well, you've had the answer all along.

And here, dear friends, is why:

You should be reading books in the genre in which you wish to be published because you should love those books; be dedicated to them. Starved to read the next one from your favorite author - if you can even pick a favorite author from the stellar line up of talent sitting in your bookstore's window. Because, here's the deal: if you’re unable to find joy in the books you read, there’s no way you’ll be able to instill that sense of joy in the books you write. That’s what distinguishes good from great.  This is a business of knife-edge margins. Publishers aren’t looking for good. They want the genuine article. They want great.

It boils down to being passionate about your work and passionate about the work your peers are doing. It’s the difference in the Sunday fried chicken dinner your grandmother made and the KFC value box number two.

Put your pen down, pick up a book, and turn a few pages. Find your joy in the words on them. Then take that joy and let it inspire your own words.

If it’s natural and real and honest, you’ll know it. As will everyone else that reads your work.



S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, releasing August 12th, 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on INKROCK.com and on Twitter.

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Avoiding the Voiceless Query

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 14 April 2014 · 10 views

by Jemi Fraser

One of the biggest challenges in writing a query seems to be maintaining Voice yet this is probably the biggest key to grabbing the attention of an agent.
  • What makes a query stand out from the rest?
  • What gives the agent the best feel for your story?
  • What is your best marketing tool (after all, your query is your first attempt at marketing your story)?
It's your Voice that makes your story special. And it's that Voice that needs to translate to your query. So how do you do that?

It works differently for everyone. Here are a few tips that might help:
  • use the same kind of sentence structure you use in the novel - echo your tone and style.
  • focus on the Show not Tell - Tell sucks the Voice out of queries.
  • forget the details! Think big picture. What's your character up against? What's his/her biggest fear? What's in the way? What are the stakes?
  • practice saying out loud what your story is about. Don't worry about making it sound like a query at first, just find out what sounds good, what sounds draggy or convoluted. Keep it short, sweet and interesting. 
  • time yourself. Start with a one minute time limit. Then cut it back to 45 seconds. Then 30. 20. 15. This works well with pitches too.
  • find the emotion. If your query doesn't evoke some kind of emotion in the reader then it's not doing its job. I think Voice elicits an emotional reaction in the reader and that's what you want here. A laundry list of plot points isn't going to attract anyone's attention. Punch them with some emotion instead!
Any other tips that you've used? How do you get your Voice into the query?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs  and tweets while searching for those HEAs.

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Slow Writing Memes

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 09 April 2014 · 18 views

by J. Lea López

Uh oh... Guess what day it is?

Okay, I won't go there. (But I bet you just said it in your head, didn't you?) Today's post is just a little something fun to get you over those mid-week blahs. Who doesn't like a good meme, right?

My writing process is a little different than some other people. Aside from writing by hand, I'm a slow writer. Quick and dirty drafts don't fly from these fingers. It simply doesn't happen. But there's so many tips, tricks, snippets of advice, etc. encouraging exactly that. I bet you can name a few.

It doesn't have to be right, it just has to be done.

Don't think, don't edit, just write.

Pretty much anything you'll read on a NaNoWriMo message board.

Don't get me wrong, this is a great approach for plenty of people. But it's also a dreadful approach for others. I think it's high time we slow writers have a few sayings or memes of our own to give other slow writers a bit of support.
A lot of effort goes into every word. And I'm okay with that.

We all have to find what works for us with writing. We judiciously apply the writing "rules" because we come to realize they're guidelines more than anything; we find ways to strike a balance between things like genre expectations and the story waiting to be told; we experiment and learn which word processing software works best for us based on what we want it to do. The same goes for pacing ourselves with our drafts.

I've been working with a friend as she works on her current WIP. She's used to the hard and fast word vomit sort method of drafting and can churn out 100,000 words or more in an insanely short amount of time. But she's had trouble editing that down later into something cohesive. With her new story, she expressed some frustration to me about taking longer than usual to get the first draft written. However, she felt more confident about what she had written so far and felt more confident that she was going to avoid the massive wordiness that had plagued her previously. She'd never really considered the possibility that slower could actually be better.

When it comes time to give advice about first drafts, we've all apparently forgotten Aesop's famous moral: Slow and steady wins the race.

I would rather think a little longer and get it mostly right the first time than spit out a bunch of words I'll end up cutting later. Sure, it takes me twice as long, maybe even three times as long, to pen a first draft than some other writers. But I tend to write very clean first drafts. I don't say that to brag. I say it to make the point that it's ultimately the end result--the book--that matters. How you get there is a journey all your own. My pace might not work for you. Yours might not work for me, or for someone else. There's nothing wrong with that. If you're a slow writer, don't feel pressured into adopting a fast draft style if it's going to drive you nuts (which it would for me). I felt awful the first time I attempted NaNo because I couldn't achieve the high word counts the way some other people did. The next year I stopped beating myself up over it because that will never be my process and trying to force myself to do work that way is counterproductive. And guess what? I wrote twice as much that year.


Are you a slow writer? If you are (or even if you're not) hop on over to a meme generator and make some funny, encouraging, or silly writing memes and share them with us! Tweet them to us or share them on our Facebook page.

J. Lea López is a published author of character-driven stories that focus on relationships, from the platonic to the romantic, and never shy away from the bedroom. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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Realistic vs. Logic

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 07 April 2014 · 20 views

by Charlee Vale

"That's not realistic."

Have you ever heard this said about a book? I have. Honestly, it's one of those things people say that drive me crazy, in all it's many variations. "That wouldn't happen." "People don't talk like that." "That's not the way things work."

The reason this makes me go a little batty is that the last time I checked, I didn't go into a novel looking for reality.

When I go into a novel I go looking for a story. I want it to engage me and sweep me up and make me believe in fantastic things and feelings; shock me with unspeakable horrors and make me shiver. No matter what genre you apply this to it is the same. Books aren't reality, so why they should be bound by the same set of rules?

But sometimes when I hear these things, I know they're not saying what they mean. They say 'that's not realistic,' and what they mean is 'this doesn't make sense.' And when something doesn't make sense, that's a problem.

Even though fiction isn't bound by the rules of reality, it's bound by it's own set of rules: the ones you create. In the realms of your writing you always must construct how things work--a structure for the audience to rely on. If you don't create a strong enough framework, or break the rules of the world you created, your audience will become confused and disconnected.

A perfect example of this is Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays cannot be considered 'realistic' by today's standards; after all, the people wear funny clothes, say funny words, and do funny things. But do the they make sense? Yes. Each Shakespearean play has an internal logic and structure that allows us to understand, follow, and empathize with the characters. We don't care that it's not realistic.

If you make sure your world works, no one will notice it's not real.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, agency intern, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and trying to make sense of her worlds on paper.





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Writing: Do It Because You Love It

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 04 April 2014 · 35 views

Sounds easy, right? Of course you write because you love it. Or at least, that’s how you started.

Do you still?

Are you writing the book of your heart every time? Or are you chasing trends because you’re in love with the idea of selling a book – any book – to the highest bidder?

It’s surprisingly easy to slip into the latter situation, usually without even realizing it. And more often than not, it doesn’t result in our best work nor pan out as we hope.

So how do you know if you love that book? I don’t mean do you love drafting or revising or the many stages of building a book – I mean, do you love the story? Does it resonate with you? Do you have to write it?

There was point when I was deep in the seemingly endless query trenches that I stopped and started several possible books over the course of a few months. At first, I thought they were great ideas. Why wouldn’t they be? I’d recently read books just like them! Of course they’d get snapped up. But I couldn’t finish them.

They didn’t feel right. They didn’t feel like mine.

It took me a while, but I finally figured out (for me) which ideas are worth pursuing. It’s the ones that grab hold of me and shake until words come out my ears. It’s the ones with characters who wake me up in the middle of the night demanding I listen to them.  Or whose voices are so persistent I can’t follow a real conversation and end up so startled a human is speaking to me, I spit water out on the floor of a fancy restaurant (fun fact: this actually happened the night the idea for MONSTROUS landed in my head. Yes, I am the smoothest person you know.)

For me, it's the ones that I can't not write that I keep forging ahead on, even when drafting feels like pulling taffy from my brain, and revision like hacking my way through a jaguar-infested jungle. If I didn't love them, I'd never get through with all my gray matter and limbs intact.

How about you? Do you love the book you're writing now? How do you know?

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Winter 2015.

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Accessing The Dark

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 02 April 2014 · 38 views

by Mindy McGinnis

I recently did a school visit where a student asked me how I get into a darker frame of mind to do my writing. It's a great question.

I'm an outgoing person. I like to flatter myself that I'm a funny person. Most people that meet me after having read NOT A DROP TO DRINK are surprised to find me approachable and easygoing. People that meet me before reading NOT A DROP TO DRINK sometimes walk away from the book wondering where the disconnect happened.

I warn people who are coming to the book after having met me that my book is not funny. It definitely has elements of dry humor interspersed here and there to help alleviate the (I hope) overall tension and dark tones, but it is not written to make you laugh.

Quite the opposite.

So when I was asked this excellent question (by a teen, mind you) I had to be honest. The truth is that accessing the dark has never been difficult for me, and I think most writers who handle murkier material would say the same. According to a recent health survey, writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to suffer from depression.

Why is that?

My own opinion is that as writers we are keen observers of humanity, and unfortunately what we see isn't always pretty. We are emotional sponges, feeding off of others (and ourselves) to inject lifelike qualities into our characters. And sadly, the most resonating, strongest "feels" are often not the joyous ones.

So is this a bad thing? I don't think so.

It's a dark gift, yes. But in my own case I can say that I make it work for me. It's a monkey that is always going to be on my back, so I might as well hand it a blowtorch and a wrench and give it a job. The darkness that feeds my writing is coming directly out of me, because I won't allow it to live inside me anymore.

Funneling the darkness is both therapeutic and creatively lucrative. I often wonder if depression were to be magically removed from me, would I still be able to write? And if so, would I ask for that chance? A hard question to answer.

So instead of answering it, I keep writing. And I advise you to do the same.
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Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent. The companion novel IN A HANDFUL OF DUST releases September 23, 2014. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and has serious social media problem. You can find her on TwitterTumblrFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest



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The Ongoing Debate: Art vs. Commerce

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 26 March 2014 · 49 views



by Matt Sinclair

I recently found myself in an interesting conversation among other writers. The question posed by a novelist with a dozen books published through a small press was essentially this: If I don’t think my idea for my next novel will sell, should I still write it?

The vast majority of those who responded to this thread said things was along the lines of “don’t worry about whether it’ll sell or not. Write what you love.” Similar ideas along the lines of “don’t follow trends” emerged, too.

That’s all good advice. I politely disagreed.

Let me qualify that: I don’t disagree; I just think that if a writer believes her work won’t sell, then her idea of writing something else that has a better chance of selling is a better use of her time.

The debate basically became one of art versus commerce. I think we’ve all heard that before, and it’s possible for both to be the right approach, even for the same writer. I came at it as someone who has spent years working, shaping, loving, and ultimately trunking more than one novel. (And you thought the pachyderm in Elephant’s Bookshelf Press was just because I loved elephants?)

A writer who does not want much more than to see a work on an electronic shelf should write whatever he or she wants. It might even catch lightning and surprise everyone, especially if that writer has some other marketable skills like social media savvy and the gift of gab.

I love the art of writing. If I may say so myself, I have some beautifully written pieces … that will never garner an audience by themselves. Perhaps if I’m fortunate enough one day to become one of those writers whose readers want to know what groceries I bought at Costco or Shop Rite (hmm, see that – he’s very conscious of unit costs. I bet that’s why his most famous character is a spendthrift…), I might be able to share those pieces. But they’re essentially exercises. Writing I practiced and did well with, like a great workout at the gym or a run that left me feeling reinvigorated and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Exercise is absolutely critical to becoming a marketable writer. Exercising the mental aspect of becoming a sellable writer is also critical. What is the return on your investment of time? If you spent a thousand hours writing and revising your opus, another thousand dollars having a professional edit it, and a few hundred on a cover artist, and sold two hundred copies, was that time and money well spent? Only you can answer that.

At this point, my ability to live in a house and feed my family is based entirely on my capacity for weaving words together. (Not the fiction, mind you. But I’m working on that.)

Indeed, the explosion in self-publishing is a wonderful way for writers of all genres to take a swing at becoming an artist. Many of those who are doing so will not sell more than a dozen copies to people other than their family and closest friends. They’re fine with that, and I’m genuinely happy for them. My goals are different.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which is hours away from publishing Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

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Authenticity vs. Perpetuation of Bad

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 23 March 2014 · 16 views

by R.C. Lewis

As writers, we talk a lot about authenticity. Authentic voice, authentic setting, authentic characters. Particularly in young adult (YA), I spend a lot of time trying to make sure my characters resonate and feel real to teens. It doesn't mean all teens are the same, that there's some very specific teen-mold our characters should match. Just that teens should think, "Yeah, I believe a person my age could be like that."

You know what else we talk about?

Slut-shaming. Body-shaming. Rape culture. Misogyny. Hate speech. Pretty sure that's just scratching the surface.

I spend the work-week with about two hundred 14-year-olds. There are things a significant number of them say/do. Call another student retarded. Use the word "gay" as an insult or disparaging adjective. Objectify girls, judge their worth solely based on appearance. It goes on and on, and many of them do all these things without a second thought.

(At least until I give them a hard time about it, over and over and over. *ahem*)

These behaviors exist, and not in isolation. These words are in the vernacular for many (but not all!) teens.

So do we include it in the name of authenticity?

That's where it starts getting tricky, because more questions follow.

Do we only include it in cases where it's clearly shown to be a bad thing? (Either right away for incidental dialogue or by the end of the book where it's an overall theme…)

Do we lose authenticity by always having a character ready to call another out for speaking/behaving in a way we don't approve?

If we leave it out altogether, where do we draw the line? How do we keep from going so inauthentic that we actually cross into "rosy idealized way we wish people were"? (Face it—at the extreme, that lands you with no conflict and thus no plot.)

Is there a balancing point where we can show the authentic without making it "okay" and without getting didactic?

My own thoughts flit around from one side of the argument to another, creating more questions, giving no answers.

I'd love to know what others think.

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—and frequently tells them to "pick a more accurate adjective"—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. Her debut novel Stitching Snow is coming from Hyperion October 14, 2014. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.



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6 Reasons You Will Never Escape the Listicle

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 19 March 2014 · 33 views

The listicle: it's an article, but also a list. No, that's not a portmanteau of "list" and "testicle," though that also sort of works, in a way.

Anyway, thanks to BuzzFeed taking over the world, I'm sure you see a listicle or two popping up in your Facebook feed or on Twitter daily. This very blog post is a listicle! Help, I've been converted to the Dark Side, ha ha ha. No, seriously. Help.

Here's why these articles have proven themselves to have the sticking power of particularly determined leeches:

1) The ever-clickable titles.

The portal into the listicle inevitably has this cutesy but wait, there's more! tone to it. I just know there's some person out there behind a keyboard whose actual job is titling listicles. They're probably cackling gleefully, cracking their knuckles, and making unfathomable amounts of money off it all. These titles have a great and terrible power. 17 Terrible Things You Never Knew About Greek Yogurt? Oh, I eat Greek yogurt! This must be deeply relevant to my life. 12 Quirky and Adorable Times Jennifer Lawrence Enraptured the General Viewing Public? I like being enraptured! Gosh, show me more! 9 Facts You Won't Believe Are True? Is that a challenge? That sounds like a challenge. I'd better click it, just to show them I can believe those facts are true. That'll show them. Wait.

More page views equals more success. Clickable titles are the first step, then, to taking over the world.

2) The convenient organization.

Listicles are essentially pre-chewed food. Everything is easily digestible, lined up in order so that the quickly scanning eye can hop from point to point with maximum efficiency. It's also convenient for the author, because it's essentially just an article taken to the chopping block: you can simply take the topic sentence of the paragraph, turn it into a sentence fragment, put a number before it, and put line breaks in-between the numbers. Like I have done to this article, thereby turning it into a list.


3) Their unthreatening nature.

Listicles seem to betray how scared the internet has become when it comes to reading anything long. This format is a great way to make articles look low-calorie. See? It's not some tremendous block of text! It's easy! You're still on the internet, the land of the miniature attention span! This is a quick article, worth no more and no less than the tiny amount of your time it will take to read it! Move along to the next number, now, good.

This is funny to me, because (as mentioned in point #2) I feel that many plain ol' articles could be easily converted into list-form, and similarly, many listicles could be transformed into plain ol' articles without too much hard work. It's the magic effect of white space. How much more likely is someone to read an article titled 25 Things You Loved About the 90s, which is simply 25 numbered evenly spaced paragraphs about the 90s, versus an article titled What You Loved About the 90s, a 25-paragraph-long essay?

4) The ranking system.

Something that's uniquely wonderful about the list format is that it presents the opportunity for you to rank the importance of your points without having to state explicitly, This is the important part, for these reasons. Especially if the list is reverse-numbered (5, 4, 3, 2, 1), the reader can expect that #1 on the list will be something special. This also helps retain readers who otherwise may have stopped reading before the end. They will feel some terrible tug in their chest that urges them to finish the listicle, to see it through to the bitter end, no matter their current feelings toward it, no matter how much they might want to quit. They will want to be impressed. They will be stubborn. I am not at all speaking from experience.

5) Because humor.

Cracked.com has been doing these for ages. (But there's a world of difference between BuzzFeed listicles and Cracked listicles, don't get me wrong.) The list format lends itself to joke format. Each number gets a setup and a punchline, and then you move on. In a lot of cases, the last number on the list is also a punchline. And the audience kind of expects this, in a way, which means it's all the more satisfying when their expectations are met.

6) The internet has a long memory.

The internet is the place that still can't let go of videos like They're Taking the Hobbits to Isengard and the trololo song, for God's sake. I doubt it'll let go of an extremely viable, commercially successful writing format that's created a million viral articles. The internet has dug its little hands into the listicle, and the internet loves the listicle. So little time and effort involved; so many laughs! Here's a gif of a cat. Moving pictures! We're basically in Harry Potter now. This is the final stage of human evolution. This is it. We've reached the top.



Is this all a bad thing? Am I against listicles? Nope. I think they're hilarious, and expeditious. And frankly, at least people are still reading articles at all. It's 2014. Weren't we supposed to be uploading information to our brains by now, or something?

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She is represented by Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Sporadically and with occasional weirdness, she blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.







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Luck of the Irish

  Posted by From The Write Angle , 16 March 2014 · 39 views

by S. L. Duncan


You've heard it all before.

There is no such thing as luck. 

You make your own luck. 

Better an ounce of luck than a pound of gold. 

As many sayings as there are clovers in a field in Ireland. In the world of publishing we often don't give enough credit where credit is due, when it comes to how lucky we are when we get the agent or land the deal. But if we're being honest, we have to admit that there is a significant portion of success that comes from factors that lay outside our control, no matter how well we write or how hard we work.

Sometimes it comes down to being at the right place and at the right time. It's just a matter of getting lucky. (And isn't it always?)

You've got you're big boy/girl pants on. You know what it takes to get into a lucky situation. Make that query shine like a Real Housewife's ring finger. Have an eight karat manuscript. These things, you know. These things, you're already doing.

And if all your ducks are in a row, you've got nothing left to do but ask yourself, "Do I feel lucky?"

Well do you, punk?* Because at that point it's out of your hands. Is what you started writing a year ago still hot? Or is it about to be hot? Is it marketable? So many factors give weight to tilt the balance for and against your favor.

Just work hard and who knows? Maybe you'll catch a break. Try kissing someone who's Irish. Might help. Happy St. Patrick's Day, all!









*Sorry about that whole 'punk' thing. That was totally rude. Perhaps when we see each other again, I'll buy you a pancake and we'll call it bygones.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, The Revelation of Gabriel Adam, releasing August 12th, 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on INKROCK.com and on Twitter.

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