This is the packet I have created for my writer’s group…. absolutely nothing could replace the actual conference, but I learned a lot. I would go again…and again… and again….
Terms & Genre ~ Myths vs. Fact
Flash fiction (also called micro fiction, sudden fiction, or short short stories) refers to fiction stories of around 700 words or less. The qualifying standard for flash fiction varies among organizations, with some setting the maximum word count as little as 150 and others raising it to 1000, but the exact word count matters little. The idea is that flash fiction, being so short, encompasses literary theory quite differently from traditional short stories given that the physical boundaries for flash fiction preclude otherwise available options. This is not to say flash fiction subscribes to a rigid formula – just the opposite. Forms of flash fiction tend to vary markedly, and resemble anything from prose poetry to grocery shopping lists. “Part of the fun of writing [flash fiction] is the sense of slipping through the seams,” says Sudden Fiction author Stuart Dybek. “Within the constraint of their small boundaries the writer discovers great freedom.”
Creative Nonfiction Is:
- Academically rigorous – your paper should incorporate various fields and ideas to provide a more complete perspective for the reader.
- i.e.: In “The Man Who Loved Grizzlies,” author Ned Zeman combines aspects of biology, zoology, anthropology and geographic knowledge of the Alaskan wilderness to provide a knowledgeable portrait of the events he describes.
- Written with a thesis in mind – the paper should still have a central argument or claim which unifies the various aspect of the essay.
- Creative – See Appropriate Style and the Absence of a Formula.
Creative Nonfiction Is Not:
- A reflection piece – the purpose of the narrative should be to provoke a deeper discussion of a topic.
- About the writer – even if you choose to narrate in the first person, the essay should use your experiences to launch into a discussion of the thesis.
- A report – although you are a source in your own writing, your essay should not be merely a description of what happened.
- A list – your paper should not be merely a list of related events but should flow together.
Speculative – “Predicting what never happened, or has not happened yet”…past, present or future. Fiction OR Non-Fiction
“up-market” : Better
Literary Fiction – Considered the best of the craft, like Jane Austen, usually longer than most fiction, commercially less appealing, but a better piece of writing over-all.
Book Club Fiction: An Actual Genre….
A Novel—- is between 65-120k, depending on genre. Less than 65 is novella.
Self-Publishing does NOT mean you cannot mainstream publish.
Tense & Point of View are the most important, craft wise
Where do the genres line up…..
Literary Fiction ————Book Club———MID———————————Commercial
Jodi Picoult Chic Lit
Beautifully written Series
Plot, less important Danielle Steele
What agents hate: (totally relative)
Prologue & epilogues
Looking in the mirror
Driving in the car
Waking up from a dream
Too many details… (a paragraph describing a coffee mug)
Any one agent will ideally have 20-25 clients at a time.
August & September are dead months in publishing…
Agents look for…
Character development (no questions or confusion)
Currently ebooks make up about 35% of the publishing world.
When an agent (or editor) says NO, that means NO. Any “hope” you may sense is probably just them trying to make you feel better or being polite. If they wanted rewrites or there was any way this book could be made into something they would consider, they would tell you that!
Publishing professionals in general, do not like Amazon.
New Adult: 18-26
Dialogue is not always mandatory. Make sure your dialogue is always necessary in telling your story.
Memoir & Autobiography are NOT the same. A Memoir is not your entire life. Usually an event, a period of time in your life, a series of moments that led to a parallel message or epiphany.
When struggling with a memoir, there may be many advantages to changing it to fiction.
Assignments you should give yourself for every novel…
Write your story statement. In one or two sentences, what is your story? What must your antagonist accomplish?
In 200 words or less sketch your antagonist. Even more than this in your mind, really KNOW your characters…their allergies, their favorite color, their hobbies and habits. WHY?? The better you know your character, the more effortless writing about them is. Your character will come across in your tone and then your reader will know them too. Imagine you are writing about your best friend…regardless of any personal details you reveal, your tone will describe them perfectly.
Title…. Try out several, over a long period of time.
Comparables!! I had never heard of comparables until this conference. Identifying comparable with your book is all about having the same audience. “The people that read this book would want to red mine.”
Write the ONE main conflict, in one sentence. Then do the same with a few secondary conflicts. These MUST exist.
Setting is as important as your characters. Describe each and every setting, again, just for yourself.
Unless you are writing adult or erotica, non-gratuitous sex is the only sex you should include.
More Misc Notes…..
Do not stress about denial/refusals, etc. It’s just a numbers game. It doesn’t matter if 200 agents and editors hate your work. You only need one! If I told you, if you query 300 agents, one of them will sell your book, you would have 300 queries out in a week! Stop trying to meticulously pick and choose agents/editors/potential publishers… just get your work out there!!
POINT OF VIEW: Only ONE point of view per scene, only SIX points of view per book!
When you have no platform, that is no previously published work or accolades to include in a cover letter or interview, your ms is called “Debut Fiction.” This sounds much better than… “I’ve never done anything else.”
Please use the following examples as models for your pitch to publishers. Restrict it to 150-200 words, no more than a minute. Write the pitch before the conference begins. Note that the pitch is a also diagnostic tool to determine the strong and weak points of your novel. If you do not have enough novel for a pitch, then no problem. Now is the time to start thinking about it!
Take special note of dramatic tension and plot points, rising action, character qualities. An example as follows, from “The English Teacher” by Lily King:
(HOOK – the entire first paragraph) Fifteen years ago Vida Avery arrived alone and pregnant at elite Fayer Academy. She has since become a fixture and one of the best English teachers Fayer has ever had. By living on campus, on an island off the New England coast, Vida has cocooned herself and her son, Peter, from the outside world and from an inside secret. (SCENE SET) For years she has lived largely through the books she teaches, but when she accepts the impulsive marriage proposal of ardent widower Tom Belou, the prescribed life Vida has constructed is swiftly dismantled. (PLOT POINT creates COMPLICATIONS or DRAMATIC TENSION)
Peter, however, welcomes the changes. Excited to move off campus, eager to have siblings at last, Peter anticipates a regular life with a “normal” family. But the Belou children are still grieving, and the memory of their recently dead mother exerts a powerful hold on the house. As Vida begins teaching her signature book, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a nineteenth-century tale of an ostracized woman and social injustice, its themes begin to echo eerily in her own life and Peter sees that the mother he perceived as indomitable is collapsing and it is up to him to help. (SECOND PLOT POINT creates MAJOR COMPLICATION and RISING ACTION leading to CLIFFHANGER: will Peter save his mother?) Another example from “Close Case” by Alafair Burke:
Investigating the brutal murder of a hotshot journalist, Samantha Kincaid finds herself caught in the middle of an increasingly personal and potentially dangerous struggle between Portland’s police and the DA’s office.(HOOK, SCENE SET, SUBPLOT COMPLICATION).
For Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid’s thirty-second birthday, she gets an unusual gift: a homicide call out. (PLOT POINT begins MAJOR COMPLICATION: solve the crime) The crime scene: the elite Hillside neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. The victim: hotshot investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw, who has been bludgeoned to death in his carport.
Tensions in the city have been running high. The previous week, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed mother of two in what he claims was self-defense; in the aftermath, protestors have waged increasingly agitated anti-police protests. Crenshaw’s death, it seems, is not unrelated: within a matter of hours, police arrest two young men who appear to have embarked on a crime spree in the aftermath of the protests. The case looks straightforward, especially when one of the suspects confesses. But then the man recants, claiming coercive police tactics, and Samantha finds herself digging for more evidence. (PLOT POINT, RISING ACTION, MORE SUB-COMPLICATIONS)
Following Crenshaw’s steps, her search leads her through an elaborate maze of connections between the city’s drug trade and officers in the bureau’s north precinct. Samantha’s pursuit of the truth puts her in the middle of city political battles and on the outs with the cops, including her new live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes. Worse yet, the path left by Crenshaw could lead Samantha to the same fatal end. (CLIFFHANGER: will Samantha save her own life, solve the murder in the process, and later, recover her love interest? THREE QUESTIONS BEGGED!) _____
Now, go and write the PITCH for your novel. And please, take your time!
Once done, put it aside for two days, then read it and ask yourself this question: WILL THIS MAKE SOMEONE WANT TO BUY MY BOOK?
Take into account all the major elements above. Follow the step-by-step evolution of HOOK/SCENE SET, PLOT POINT/COMPLICATION(s), RISING ACTION, and CLIFFHANGER.
Your pitch model cajoles you into conceiving your story in a way that encourages attention to specific elements of good storytelling (setting, plot lines, drama and stakes, sympathetic characters, etc.)—and it just so happens these elements are the ones publishers and agents are looking for. No surprise there. On a premise level, the model should satisfy their desire for a sufficiently unique, commercially viable (high concept) story that snags them immediately.
Is that too much to ask? Can we ever make them happy? It isn’t easy, and it never will be.
Regardless, once you arrive at a cognizance of these fictional elements, concepts and craft that must be included in your novel to enable it to realistically compete for attention in this enormous and loud American market, you use this newfound knowledge to rewrite your novel as necessary. As noted, the pitch model focuses on many of these good storytelling elements, and therefore can be used to help create your novel. In other words, if you cannot find the elements in your novel to match the requirements of a really good pitch, then you don’t have them in your novel. It’s that simple. A few writers attempt to argue they DO have them, they just can’t express them in a pitch; but most of these arguments are based on denial and/or a reluctance to adapt.
Keep in mind, the pitch tail wags the novel dog. Remember this as you attempt to become a published author. Know too, it’s not about writing a good story that you and your circle of friends, family and associates enjoy, it’s about writing one that commercial publishers believe will actually make money in the open market. It’s about them taking a leap of faith, perhaps even risking their careers (at least in part) by betting your first novel will actually earn out the advance, and perhaps even turn a profit for the house.
Consider the stakes, know your plot, hug your characters, and write accordingly.
Caitlin’s Guide to Choosing Precise Comparables
Caitlin Alexander, former senior editor at Random House and resident faculty at Author Salon, has generously donated her time to provide you with guidelines for good comparables. Please read carefully!
Keep it recent: Watch the bestseller lists and follow industry news. If you can (legitimately) comp your book to something that’s been a recent smash, you’ll have a leg up. Bestsellers are hard to predict, and often take everyone by surprise (e.g., Fifty Shades of Grey)–once something’s been proven a hit, publishers are going to be looking for more, instantly. After 3-6 months, though, they’re all going to have seen a dozen comps to The Help!
Keep it fresh: Stay away from comparing your book to the ubiquitous bestsellers–Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich–because they are their own brands and impossible to duplicate. If your book falls into a somewhat glutted category in which a lot has been published over the past couple of years (paranormal, dystopian, etc.) focus on why yours offers a unique twist (e.g., “it’s The Help set in Alaska!), but:
Keep it simple: Comps aren’t as much about what your specific story is as about who the audience is–what specific readers your book can be effectively sold to. Wildly cross-audience novels sometimes work (e.g., Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but more often a book has to be marketed to one audience or the other. If you’re trying an “x meets y” comp, think about what readers each appeals to and whether there’s likely any crossover. (If you put a Vince Flynn cover on a novel, would anyone who loves Nicholas Sparks pick it up?)
Keep it iconic: If you’ve written something that falls into that iconic-novel-that-only-comes-along-once-in-a-while vein, e.g, The Secret History or Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they’re an exception to “keep it recent.” Generally stay away from comparing your book to classics, though, unless you’ve consciously written a story inspired by one–they’re not helpful as a marketing comp, particularly because a lot of their sales are coming from students. DO think about what makes an author iconic: You may have loved Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, but chances are that most agents are only going to be familiar with his best-known books, High Fidelity and About a Boy (or may not have even read him at all and will only know his reputation). If you want to use A Long Way Down as a comp, make sure that if all the agent hears is “Nick Hornby,” and associates it with humorous novels about aimless thirty-something men finding direction, they’ll still see how your book will appeal to Hornby’s audience.
Where to look for dynamite comps: Amazon, Goodreads, and Allreaders.com are some of the sites where you can look up a book you know, or specific elements of a story, and find other books that are considered similar or being bought by the same readers. Publishers Marketplace is worth paying a one-month subscription for so that you can browse or search the deals and see what books are being comped to when publishers first acquire them (sometimes these comps come from the editor, sometimes from the agent and author). They also have a section where you can look up the bestseller history of any title. Amazon’s rankings won’t tell you anything about how well a book sold, and the number of reviews is not always a good indicator–if there are more than a hundred reviews, though, you can usually assume the book sold well.
Read: On B&N.com, Amazon, and elsewhere, you can usually read the first few pages of any book. Do this to help get a sense of whether fans of that author would indeed find your book appealing.
Read as much as possible in the genre in which you’re writing; it will not only help you pinpoint the ways in which your book offers something special, or show you terrific storytelling techniques, but it supports the industry you hope will support you.
THE ROLE OF ENERGETIC AND UNIQUE SETTINGS IN THE STORY
by Michael Neff
When considering your novel, whether taking place in a contemporary urban world or on a distant magical planet in Andromeda, you must first sketch the best overall setting and sub-settings for your story. Consider: the more unique and intriguing (or quirky) your setting, the more easily you’re able to create energetic scenes, narrative, and overall story.
A great setting maximizes opportunities for interesting characters, circumstances, and complications, and therefore makes your writing life so much easier.
Imagination is truly your best friend when it comes to writing competitive fiction, and nothing provides a stronger foundation than a great setting. One of the best selling contemporary novels, THE HUNGER GAMES, is driven by the circumstances of the setting, and the characters are a product of that unique environment, the plot also.
But even if you’re not writing SF/F, the choice of setting is just as important, perhaps even more so.If you must place your upmarket story in a sleepy little town in Maine winter, then choose a setting within that town that maximizes opportunities for verve and conflict, for example, a bed and breakfast stocked to the ceiling with odd characters who combine to create comical, suspenseful, dangerous or difficult complications or subplot reversals that the bewildered and sympathetic protagonist must endure and resolve while he or she is perhaps engaged in a bigger plot line: restarting an old love affair, reuniting with a family member, starting a new business, etc. And don’t forget that non-gratuitous sex goes a long way, especially for American readers.
And not only must you choose the overall best setting, but you need to consider sub-settings that come into play (subsets of the primary setting) for particular scenes. For example, if your overall choice of setting is India, you have it made. You might choose a sub-setting for a scene that includes a particular village wherein a large snake is sleeping in a tree and thus creating an absurd spectacle in the form of an ongoing conflict between Muslims and Hindus over the spiritual meaning of the snake’s behavior. Of if your character is in Scotland on a cold and dull day, place him or her in a scene during a “blackening of the bride” ceremony wherein the future bride is trashed and sloshed with everything from tar to Scotch whiskey. Will your character have any internal issues with this? Yes? Whatever creates inner or interpersonal conflict is a bonus too, don’t forget.
If nothing else, create a setting or sub-settings that assist with the development of conflict between characters. If your character is an office worker in an otherwise stereotypical setting, place her or him in a special surprise meeting with certain types of ambitious, reckless or sociopathic personalities who combine to ignite an unavoidable moral dilemma for her or him. Set it up so that the tension crackles. Setting fixtures don’t have to be inanimate!
Now, please go back over your settings and scenes and rewrite accordingly. You can’t have too much energy or tension on the page. Be as aggressive with your work as possible.
And below is some more good advice on the novel setting from Nathan Bransford’s blog:
There are three important elements to a good setting:
The best settings are not static, unchanging places that have no impact on the characters’ lives. Instead in the best worlds there is a plot inherent to the setting itself: a place in turmoil (LORD OF THE RINGS), or a place that is resisting change but there are tensions roiling the calm (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD), or the sense of an era passing in favor of a new generation (THE SOUND AND THE FURY).
Basically: something is happening in the bigger world that affects the characters’ lives. Great settings are dynamic.
Personality and Values:
There is more still to a great setting than the leaves on the trees and even the change that is happening within that world: a great setting has its own value system. Certain traits are ascendant, whether it’s valor and honor (LORD OF THE RINGS), justice and order (HONDO), every man for himself (THE ROAD) or it could even be a place where normal values and perspectives have become skewed or inverted (CATCH-22).
There’s a personality outlook that throws us off kilter and makes us imagine how we’d react if we were placed in that world. And it makes us wonder whether we have the makeup to thrive within it.
Most importantly, a great setting shows us something we’ve never seen before. Either it’s a place that most readers might be unfamiliar with and have never traveled to (THE KITE RUNNER), or it shows us a place that we are all-too-familiar with, but with a new, fresh perspective that makes us look again (AND THEN WE CAME TO THE END).
When all of these elements combine and when characters become swept up in the broader changes sweeping the world of the novel it elevates the plot by giving it a deeper and larger canvass. Even if the characters aren’t saving the world or confronting the changes head-on, the best plots intersect with their settings (and vice versa) to give us a sense of a character in a world, partially able to control their surroundings, but partially subject to the whims of forces outside their control. The setting is as much a living thing as the characters themselves.
Publishing Is Rotten To The Core Posted on September 22, 2014
There is something seriously askew with the supposed values of the publishing business.
The most egregious behavior continually gets overlooked, ignored, and swept under the carpet, in favor of pursuing pet targets.
As always, I’m conscious of whose agenda this serves and why writers allow themselves to be used as pawns in this game.
Exhibit A: Harlequin
Amazon is regularly slated for the way it manages its tax affairs. I have written extensively about this before, but, in short, Amazon is using extremely common methods for minimizing its tax bills that are used by every major tech company (and many other multinational corporations too).
You can argue these loopholes should be closed (and I would agree), but these actions are legal. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the major publishers, and the global media conglomerates which own them, are doing the exact same thing.
Take Harlequin, for example. Harlequin doesn’t just use these corporate structures to minimize its tax bill. It has also used them to reduce the 50% digital royalty rate agreed in some of its contracts to a paltry 3%. Harlequin is facing a class action suit because of this, but you won’t find coverage of that in the news media or outrage about Harlequin’s actions among publishing professionals.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I think exploiting authors in this manner is worse than legally minimizing your tax bill.
Exhibit B: The New York Times
I have a fun game you can play! Well, it’s more of a thought experiment and it goes something like this: try and construct a hypothetical scenario where the New York Times writes an article that is critical of a major publisher. Seriously, give it a shot. It’s probably harder than you think, as it would need to be something worse than price- fixing or exploiting authors on an industrial scale, subjects which the New York Times routinely ignores, or whitewashes.
It would also have to be worse than a publisher pretending it was a victim of the Nazis when, in reality, it secretly donated to the SS, used Jewish slave labor to publish hits like The Christmas Book of the Hitler Youth, and then refused to apologize in 2002 when caught lying about it!
That publisher is Bertelsmann, 51% owner of Penguin Random House. I guess being a global media conglomerate keeps the right stories on the front page and helps the wrong ones disappear.
9/22/2014 Publishing Is Rotten To The Core | David Gaughran
Exhibit C: LA Times Festival of Books
The biggest controversy in the publishing world this year, before the Hachette mess, was Amazon’s involvement with the LA Times Festival of Books. Amazon wasn’t sponsoring the event, or even appearing at it. The deal was an affiliate arrangement where the LA Times Festival of Books would make a percentage on any Amazon transactions that occurred via its own site. The anger subsided when the organizers also struck an affiliate deal with IndieBound – an umbrella group for independent booksellers.
However, there has been no such controversy over Author Solutions’ partnership with the LA Times Festival of Books. Not a peep of protest over the $900,000 that Author Solutions scammed out of writers at last year’s event alone. Author Solutions has been appearing at the LA Times Festival of Books for years without encountering any opposition from indie booksellers, or howls of protest from publishing professionals.
Maybe I’m nuts, but I think partnering with a company famous for scamming authors, who is currently facing a class action for deceptive business practices, is a little bit worse than agreeing an affiliate deal with Amazon to make a percentage from transactions that were likely to occur anyway.
Exhibit D: Publishers Weekly
The crusade against the affiliate deal with Amazon was led by Publishers Weekly – who whipped up a moral panic among booksellers and industry professionals which, in turn, led to calls for a boycott of the event.
Despite numerous requests from me, Publishers Weekly refused to cover the Author Solutions story, or comment on the record about my article regarding same. Of course, Publishers Weekly has a business relationship with Author Solutions, permitting the vanity press to sell six different Publishers Weekly advertising packages (costing up to $16,499) to its customers victims. The high-pressure sales tactics used by Author Solutions to sell such packages were explicitly mentioned in the papers filed in the class action suit.
But exploiting authors isn’t important. Let’s get mad about an Amazon affiliate deal instead.
Rotten To The Core
Publishing likes to think of itself as a “moral” business with strong “values” but I think that’s complete bullshit. No industry with the smallest amount of ethics would permit a giant scam like Author Solutions to happen under its nose.
No industry with the tiniest modicum of respect for writers would keep quiet about Penguin Random House owning the biggest vanity press in the world. No industry with any sense of decency would look the other way when Simon & Schuster partners with Author Solutions, or when Harlequin and HarperCollins happily profit from the exploitation of writers with their own white-label vanity imprints.
The moral compass of publishing is completely broken and we can’t look to the media to hold them to account, because the media is parroting talking points from the major publishers.
We are the only ones who can push back against this crap, so the next time The Guardian publishes an Amazon hit piece, ask them why they have never covered the Author Solutions story.
The next time the Wall Street Journal runs an article claiming the judge in the price-fixing trial was biased and calling her “a disgrace to the judiciary“, ask them why they didn’t disclose that the Wall Street Journal is owned by NewsCorp, which also owns HarperCollins – one of the five major publishers who illegally colluded to fix the price of e-books.
The next time the New York Times acts as an uncritical mouthpiece for a pro-publisher organization which has just spent $104,000 on a full-page spread, ask them why they don’t direct similar moral outrage towards publishers who are cheating writers out of contractually agreed royalties. Ask them why the only time they mention Author Solutions is in an uncritical or even glowing manner (like here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Ask them if it’s anything to do with the amount of money that publishers (and Author Solutions) spend on advertising.
The next time Publishers Weekly leads a crusade against Amazon, claiming to defend the values of this business, ask them how much money they make from Author Solutions advertising. Ask them if this is the reason why they never subject the most successful author scamming operation in the world to any level of scrutiny, and instead print puff pieces like this, this, this this, this, this, this, this, this and this.
And ask them what those values are, exactly. Because this business is rotten to the core.