Archive for September, 2016


September 16, 2016

Ah dreamer!  Many new writers think they don’t have to market a thing or critique their own work.  They will in those famous last words “just find an agent.”  Agents are wonderful people. They will market your work, if it is book length.  And if you are very fortunate, they will help you polish your work.  Finding an agent is not however, a panacea.

I’ve always tried to tell it straight and I caution beginning writers that finding an agent may be more difficult than finding a publisher.  A really fine agent is usually very busy and they need another client like they need the latest case of influenza.  So if they tell you they will look at your work, thank them profusely and back away and give them time to read your submission.


Most agents are like that rare bird in the movie, UP!  First, you need to travel to the places they frequent.  Usually if they are looking for new clients they will commit to going to a writer’s conference or two.  This is the best place to network with an agent.  Watch for conference information and study the agents attending and what they are interested in seeing.


  1. Make an appointment. Under NO circumstances are you allowed to chase an agent down in the hallway or the ladies’/men’s room to shove a manuscript in their hands.  I’ll happily give them permission to tear said manuscript into pieces and flush it into the plumbing.
  2. If the agent gives a special session, even if it costs more, take the session.
  3. Give the agent exactly what they want. If they want ten pages, give them ten pages, I don’t care if the last sentence on the tenth pages stops in the middle of a hyphenated word. In many cases they have to cart these entire submissions home on an airplane.
  4. If you schedule a “pitch session” with an agent be cognizant of your allotted time. They can have as many as twenty more writers lined up behind you, so be considerate.
  5. Thank them for their time. They are spending time with you rather than catching up with the episodes of their favorite TV program.
  6. Give the agent time to consider your submission. How much time?  At least two months. The more you bug them the more they won’t want you as a client.  After two months leave a polite message on their answering machine, thanking them again for considering your work, asking if they need more information, and leaving your name and number again. Then wait another month at least.

Agents are people.  They have busy lives.  Many of them have children who get ill and unforeseen interruptions.  If you haven’t heard from an agent in four months, you’re pretty safe to assume they aren’t interested so go out and write some queries.




September 8, 2016


It bears saying again that it is not an editor’s job to “fix” your work.  Unless you are a brilliant writer and your editor is a long lost descendant of Maxwell Perkins you need to be your own critic and editor first.   Yes, editors will catch mistakes, but it really isn’t their job.  It is a courtesy. So don’t expect them to clean up a messy manuscript or fix your inability to spell.  That’s your job.

We’ve all read those hysterical texts where the wrong word is placed in a sentence changing the whole message.  Most of those were caused by someone hitting the wrong button or as a result of some really bad and I mean BAD spelling.  Spellchecker assumes that you have some idea of the word you are spelling.  If you don’t have a clue, use the dictionary and find out.  That is equally true of the grammar function.  I know you are sick and tired of grammar checker telling you that your dialogue has sentence fragments, but live with it, and use it.

That’s the easy stuff.

  1. Learn the difference between showing and telling. I wrote a column about it a while back.  Read the column again and reread it if you still don’t understand.
  2. Do your research. More research than you will ever need, so you can be an expert on your subject.
  3. Learn to plot, to draw characters, and write great hooks.
  4. Then, if you need a partner to critique with, find one online or ask the librarians if they know about a local critique group. Words of caution here—find someone who is a better writer than you to partner with.  If you are very lucky you can find another writer who has been published several times and can make you better.

I have rating sheets from the National Writers Association contests which I am happy to share with you.  You can use them to rank your writing and find where you lack skills.  Email me at and I’ll be happy to share them with you.  Request either the fiction or nonfiction rating sheet and I’ll send them as an attachment.

Until next time keep writing.


September 1, 2016

Entire books have been written on the above subject and if you need more information I suggest you check one of those books out at your local library.  Here is a brief overview, (underline brief).

A synopsis is the short version of what your novel is about.  It should never be more than ten pages and I suggest shorter versions of less than five pages, if possible.  It tells the story in your novel.  Don’t worry ethical editors aren’t going to “take” the idea and have a better writer write the story.  Most good writers have more ideas than they have time.

Your synopsis should hook the reader/editor and tell the story.  (Notice that I keep saying “tell”. This is the only time I’m going to allow you to tell the story.)  You should tell the end of the story in this version.   Do not list the characters. No one wants a list.  Eliminate dialogue and just hit the important parts.  Red herrings or subplots can be left out.  A good synopsis should make the reader want to read the entire manuscript.

Outlines should be avoided for fiction as much as possible.  This is not your Roman numeral one outline.  It is a nonfiction version of the synopsis which goes something like this: Chapter One deals with your decision to write; Chapter Two gives the reader a brief list of the tools necessary for writing; Chapter Three outlines how to write a great beginning, etc.  That’s an outline.  Trust me don’t do the other thing.  I did and it provided some great laughs for my writing mentor.

The above should keep you busy in the following week.  Next week I’ll discuss critiquing your own work.

One quick piece of housekeeping.  I forgot to mention last week that you can submit a query online to many agents and editors which will save owing your soul to the U.S. Post Office.