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  Issue #34

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Dec 19, 2005  

        

Getting your work published – a few tips
By Cherie Rohn
New author and freelance writer: cherierohn@msn.com 

In 1996 at a casino dealer's school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my blackjack teacher, William Hanner, found himself sitting on a dynamite story. With only a third-grade education under his belt, he needed someone to write his true-life Damon Runyonesque tale. William's story hit me like a punch in the solar plexus. The scrawled words he'd set down in his dog-eared notebook so captivated me that I resolved to write his book no matter what it took.

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I'd never written anything, but – fired with unquenchable desire and possessing the optimism born of ignorance – I started to write. It was God-awful writing at first. Then I learned a writing technique – similar to creating an Oriental lacquer bowl – of carefully adding layer upon layer of details to flesh out the story's bare bones framework. Diligent research and interviews with William's closest friends and family rounded out the picture. My biggest task lay in preserving William's "voice", a problem faced by many ghost-writers. After about 20 drafts, it was time to find a literary agent.

Here are some things I learned through nine years of writing and researching. While all are important, none is original:

1. Write a good book! Sounds self-evident, but it's not easy. Great writing is its own best advertising and attracts agents and publishers like a magnet attracts metal filings. Bill Roorbach, in his book Writing Life Stories, says: "Editors are extensively trained in the detection of crap". Roorbach also quotes astrophysicist Ernest Rutherford: "If you can't explain your theory to a bartender, it's probably no good".

I try to write as if I were telling a story to just one person, like I'm talking to you. If something sounds false, the reader will sense it in a heartbeat. Whereas authentic, from-the-gut writing is hard to resist.

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2. Write a killer query and book proposal or outline. Creating these seemed more formidable than writing the book! But they're the required foot-in-the-door with agents. It's amazing how your story comes together when forced to describe it in brief but powerful terms. When designing your query letter, imagine you're in an elevator with a producer or publisher. You're under the gun to sell your idea before the doors open. (Not my idea, but a good one.) An editor told me: "Remember that your opening line – be it a query, a proposal, or the book – must 'hook' the reader's attention enough to drive them to read more".

My proposal, a sales letter of sorts, attracted the attention of the Farris Literary Agency, which I located through firstwriter.com's database of literary agents. They weren't the folks we signed with ultimately, but were supportive and professional, nonetheless. (For valuable advice on proposals see "Bulletproof book proposals", Jill Nagle, fwn 26.)

3. Cut, cut, cut. Tight writing is powerful writing. Learn to chop your manuscript with gusto. You don't have to "bleed" in the process. I made it a game to see how much text I could delete without losing important elements. I stated everything as simply as possible. When I couldn't find anything else to cut, I figured I was through. Our publisher confirmed my feelings saying the writing was "tight and needs little editing".

4. Trust your instincts. Along the way, William kept insisting the manuscript was "good enough", though my gut feeling said otherwise. So, several years into writing, I sent out queries to about ten literary agents I'd located through the Writer's Guide. One agent graciously penned a few lines on their standard rejection letter: "Great idea, but writing not up to industry standard". You've heard it before – don't stop until you're satisfied that you can't make it any better. I felt that if I gave it my best shot, I'd find an agent. And that's how it happened, which led to a contract with Barricade Books to publish our book Thief! (working title).

I also learned to be careful about who I allowed to read my writing. Even well-meaning friends and family can inadvertently undermine your confidence. I decided to follow Mario Puzo's advice: "Don’t show your stuff to anybody. You can get inhibited" (Mario Puzo, Mario Puzo's Godfatherly Rules for Writing a Bestselling Novel).

5. Find thee a literary agent. Like they say, unless you have an "in" with a publisher, you need an agent. My most valuable resource proved to be firstwriter.com. The Website allows you to fine-tune your selection process and submit queries online, saving precious time. Before sending out queries, I crosschecked literary agents I found at firstwriter.com with their descriptions in the Writer's Guide, another great resource.

While we actually ended up with a literary agent through a mutual friend, my query letter attracted the solid interest of three agencies listed at firstwriter.com. (Read "Seven essential points on literary agents", Jill Nagle, fwn 21.)

6. Fame and Fortune. By the way, a famous writer (whose name escapes me) once said: "If you're writing for the money, you will grow bitter before you grow rich". Late night television attracts millions of viewers with authors who "hit it big". What most people don't realise is that less than 1 per cent of all authors get rich writing, like J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. And it took her years of struggling before she was published.

The above points are by no means all-inclusive. However, following them helped me, a non-writer, morph into a soon-to-be-published author. If a novice with a lousy ball-and-chain full-time job, writing somebody else's story can get published, so can you!

Thief! by William Hanner and Cherie Rohn, in press with Barricade Books www.barricadebooks.com, is due to hit bookstores in 2006. Currently, the authors seek a publisher for another manuscript, Dog Justice, a mystery story for young readers.

"Nothing is dull," says Cherie Rohn, who has racked up an interesting list of experiences so far as a nightclub singer, scuba instructor, TV personality, and poker room floor supervisor – to name but a few.

In the past year, Cherie combined 15 years of design experience with 9 years freelance writing to forge a new business – Ideal Graphic Solutions – the perfect marriage between words and graphics to convey your message. Clients range from first-time business owners who need the perfect logo to individuals requiring a professional freelance writer – and everything in between.

"Everyone wants value for their money. I figure, if I surpass the expectations of my clients, they'll believe it was money well spent."

Cherie lives in Ft. Myers, Florida, where she writes and dives coral reefs.

Her Website is currently under construction. Contact Cherie directly at cherierohn@msn.com

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Are editors evil?
By Bonnie Boots

When shopping for my Halloween costume, it's no drooling vampire or motley mummy for me, but the true embodiment of terror, a leering, lurching editor!

Admit it. You think editors are the scariest creatures in the haunted woods of writing. We all do. That's why I invited writers to address the theme "Editors Are Evil" in any manner they wished – extra credit given for good humour. Entries in every form rolled in, from poetry and prose to ransom notes, and what wicked fun these writers had skewering those evil editors!

But amid the fun and fantasy, one irritated little email bristled. "I'm a hardworking editor," it said. "Are you saying I'm evil?"

Certainly not, dear sir. Statistically, less than 10 per cent of editors are truly evil. The rest are merely underpaid people that once aspired to literature and art but ended up editing articles about celebrity break-ups. That sort of work may wither the soul and curdle the brain of someone sensitive to words and language, but it doesn't make them evil.

I've done a stint as an editor, so I have some insight into this man's moan. I know his pay is too low, his stress too high. His passion and his patience are eroded by daily battles with bean counters. He winces when sending form letters rejecting people that can really write. But here's a fact: if he takes precious time to explain in detail why he's not choosing a submission, the writer will write back, arguing point by point. It's a merry-go-round, and the only ticket off is a form letter.

An editor is a business manager. The work is all about bottom-line profits. A writer is an initiator. The work is all about creating and exploring and never about profits, until the electric bill is overdue.

Writers are not, by nature, business people. What we are, by nature, is sensitive. So when we send off a query, a submission or a finished work and are either ignored or rejected, it doesn't occur to us that the reasons are beyond ourselves. It does occur to us that editors are trying to torture us.

We imagine all sorts of scary things, making ourselves sick at heart because we have no real way of knowing why our work was rejected. In the absence of information, fear takes over and we begin to think editors are evil.

I know only one sure-fire way to ward off fear, and that is with laughter. With the "Editors Are Evil" contest I invited writers to discover the transformative power of making fun of your fears. Make fun they did, in the most creative, imaginative and inspired ways.

Freed from the need to please an editor, these writers unleashed their creative minds and produced a torrent of witty writing. Poems and stories flowed in from America and Australia, from Singapore and Greece, all giving voice to our communal fears and frustrations with editors.

It was a powerful experience, for them and for me. I learned that the writer's struggle with feelings of insecurity and powerlessness is the same around the world. And writers learned that laughing at those struggles is better than brooding. Laughter opens up the heart and the mind; sweeps out the dark corners and lets a clean, fresh breeze blow through.

Remember this next time you send off a submission. We writers are not powerless. And editors are not evil. We are all incredibly complex individuals trying to survive in a truly bewildering world. The best survival tool we have is hidden in the corners of our mouths. It only takes a smile to reveal it.

The winners of the "Editors Are Evil" contest are posted at http://www.writesideout.com/contestWinners.htm.

Bonnie Boots is a full-time writer and part-time designer. Her wise and witty T-shirt designs allow writers to proudly parade their talent by wearing their "Write Side Out!"

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How I got a literary agent
An interview with author Richard E. Dixon

Richard E. Dixon recently acquired an agent using firstwriter.com's database of literary agencies. We asked him about his writing, and how he found success.

fw: Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us, Richard, and congratulations on placing your book with an agent. What's your book called, and what is it about?

RD: My novel is called The Diary. It's in two parts. Part one takes place in pioneer Oregon. Jake Baker and his wife, Maggie, join an Oregon-bound wagon train in St. Louis is 1857. The train becomes lost in one of Oregon Territory's most desolate areas. Jake, while searching for the trail, falls with his horse into a deep box canyon during a blinding thunderstorm. He's too crippled by the fall to climb out of the canyon, but survives there for fourteen years. Meanwhile, Maggie makes it to civilisation with the wagon train. She finds work on a farm in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon, eventually inheriting the farm. She never remarries, always hoping Jake will find her. Part two takes place in modern times. Dave Wheeler, a young private pilot working for his commercial pilot's license, takes a summer job on a large cattle ranch in eastern Oregon. Part of his job entails periodically checking the cattle herds in the remote parts of the ranch by small plane. While flying low one day, he flies over a deep canyon and sees a small cabin in it. He later rappels down and finds Jake Baker's remains, and a diary. With information in the diary, he and his girlfriend find Jake and Maggie's great great granddaughter, Annie. Annie is able to rappel, and asks Dave to take her into the canyon so that she may bring out her grandpa's remains. Dave complies. When Annie enters the rotting cabin, she places a gentle hand on Jake's ashy skull. She whispers: "It's time to go home, Grampa. Maggie is waiting".

fw: What made you want to write a novel?

RD: I sailed many years as a Merchant Marine radio officer. I enjoyed reading Westerns while at sea, and decided to try to write one of my one.

fw: And how did you go about writing it, once you'd made that decision?

RD: I renovated an old storage shed on my 40-acre Oregon place. That's where I write, at least three hours a day. sometimes many more. I began my novel in 1980, but worked only sporadically at it until the last two years, when I hit it hot and heavy.

fw: Is it your first attempt at writing?

RD: This is my first novel. I've had articles published in Sea Classics, Plane and Pilot, and Popular Communications magazines. While at sea, I copied Morse code news broadcasts from a Marine radio station in New York and put out daily newspapers for the passengers and crew.

fw: What was the first thing you did to try and get your novel published?

RD: I immediately searched for an agent, as soon as I had my novel polished and ready to market.

fw: How did you go about trying to find an agent?

RD: I first tried finding an agent through "Fiction-addiction".

fw: Was that successful, or did you find joining firstwriter.com more effective?

RD: I find firstwriter.com extremely helpful. Being able to see what material agents will or will not accept is invaluable. firstwriter.com found my agent.

fw: How did you go about making your approach to agents?

RD: I composed my query letter utilising suggestions from two books on the subject, and articles from Writer's Digest. I sent query letters out one at a time and gave each agent a certain amount of time to respond before sending another.

fw: How long did it take to get a positive response?

RD: I searched for an agent for about three months. After six rejections, Martin-McClean Literary Associates asked to see my entire manuscript. Lisa Martin responded within hours after I submitted my email query letter. She agreed to represent me to a publisher, and I've signed a contract with her.

fw: What do you think she took you on?

RD: My agent thinks my novel is well written, interesting, and original (her words).

fw: So what's it like now that you've got an agent?

RD: I consider myself extremely fortunate to find an agent who thinks my novel is saleable. I don't respect Stephen King's recommendation not to bother hiring an agent. He might have that luxury, but we unknowns wouldn't stand a chance in today's literary world without an agent (in my opinion). My agent will be sending out 12 "packages" for me to publishers in the next few days.

fw: What advice would you give to other writers trying to find an agent?

RD: I feel I should be very cautious in giving tips or advice to other writers, as I won't consider myself one until my novel is at Barnes and Noble. I will say that I didn't at first take the query letter method of introducing myself to an agent as seriously as I should have. Query letters are very important. Without a carefully and thoughtfully composed one, your excellent manuscript might never be read.

fw: What are you doing with your writing now?

RD: Now that The Diary has gone out into the big old nasty world, I feel freeeeee, and I'm starting a new novel. This one will be a sea story.

Thanks, firstwriter.com, for giving me the opportunity to think for a while that I might one day be a published author. I know I have a long way to go!

fw: The best of luck in getting there! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

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Resources for writers at firstwriter.com

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News:

New holiday books needed
Airleaf Publishing, LLC, are seeking holiday books to sell in the 2006 Holiday Season (for which bookstores will start buying in June).

If you have a book nuder 20,000 words that you think could be the next How the Grinch Stole Christmas you can submit it for free in any format, including as a paper submission. All entries receive a review, and the winning book will be published and sold in the 2006 Holiday Season.

Submissions must be sent by Febrary 28, 2006, to Brien Jones (Author Consultant), Airleaf Publishing, LLC, 35 Industrial Drive, Suite 104, Martinsville, IN 46151, United States; brien@airleaf.com; http://www.airleaf.com 

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Spiked magazine closes
UK magazine Spiked closed in October, 2005, due to a lack of funds. The website will remain online so that previous contributors whose work has published can continue to get some coverage. Back issues are available at a cost of £2.00 including postage.

To visit the website, go to spiked-magazine.co.uk 

For details of more than 550 other magazines, click here

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The Bridport Prize 2006 opens
The Bridport Prize is the biggest open writing prize for unpublished work in the English language. In 2006, first place prizes of £5,000 (that's over US$8,000) are available in both the poetry and short story categories, with several other cash prizes for runners-up.

Enter online at www.bridportprize.org.uk, or for details on entering by post go to click here.

For details of over 150 other current competitions, click here. 

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Write-on-Holiday
After the success of its 2005 courses, Write-on-Holiday is now offering a total of six holiday writing courses in Turkey in 2006: three in spring and a further three in autumn.

Tutors lined up for the spring sessions include Stella Duffy, who will be covering writing fiction and drama; award-winning TV writer Paul Abbott; dramatist / actor / producer / director Al Hunter Ashton; writer / producer Diane Whitley; and dramatist Dave Simpson.

For more details go to writeonholiday.co.uk.

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New eBay shop for self-published authors
To celebrate its second year, M-Y Books (promoters and marketers of self-published authors) has opened its own eBay shop, specially dedicated to the selling of new books by authors who are starting out.

To find out more contact Jonathan on +44 (0) 1992 586279 or by email at jonathan@
m-ybooks.co.uk
 

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