When commitment to your story fails you.

I like helping new writers make sense of this writing gig. It’s my way of giving back to my community. Which is a big reason why I enjoy hanging around on Wattpad. (Yes, I have indeed warmed to it.)

A whole lot of writers there are in fact still learning. Which means many writers are asking for advice. (A good thing, because it gives me fodder to write about.)

One of those things that people keep asking about is about commitment.

Things like: “How do I stay committed to the stories I’m writing? I always start stories, but I never finish them.”

Usually, my immediate response would be: “Say no to the shiny new ideas, then. Make a choice to stay committed and keep going.”

BUT.

I think there’s more going on to this question than “You’re just not committed.”

Why?

Well, I think back to when I was a writer learning the craft. I started seven drafts that I was excited about. I finished exactly none of them. At the time, I also thought it was commitment issues. Which was why, when draft number 8 came along, I started blogging about it as an accountability measure.

The thing is, in retrospect, I realized that The Vanished Knight happened as the result of a happy coincidence of commitment and just enough writing knowledge to get by.

Because in those other seven drafts, I’d be all excited and write, then suddenly something would just make me go meh and stop. And that something is my whole point.

That something was something that was wrong with the story. A Mary-Sue character. Lack of conflict. Lack of stakes. Lack of proper motivation. Lack of focus. (And on… and on… and on.)

There’s always something that makes a serious difference between our expectation and reality. And when we realize that reality isn’t stacking up, we stop.

That’s what I did. (In fact, I still do it. I just changed my habits a slight bit.)

So how did I finish The Vanished Knight? (Actually that’s a much longer story, but anyway.) I fell in love with the characters and concept and committed myself to finish it. Same as always. Except I added a blog to keep myself motivated. But that would NOT have helped me if not for the next thing I did.

I committed myself to figuring out what went wrong in the previous “failed” drafts so that I didn’t make those same mistakes again. 

Yes. I recognized that there would be flaws in my story ahead of time and set about correcting them before they happened. And this time, I was lucky enough that I had learned enough to get all the way to the end. 
So if you’re still struggling with finishing your first book, take heart. Use all your previous mistakes as lessons. Find what made them stop working, and then make sure you’re not doing the same things in your current project. I promise you that you;ll at least get further than you did before. (Unless you go chasing after every bright idea that comes your way. In which case, read here.)
To the new kids: How many tries have you made? To the old hands at this writing thing: How many tries did it take you to finish one book? 
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The secret to blogging success. (Really.)

As you guys might or might not remember, I’m currently in the process of visiting all of the blogs I’ve followed since the first time I started blogging.

Yes, I’m still doing this more than a year later. I followed a lot of blogs.

You know what’s frustrating me, though? How many people stopped blogging seemingly because they were discouraged by the lack of comments on their blogs.

The reason why I find it frustrating? Time and again, these would be the people I used to visit frequently, but who just never seemed to visit back. And having been through about half of my list and visiting everyone at least once, I can say with safety that there are still people out there who expect other people to read their posts, but who don’t actually seem to get involved with blogs outside their own.

And now, it’s seemingly getting worse, because google seems to be actively discouraging the use of their “follow” button. So there’s no longer an easy, surefire way of getting a blog’s feed on a blog reader. (I use bloglovin, but dang, it can sometimes be a major schlep. Because bloglovin requires me to search for the feed on their site, and then, if it’s not there, they’ll add it later and I’m supposed to “check back.” Right. Because “checking back” on a link I will have forgotten in a day or two is going to happen.)

At any rate, it’s becoming easier and easier for people to “lose” blogs they visited once or twice. And there’s only one solution that I can see to this:

We have to visit each other, people. I know I disregard my advice a lot, since time sometimes just doesn’t allow me to do anything but post and run. But the moment I do that for a week or so, I can see my traffic taking a hit.

Back to my point. If we got back to the old ways (gosh I’m sounding old now) of reciprocating visits, and we knew everyone we went to would do the same, we wouldn’t have this problem with people not visiting.

It’s not that difficult either. First stop is your comments section. More often than not, your commenters’ names are in fact links that lead to their profiles, that lead to more links, that lead to their blog. So if someone says hi, go say hi back. See? Suddenly this has become a bit more of a conversation. A first step toward a relationship.

And suddenly, you’re not alone.

Tada! Discouragement problem solved.

Seriously, though. If you’re a lurker, yes, you in the back seats munching pop-corn while reading the comments. Please say hi! I actually WANT to find your blog.

Promise.

At the least you’ll get a hi back within a few days. Or… depending on what you’re posting, maybe even a really thoughtful comment. (I try to be generous with those.)

Anyone else sharing my frustration with people not visiting around and then getting discouraged? Any tips for me to find new bloggers? Are you a lurker? (Hi!)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (an offer of representation)

Hi all! Today I welcome Kaye Draper to My First Book. Kaye is one of the newer bloggers that I’ve been following, but I find her blog, Write Me, a useful spot for all sorts of information from writing tips to books to add to my TBR list and good music to write by. She doesn’t have a big following as yet, which I think is a shame, so please do me a favor and go check Write Me out?

Are you back? Good, now you can read her post on querying…

I was kind of stuck as to how to approach this topic, since I’m not a published author , yet. A previous guest post spoke about the query and submissions process with publishers/editors, but I haven’t even gotten there yet. So, I decided to “write what I know”. New writers don’t realize how grueling the process of becoming a published author can be. Maybe we hear it, but we don’t believe it. It can’t be that bad. Listen to me new writer. Eyes on me. You listening? I’ve been there. I’m still not published, but I’ve been at it long enough to learn some small things. And here they are:

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (an offer of representation)

1) Expect to spend a lot of time agonizing over how to write a query and synopsis that somehow does you new Bouncing Baby Novel credit

2) Expect to dash off your e-mail to Super Agent (and about 20-100 others)

3) Expect to check your e-mail every five seconds just in case someone responded with a manuscript request while you were in the bathroom

4) Expect to get no requests for Bouncing Baby Novel, even after checking your e-mail every five seconds for a months

5) Expect to start working on Next Great Novel just to distract yourself from checking your e-mail

6) Expect to repeat steps 1-3

7) Expect to finally get an e-mail from Super Agent (or one of the 100 others) asking for more material

8) Expect that Super Agent wants an exclusive

9) Expect to repeat step 4 while stalking Super Agent on her blog, twitter, interviews, and anything else you can dig up on the web

10) Expect to send a follow-up e-mail to Super Agent “just checking in” after six weeks on the unspecified exclusive, because seriously, you’re dying here

11) Expect an immediate response that makes you think she never even looked at the manuscript

12) Expect crushing despair, alleviated momentarily by another request

13) Expect to gain ten pounds while waiting for that rejection

14) Expect to pull yourself up by the seat of your pants and start all over with Next Great Novel #2

15) Expect a couple more immediate request for material on Next Great Novel #2, one within minutes of sending your query

16) Expect to repeat step number 3- even though by now you KNOW better

17) Expect to wonder why, dear Gods and Angles WHY this process takes so long. Meanwhile a published author laughs at you. You have no idea. It took her a year to get her first book published AFTER finding an agent

18) Expect to have moved on to your next project before you even get a rejection on the requested material

19) Expect to be almost finished with Next Great Novel #3 while still wondering what ever happened to that manuscript you sent to Super Agent for Next Great Novel#2

20) Expect to finish Next Great Novel #3 before you ever hear back from Super Agent

The morale of the story? Query widely. Then move on. Don’t sit around waiting for actual, you know… ANSWERS, to the query. Move on to Next Great Novel. Otherwise it will be really easy to become discouraged and never move forward. It might not be your first, second, or fifth novel that lands you an Agent, Maybe it’s book six or book sixty. But if you were still stuck on the first thing you’d ever written, you would never have gotten to book sixty to find out.

You probably won’t believe this until you get there. I think new writers hold out hope that their story will be different, that they’ll be an instant success on the first try. It could happen. But statistically speaking, it’s not likely. Don’t let yourself get stuck. And don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Even when you get an agent (when, not if) you’ll just have to go through the whole process all over again with publishers. And no agent is going to want to rep you if you expect to sit on your hands until something gets published. Butt. Seat. Write. Good luck!

Thanks so much for the great insight of what it’s like to be in the query stage, Kaye. I definitely won’t be querying one agent at a time.

So Ladies and Gents, this brings us to the end of Query Month at MFB. July is the month of Inspired. Must be a good theme, because almost every Friday is full. Only the 27th is open. So if you want to snap that date up before anyone else, or any of the other dates for the rest of the year, please check out this post and contact me.

Have a great weekend, all!

Querying for Beginners

My name is Matthew. Matthew MacNish is the pen name I publish fiction under. You can visit my blog, The QQQE, if you would like to know more.

Misha asked me to write about querying for beginners today, and especially mistakes some beginners make. Before I get into that, let me tell you a bit about myself, and my history with query letters, and point you to some places where I learned about them.

When I first started sending out queries, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know any writers in real life, and I hadn’t met any on the internet yet at the time. So I crafted what I thought was a good query, and sent it out. I got a couple of requests (surely based more on the pages than the query), but I was inevitably rejected. I wasn’t ready. Neither was my query—or my book.

You can read some of my terrible old queries, and see many good examples of the mistake this beginner made, by checking the label “queries-rejections” at my blog.

So I decided to study query letters, and as much as I hated them, I decided I would get good at them. So I started my blog, and began by sharing my own mistakes, so others could learn from them. Then I started finding some great resources for helping to learn how to write a better query. First, was Nathan Bransford’s blog, specifically posts like Query Letter Mad Libs, and Anatomy of a Good Query Letter. Then it was Kate Testerman’s blog, and especially her service Ask Daphne! About My Query. Then I met Elana Johnson, read her e-book From the Query to the Call, and after getting to know her (and the other great hosts) for a while, I won a query contest at Write On Con, which you can read the results of, in which Literary Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe critiqued my query, here.

Once I figured out how to write a decent query, I started hosting and analyzing successful ones on my blog. They didn’t have to have earned the author an agent, just a full or partial request. The fun part though, is several of those queries are now published books. You can find a list of those posts, here. Then, once I became familiar with good queries, I started critiquing query letters on my blog.

You can find those posts by checking the label “queries-critiques” on it.

Now that you have some background let’s talk about query mistakes.

First and foremost is the Rhetorical Question. This one is so bad, and so famous, it’s almost an internet meme. Here are some examples of what people think of rhetorical questions in queries:

Tahereh Mafi makes fun of them

The Rejectionist answers some of them
The Query Shark threatens those who use them

Nathan Bransford writes some for classic novels

So yeah, don’t use rhetorical questions. In fact, I would advise you just leave questions out of your query altogether.

The next most common mistake I see is vagueness. Being vague in a query is even worse than being cliché. Well, okay, not always. A really bad cliché could probably ruin a query, but I don’t see that as often as I see people being vague.

When you write a query, get specific. Don’t say character x’s life flipped inside out when her mother came back into her life, show us how it changed, specifically, because even though we can all imagine hundreds of ways in which that kind of incident would change a person’s life, we need to know exactly how it change this character’s life, so that we can begin to picture the world within the story the query letter is describing, and not be left wondering what actually happens.

Not as common, but probably worse, is when a query has no sense of character. I often see people begin with the character’s name, but then just jump right into the inciting incident. You can have an awesome plot, with a perfect inciting incident, but if the reader does know what kind of person your character is, they’re not going to care what happens to them.

I could probably go on, but this post is long enough already, so I’ll leave it to your readers to ask questions in the comments if they have any, Misha.

Thanks for having me on today!

Thanks so much for this great post, Matt! I’m just there will be more than one reader who has been dying to find such a good list of tips and research links as this. I know I have. It was wonderful to have you here.

Anyone else interested in doing a Guest Post Friday? I have two in July and four in August open. If you are, please see this post for more information and contact me.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Be Inspired to Be You

Hi all! Today I welcome Jenna Quentin to My First Book. Jenna’s a health nut, evangelical hippy, who loves the cheese and wine of her adopted country France. She writes for teen and middle grade magazines and random websites. Her current work in progress is a middle grade novel called The Magicless, set in a parallel universe that looks like modern France. She blogs at Meandering in a Field of Words about things from life, movies and books that are inspiring or examples of inspiration. She’s on Twitter @JennaQuentin and on facebook as Jenna Quentin.

Take it away, Jenna!




Be Inspired to Be You

We all wanna be J.K. Rowling or Nathan Bransford or somebody. We think of changing kids’ lives with the words over which we agonized. We imagine having a grant to support us while we write full-time. We dream of the house we’ll buy in the Pyrénées mountains when we sell the film rights. We say we do it because we love it, because it’s in our souls, because we’d shrivel up and die if we didn’t. But I think we all dream of being writer rock stars or young adult fiction idols.

Like Emerson’s transparent eyeball, taking in information without being observed, I try to be very thirsty sponge soaking up everything around me and using it for inspiration. I recently saw this music video by my beautiful Michael Bublé (ok, he’s not mine). It spoke to me about my writerly aspirations and believing in myself. ‘Cause most days I feel like if I’m not a blazing glorious success, that I should just give up. RRRRR. Wrong answer.

I’m not saying that we should not aim high. But there’s a difference between being all we can be and being thinking that we have to be a particular something in order to be at our best. How can we be realistic in our goals, but still shoot for the stars?

I don’t know the answer for everyone. But I want to encourage any writers or starving artists or dreamers…”Keep on lovin’ what is true, and the world will come to you, you can find it in yourself.”

What is your dream? Do you have a song that lifts you up when you need it, that keeps you dreaming and says you can achieve it?

Innovate, Experiment, and Don’t Let Your Mojo Die

Hi all! Today I welcome Neil Vogler to My First Book. He blogs at A Writer, He Muttered on his life as a writer, the industry and on writing tips. So if you’re looking for another POV, Neil’s your guy. Anyway, here he is on a post drawn from various posts on his own blog… (Makes a good sample, don’t you think?)

Innovate, Experiment, and Don’t Let Your Mojo Die(NB: select sections of this post have appeared before on my own blog).

I’d like to doff my cap in gratitude to Misha for giving me the chance to guest on her blog. I’m very impressed with how upbeat and supportive Misha is of the community that hangs around these parts, and how responsive and positive those that read this blog are in return. Good job, everyone. Now please don’t flay me alive in the comments…

I’ve been around the block a few times as a writer, but I have real sympathy for people who are new to the scene, and to the culture that surrounds it. I consider right now to be a very difficult time if you’re a new writer — ie you’re literally just awakening to the possibility that you are someone who wants and/or needs to write. If you’re thinking about writing a novel and struggling to find your voice, this must be a frankly bewildering age to live in.

Firstly you have the awesome gravity of the internet pulling at you every minute of the day, which reminds you time and again that there are millions of other voices out there and that they, depending on your mood and confidence level when you read them, have probably already got better-developed voices and far better prospects than you. Added to that, there are endless sites and articles and blogs about how to write out there (hey, including mine, sometimes!). New and aspiring writers could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and giving up before they even start.

The information deluge is fierce, and its effects can be potent — and in some cases, insidious. It seems that everybody and their mother’s mother has an opinion regarding how you should write and what constitutes “good” writing. There is a kind of “accepted industry knowledge model” prevalent out there regarding what is “good writing” and what isn’t, largely propagated by the huge amount of agent and publishing-insider blogs. And whilst all that advice is undeniably useful in short bursts and in the relevant context, in the long term you start to realise that not only is a lot of the advice contradictory and confusing, it’s off-putting and can absolutely drain you of all creative motivation.

As a new writer taking tentative steps on the internet you rapidly learn, for example, that adverbs are plain evil, that adjectives make your style look weak, that there are effectively innumerable rules that you should follow to be “good”, to be “publishable”, to be a “real writer”.

I plead with you: don’t let that stuff kill your mojo. Let your mojo kill that stuff.

The truth about writing as I see it is simply this: ultimately, there are no rules. In the hands of real talent, anything goes. Anything. All that matters is you’re writing a compelling story that succeeds on its own terms and makes the reader want – no, need — to keep turning those pages.

Obviously, as a writer you have to understand the rules before you can break them, or in some cases throw them out completely. But that’s the best thing about the novel as a format — if it works for the story then it works, and structure be damned if structure is just getting in the way, or character be damned, or dialogue. Writers should not be afraid, especially at the beginning of their writing lives (and in my opinion, never at all) to experiment. Because it’s only when you experiment that you start to learn where your real limitations and boundaries are.

Like many others I write in quite a cinema-influenced fashion, I think, but I am very consciously trying to do things in a novel that are unique to the medium, ie things that would never make it into a film. With a novel, you can bring levels of depth and nuance to a story that no other medium can ever hope to achieve. A novel is the most luxuriant form of story there is, and as far as I’m concerned a good one immerses and engages you like no other medium can.

You read a lot about following trends. Write to market, the advisors say, look at what’s popular, figure out how you can tap into the current niche, etc etc. But no, people. That’s not fine. The status quo will not suffice; that way lies stagnation for artists, and for the industry and artform as a whole.

What fiction needs in all its genres is innovators, not followers. And what readers want in every genre is to have their minds blown by a great story.

So I say: follow your instincts. Be bold. Chase down the path that excites you, not what you think the market wants. And in the first instance, write only for yourself, for your own satisfaction. And when it’s all over, when the blood’s dried and the pound of flesh has been safely extracted, then figure out how to sell it. Because passion sells books, and passion sells stories. Don’t let the million rules that you think you should follow limit you; if they don’t suit you, figure out a way around them, or through them.

Publishing is changing beyond belief. There have never been more opportunities to get a book out there, no matter how weird, bizarre, or challenging it may be. There has never been a better time to advertise the fact that your story exists. Perhaps ultimately agents can’t sell it, and publishers won’t sell it. But you can, if you’re passionate and driven enough.

It’s all possible. That’s what I believe.

Here’s to freedom of experimentation… liberty of the mind… and the thrill of the new.


Thanks so much for this lovely and encouraging post!

Any new writers out there? What do you think about what Neil said? Old hands, any tips for the new writers?

Have a great weekend everyone!