Perseverance Is The Key

julieandrews1I received two rejections this week, and while they were nice well written form letters, that’s what they were. You know the ones that thank you for considering their agency, and assure you that they will give your work a thorough going over before they make a decision. And then they add, if you haven’t heard from us in two weeks, assume we are not interested, and your work isn’t a good fit for us…

I have to admit besides being a little disappointed, I was skeptical and mad. I’ve put a lot of work into my manuscript. I’ve edited so many versions, that it doesn’t even look like it’s former self.  It really is that much better than the original completed work. So what’s the problem?

I’ve heard over and over not to take it personal. It’s business, and truth be known, it may have nothing to do with your manuscript. If there are no obvious flaws with your work, send it out to other agents. Just because you were rejected by one agent, doesn’t mean you will be by the next.

The New York Times best selling author of “The Help”, was rejected by 60 different agents. You read that right. Her 61st attempt was a success. The book was on the best seller list for the entire year and eventually made into a movie.

So why do books get rejected?

Maybe your manuscript just isn’t ready.

  • The author can’t format, spell, and doesn’t understand grammar. The result is  incomprehensible sentences that leave the reader confused, pulling them completely out of the story.
  • Dragging dialogue, head hopping, poor character development, plot holes, info dumping…
  • Maybe your work isn’t that bad and with competent editing, it’s publishable. Staff editors don’t have the time and sometimes don’t even have the necessary experience to clean your work up. Hire an editor before you send your manuscript out for consideration if self-editing isn’t an option.

Maybe your manuscript is ready but….

  • The agent/agency has an abundance of the genre you just submitted, and they are not accepting anything new in that genre until their inventory decreases.  You really weren’t a fit for what they were looking for.
  • Maybe the agent/publisher reviewing your work is in such a bad mood, they would turn down  Nicholas Sparks “The Notebook”,  even if it was handed to them on a silver platter – twenty four did. Agents make mistakes.
  • Maybe the storyline/subject matter you’re writing about isn’t selling right now. Zombie books are getting old. People want something new.
  • The publisher could literally be in a cash crunch, and no matter how great your book is, they can’t purchase it right now. They have a freeze in place until some books start selling, and they can build up their reserves.

What I’m trying to say, is there are a lot of reasons books get rejected, and they may have nothing to do with your work. I’ve read more than once, that perseverance is the key.

If you have a great, publishable piece of work, don’t give up, submit it to other agencies for review. If you have less than perfect work, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Don’t expect someone to fix it for you. They won’t.

Don’t give up!!!

-Jan R

Perseverance Is The Key

Fact or Fiction?(Revised)

_shannon-wheeler-stop-fact-checking-my-story-new-yorker-cartoon-2If your hero is drinking sake in Tokyo, you better know which hand he should use to hold the cup; and when he is sunning on the beach at Cape Cod, remember that there won’t be any palm trees-Dean R. Koontz

You can’t get away with faking background information. If you fabricate a lot of facts on a wide variety of subjects, your readers will catch on.  I know it’s your story, and it’s fiction, but unless you are writing science fiction that involves creating your own world, you better stick to the facts when it comes to background.

Every time a reader knows that you are faking a bit of background information, your credibility slips a notch. When your credibility slips two, three, or four notches, you will lose that reader.

No one is saying that you have to limit your story to places/things that you know, but if you are going to step into unfamiliar territory, you had better do your homework.
There is so much information available, that there is no reason why you can’t write about any country you never visited, canoe making, basket weaving, or the floor plan for Biltmore house. I think you get the gist of where I’m going with this, but keep in mind that very few reference books are perfect.

If you do have to research certain topics, cross-check every piece of information, using two and preferably three sources.

Firsthand knowledge of background information is always more desirable than second hand. There is no better way to learn the sound, texture, smell, and look of  a place or thing, than when you experience it firsthand, but if you are diligent in your research, you can make your background come alive.
-Jan R

Fact or Fiction?(Revised)

Pacing-Fast Or Slow?

controllingthepaceinyournovelPeople who love to read but have never written books are cognizant of the pacing. Pacing sets the tempo of your story. Is it a fast read or did it seem to drag on for days? Hopefully you’ve found a balance between the two and they perform like a fine tuned orchestra.

I have read many good books that I skipped portions of, because I was tired of reading about the duchess’s frilly dress or  inner hull of a slave ship. I’m glad the authors did their homework and provided historical information, but sometimes it can be a bit much and totally bog down your story. I have read other books that were nonstop action that left me wanting; they were missing the details that made the story real and the characters endearing.

So how do you control the pacing of your story since once you start writing it seems to take on a life of it’s own? Be cognizant of the tempo and your audience. You have to strike a balance between the amount of information in the pages you are given and the patience of your reader.

There are three main attributes that effect the pace of your novel.

  1. The number of pages/words in the novel vs. the time period covered – Long books that depict a short period of time are going to move at a slower pace.  you’re going to be providing a lot of detail and back story to fill up all those pages. Short stories depicting long periods of time are going to move at a faster pace. In order to cover everything you have to cover, you’re not going to have time to stop and smell the roses. There’s just too much happening and not enough pages/words to expound-talk about making every word count 🙂
  2. The density of the narrative – The length of the story versus the number of twists and characters within. If you have a simple story with maybe one subplot and a handful of characters, you should be able to move along at a fairly steady pace. You start going all Lord Of The Rings on that book with numerous subplots and characters that are a product of your imagination-you’re going to have to slow down and figure out a way to keep it moving forward without getting too bogged down in the details.
  3. Scenes vs. Exposition                                                                                                          Scenes are the important events that move the story forward.  They are the action and dialogue that occur during the course of the story.                                                    Exposition is the back story or descriptive information that stands outside of the story and slows things down.

I love this chart. It provides some great examples of ways to control the pace of your novel and is very user friendly:-) Some more things to think about when you are addressing pacing.

controlling-the-pace-of-a-story

 

I hope this helped.

-Jan R

 

Pacing-Fast Or Slow?

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

aid174983-v4-728px-Stop-Saying-the-Word-_Like_-Step-4-Version-2On more than one occasion I have declared my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word ‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dump, because it specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because it’s a problem word for me. Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for 🙂

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. Plenty of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. As I stated above with ‘had’, only if a word or phrase is overused to the point that it is noticeable to the reader, does it become a bad thing.

Noticing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to improving your writing. If you realize you are in the process of abusing a word while you are writing, make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a half an hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics, is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you edit, double-check to see if the word is really necessary, or if it can be changed. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain words 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

Keep It Simple-Use Nouns and Verbs!

untitledLess is more. Five adjectives in one sentence is better than six; four adjectives are better than five; three are better than four; two are better than three…By using fewer words to obtain the effect you desire, you will force yourself to use more accurate and more powerful words-Dean Koontz, ‘How To Write Best Selling Fiction’

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place-Strunk and White, ‘The Elements Of Style’

These are two great sources with amazing advice. They are not alone in their philosophy. I have read this time and time again and I understand completely were they are coming from. I am a self designated skipper. Some of you know exactly what I mean. I couldn’t care less the lady has diamond encrusted buttons running down the back of her evening gown. Unless it winds up in a murder scene, don’t go there.

I love Jerry Jenkins. He has written numerous blogs on the importance of simplicity and avoiding the urge to prettify your prose. He calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Whoa! How many times did you have to read that?

None of these authors disparage adjectives and adverbs. They see them as indispensable parts of speech. The problem is when, why, and how many times we use them. Rich ornate prose is hard to digest.

Anything that interferes with communication-excessive adjectives and adverbs, overly complicated phrasing, too elaborate metaphors and similes presented soley for the fact that the writer wants to show off his/her skills, should be omitted.

The best way to communicate with your reader, is to keep your writing simple and direct.

-Jan R

Keep It Simple-Use Nouns and Verbs!

195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

Powerful verbs list image 1I wish I could take credit for this blog but it was written by Jerry Jenkins. He is probably my favorite blogger and one of my favorite authors. You can find him at jerryjenkins.com

He did give permission to share this blog with any writer who needed to read it. He wanted to get the word out. So I thought about you, my followers.

Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish?

I sure have.

Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

But still the sentence doesn’t work.

Something simple I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose. The authors of that little bible of style said: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Even Mark Twain was quoted, regarding adjectives: “When in doubt, strike it out.”

That’s not to say there’s no place for adjectives. I used three in the title and first paragraph of this post alone.

The point is that good writing is more about well-chosen nouns and powerful verbs than it is about adjectives and adverbs, regardless of what you were told as a kid.

There’s no quicker win for you and your manuscript than ferreting out and eliminating flabby verbs and replacing them with vibrant ones.

How To Know Which Verbs Need Replacing

Your first hint is your own discomfort with a sentence. Odds are it features a snooze-inducing verb.

As you hone your ferocious self-editing skills, train yourself to exploit opportunities to replace a weak verb for a strong one.

At the end of this post I suggest a list of 195 powerful verbs you can experiment with to replace tired ones.

What constitutes a tired verb? Here’s what to look for:

3 Types of Verbs to Beware of in Your Prose

1. State-of-being verbs

These are passive as opposed to powerful:

  • Is
  • Am
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Do
  • Does
  • Did
  • Shall
  • Will
  • Should
  • Would
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Can
  • Could

Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece. But when a sentence lies limp, you can bet it contains at least one of these. Determining when a state-of-being verb is the culprit creates a problem—and finding a better, more powerful verb to replace it—is what makes us writers. [Note how I replaced the state-of-being verbs in this paragraph.]

Resist the urge to consult a thesaurus for the most exotic verb you can find. I consult such references only for the normal word that carries power but refuses to come to mind.

I would suggest even that you consult my list of powerful verbs only after you have exhausted all efforts to come up with one on your own. You want Make your prose any your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins. [See how easy they are to spot and fix?]

Examples

Impotent: The man was walking on the platform.

Powerful: The man strode along the platform.

 

Impotent: Jim is a lover of country living.

Powerful: Jim treasures country living.

 

Impotent: There are three things that make me feel the way I do…

Powerful: Three things convince me…

 

2. Verbs that rely on adverbs

Powerful verbs are strong enough to stand alone.

Examples

The fox ran quickly dashed through the forest.

She menacingly looked glared at her rival.

He secretly listened eavesdropped while they discussed their plans.

 

3. Verbs with -ing suffixes

Examples

Before: He was walking

After: He walked

 

Before: She was loving the idea of…

After: She loved the idea of…

 

Before: The family was starting to gather…

After: The family started to gather…

The List of 195 Powerful Verbs

  • Advance
  • Advise
  • Alter
  • Amend
  • Amplify
  • Attack
  • Balloon
  • Bash
  • Batter
  • Beam
  • Beef
  • Blab
  • Blast
  • Bolt
  • Boost
  • Brief
  • Burst
  • Bus
  • Bust
  • Capture
  • Catch
  • Charge
  • Chap
  • Chip
  • Clasp
  • Climb
  • Clutch
  • Collide
  • Command
  • Crackle
  • Crash
  • Crush
  • Dash
  • Demolish
  • Depart
  • Deposit
  • Detect
  • Deviate
  • Devour
  • Direct
  • Discern
  • Discover
  • Drain
  • Drip
  • Drop
  • Eavesdrop
  • Engulf
  • Enlarge
  • Ensnare
  • Erase
  • Escort
  • Expand
  • Explode
  • Explore
  • Expose
  • Extend
  • Extract
  • Eyeball
  • Fish
  • Frown
  • Gaze
  • Glare
  • Glisten
  • Glitter
  • Gobble
  • Govern
  • Grasp
  • Grip
  • Groan
  • Growl
  • Guide
  • Hail
  • Heighten
  • Hurry
  • Ignite
  • Illuminate
  • Inspect
  • Instruct
  • Intensify
  • Intertwine
  • Impart
  • Journey
  • Lash
  • Lead
  • Leap
  • Locate
  • Magnify
  • Moan
  • Modify
  • Multiply
  • Mushroom
  • Mystify
  • Notice
  • Notify
  • Obtain
  • Oppress
  • Order
  • Paint
  • Park
  • Peck
  • Peek
  • Peer
  • Perceive
  • Picture
  • Pilot
  • Pinpoint
  • Place
  • Plant
  • Plop
  • Poison
  • Pop
  • Position
  • Power
  • Prickle
  • Probe
  • Prune
  • Realize
  • Recite
  • Recoil
  • Refashion
  • Refine
  • Remove
  • Report
  • Retreat
  • Reveal
  • Revolutionize
  • Revolve
  • Rip
  • Rise
  • Ruin
  • Rush
  • Rust
  • Scan
  • Scrape
  • Scratch
  • Scrawl
  • Seize
  • Serve
  • Shatter
  • Shepherd
  • Shimmer
  • Shine
  • Shock
  • Shrivel
  • Sizzle
  • Skip
  • Slash
  • Slide
  • Slip
  • Slurp
  • Smash
  • Snag
  • Snarl
  • Snowball
  • Soar
  • Sparkle
  • Sport
  • Stare
  • Steal
  • Steer
  • Storm
  • Strain
  • Stretch
  • Strip
  • Stroll
  • Struggle
  • Stumble
  • Supercharge
  • Supersize
  • Surge
  • Survey
  • Swell
  • Swipe
  • Swoon
  • Tail
  • Tattle
  • Transfigure
  • Transform
  • Travel
  • Treat
  • Trim
  • Uncover
  • Unearth
  • Untangle
  • Unveil
  • Usher
  • Veil
  • Weave
  • Wind
  • Withdraw
  • Wreck
  • Wrench
  • Wrest
  • Wrestle
  • Wring

Of course there are many more. Jerry Jenkins just provided a list of examples to get you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledI ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginners work he was editing.

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?