Monday, December 21, 2015

The #NaNoWriMo Burnout

Whether you 'won' NaNo or not, chances are you were able to get a good amount of words written for your new novel if you participated. But now you are left with an even larger challenge. The huge push to get so many words out in such a short time can often result in a creative burnout at the end. But that's okay, because now that you are finished with your novel, it's time to take a step back and let it sit.

Finishing a novel is a huge accomplishment, one you should celebrate by setting it aside and letting it steep. Thoughts and ideas will come to you during this time. It's good to jot them down, but resist the urge to jump back in and edit. Let it sit so you can return to it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. The amount of time you let it sit completely depends on you, but I recommend at least a week, and up to a month. I always try to let mine sit for two weeks.

When you return to edit it, do so with the same dedication that you wrote the first draft. Don't be in a rush, especially if it was a #NaNo novel! Whatever your editing process is, be sure to do a thorough job before you submit it. More on editing next time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How To Win #NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is coming, and those of us crazy enough to participate during such a hectic time of year have a few secrets for getting that novel done. Want in on my big secret? Here you go:

Anyone can push out words, vomiting them onto the page in often a non-sequential mess that is far more painful to edit than it ever was to write. But there is a way around that, a way that will not make you dread editing that mass of words you pushed out in only one month. This tip will help you so much that you may find yourself able to write more than the 50,000 most NaNo writers strive for. It is simple and will make many cringe, but for those serious about winning NaNo, it will work.


Yes really, and no it isn't cheating. Outlining your NaNo novel will help keep you focused and on track, which will make editing that novel a breeze. You don't have to crush your creativity to do it, either. Write a rough outline, one that addresses character arcs, the overall story arc, and pacing (action chapters vs. inaction). By rough, I mean, you don't have to feel married to it. Use it as a guide to combat writer's block, to give you direction, then allow your muse to flow. If your muse moves away from the outline, let it! Just make sure you accomplish the arcs you want to accomplish and you're golden.

Why does outlining work? Because it reveals plot holes and inconsistencies that are very hard to fix in the editing process. If you use this tip, you'll find you are able to edit that manuscript in the same~and often less~time than it took you to write it. Which means, you just might be able to submit that novel before the end of the year. But, never, ever, submit a novel that hasn't been thoroughly edited by yourself! Good luck to all NaNo participants and have fun!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Anatomy of a Query Letter

The perfect pitch is just as important as the perfect first sentence, paragraph, or chapter. Without the right pitch, your manuscript could sail off into the outfield despite how brilliant it might be. Effectively communicating what your book is about, and why it's brilliant, is the key to getting an agent or editor interested enough to read beyond the query, or ask for pages after the pitch session.

In a query letter (to me in particular), you should start with a sentence that says the genre, word length, and why the manuscript is right for that agent/editor (this second part shows you did your research on them and helps personalize it). Some like to put this at the end but I like to see it right off the bat.  The next part is the one-sentence hook. This is basically a summary of your book in one sentence. This does not mean you need to cram it all into a long run on sentence, the opposite in fact. It needs to be under 50 words or so (Twitter length is a good rule of thumb), highlight what is most interesting about your novel, and make them want more.

Following that are two to three short paragraphs highlighting the remaining elements in your novel that are interesting/important. Please remember, this isn't a grocery list, make it flow and read interesting. Think of the voice of your book and try to capture that a bit when you write this part. The elements that must be present are the main conflict, stakes, and resolution (what they must do) of the novel.

Sum it up with a short paragraph of relative information about yourself including social media links, a bit about how you've prepared your platform (social media following, newsletter subscribers, street team, etc.) and give multiple ways to contact you. Now comes the study in patience because responses can take a while.

Monday, October 5, 2015

What Genre Is Your Book?

Sounds like an easy question, until you start realizing how many elements are in your book. It may be science fiction, but it may have romance, air pirates, and zombies. What would you call it, horror, sci-fi, romance, or steampunk? There are many things to consider. 

First and foremost is, what is the heart of the story? Or rather, what is the strongest element in the book, the driving force. Is it the love story? The mystery? The adventure? Or is the main theme a fantasy world, futuristic, apocalyptic?  That will help you determine the main genre. Also, think of where you might find it on the shelf in a bookstore. What are some comparable books? Where are they shelved? If you aren't sure, think about the type of readers that your book will attract. What do you like most about your book? The romance, the intricate fantasy world, forward thinking machines, adventure? These elements are found in books that are shelved in certain genre sections. That will help give you an idea of where to start. 

Don't worry about all the crazy sub genres you hear about out there. They are enough to leave you reeling in confusion. Find the heart of your book and you will have found the genre. And find it you must, for if you do not know the heart of your book, how can anyone else?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Don't Wait On Your Muse

Many writers wait for the inspiration to hit them. Many feel it is when they write their best work. However, if you have the job from hell, your boss stresses you out, maybe your kids run you ragged all day long, you have a house to clean, errands to run and people to feed, then your muse may never want to awaken. At the end of the day you have no energy left at all, let alone feel up to inspiring thoughts. In other words, your stress has strangled your muse into submission.

So what do you do in a world that refuses to pause for you or give your muse a moment to come up for air? You fight for it. Treat your muse as one of those important people in your life that you must take care of, because after all they are important, they're you. Play music you love, watch one of your favorite shows when you get a chance, read a few pages of a book. You deserve a few moments of the day for yourself, even if that's all it is.

Carry a notepad or notebook everywhere you go so that if you get inspiration for even one sentence, you can write it down. The more you keep your book on your mind, the more inspired you'll get. When you go on break or when the kids are down for a nap, pull that notebook out. Try it, you might find your muse singing to you a lot more often! Think of your muse like a muscle. If you don't make it work and use it consistently, it will wither away.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Turning Rejection into Inspiration

Unfortunately, rejection is a huge part of the literary business. The thing to remember is that it's all about finding the right match. When an agent or editor says 'I'm sorry but I'm just not right for this project', it's not a cop out, it's actually true. Anyone who is less than enthusiastic about your work isn't right for you. Just as often you'll hear, 'it's just not what I'm looking for', or 'it didn't grab my attention like I'd hoped it would'. So what are you to do?

First, don't give up. Use their rejection to inspire you to better your story. The last thing you should do is shelve it because fifty people or more said no. If you got a lot of the first reason then you most likely just need to research those you're sending it to a little more intensely. At the same time though, make sure you have edited your work to the very best of your ability. The submission stage is no time for grammar errors or bad sentence structuring. Unfortunately, editors don't expect to edit as much as they once did. Besides, a really polished piece of work makes you look like a pro and goes a long way in impressing both an agent and an editor. As a first time writer the odds are already stacked against you, but if you look like you know what you're doing and appear dedicated and proud of your work, you'll get a closer look from them.

Outline your story. You'll be surprised what kind of issues a simple outline will reveal to you. I was not a believer in outlines until I was forced to do this. Now, I won't write a book without one. It helps reveal any plot errors, repetitive issues, or excessive slow or fast areas. Doing this may inspire you to change, delete, or add entire chapters. It will surprise you!

In short, use rejection as a reason to go back over your book and improve it. I don't necessarily recommend going back and working on your book after every rejection letter, that would be a mistake. But once you've done a round of submissions, say thirty or so, with no luck, then it's time. Thirty is certainly by no means a form you have to follow, it could be fifty or sixty, that part depends on the number of people you feel might be really interested in your story.

So what if it's perfect like it is? Just like everything in life, there is always room for improvement. If we stop improving, we stop growing as artists and that would be a tragedy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Unspoken Expected Formatting

There are certain expectations that many in the industry have of the state of submitted work. Sadly, as there is no 'submission handbook' many writers find out the hard way. Agents and editors looking for fiction frown upon submissions that are in fancy fonts, or even fonts outside of the expected norm, contain tables, pictures, or otherwise non-standard formatting in your document. These things can sometimes mean the person you submitted to won't make it past your first page, even if the writing is good. While expectations vary slightly, here are some tried and true basics to go by:

  • Times New Roman Font, 12 point. 
  • Double spaced (You can get by with 1.5 but never single or more than double)
  • No spaces between paragraphs of the same style 
  • Indentation by .25 (approximate) instead of using the Tab key to indent (more of a copy-editor preference rather than an agent or acquiring editor preference, but it's a good habit to get into and it never hurts to make your future copy-editor happy too). 

All of these things can be found and set under the Home tab in Word by clicking on Paragraph. These basics will help make your manuscript look that much more polished and help give the first impression that you are prepared and professional.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

#PitMad is Here!

Hosted by the fabulous Brenda Drake, #PitMad is a Twitter pitch party where writers can pitch their completed, polished manuscripts to agents and editors who will be perusing the feed. It is a great opportunity that has landed many an author an agent, and even contracts with publishers based off an editor's interest from #PitMad.

So how do you join in? First, you must have a completed and polished (this means no first drafts!) manuscript that you feel is ready for submission. Next, come up with several great 140 character pitches to post on Twitter throughout the day. Then, watch for agents and editors to favorite your pitch. If they do, check their profile for a way to submit to them (they will likely have tweeted details on how to that day, if not, click on their website link). A favorite means you are invited to submit. That means, if you aren't an agent or a publishing house editor, do NOT favorite writer's tweets. You can retweet them, but don't favorite them as that is only for requests. There are other hashtags besides #PitMad that you will need to use. More details here

Since pitches are so short, it doesn't hurt to have a link on your Twitter profile to where agents and editors can read more about you and/or your manuscript. I love to see samples of an author's writing somewhere on their website or blog, even if it isn't samples of what they're pitching. 

I will be perusing the pitches! Have fun and good luck to all. If I favorite your pitch, please send along a short (1-2 page) synopsis and the first chapter pasted into the body of the email after your query letter (be sure to say how many words your manuscript is and what the genre is) to me at this link. No attachments until I ask for them please! You can sub to me directly at this email.

Relevance Is... Well, Relevant

When reading through a manuscript the first thing I think of in each and every scene is relevance. Is what is presented in this scene relevant and necessary to move the story forward? Of course there is always a bit of room for world-building and description to immerse the reader in the story, but if you're going to go on about something, it must be relevant. Backstory can be worked in, but it must be sprinkled, not doused, much like a strong spice that you don't want to overuse. And, of course, it must be integral to the story and what it to come. The key to backstory is to try as hard as possible not to put it in the first ten pages. You probably won't be able to resist, but trying will at least minimize it.

It is vital to start your story as close to the inciting incident as possible. Identifying the inciting incident can be difficult, and one can be tempted to think something in the backstory might be the inciting incident. Don't fall into that trap! The inciting incident is the thing/conflict that propels the character forward, forcing them into action that leads to the outcome. It sets everything in motion. Backstory does not do that. Backstory might determine why a character acts a certain way or does certain things, but it does not set everything in motion. Think of the inciting incident as the first main conflict in the story, and as that, it needs to connect with all the following conflicts and inevitably, the resolution.

To simplify it, think of the meat of your story, what it is really all about. Now that you have that, make sure your inciting incident ties into it directly. Don't start with backstory, start with what is relevant.

Expected Manuscript Length By Genre

Word length is key to being able to sell your manuscript. Agents and editors both take it into careful consideration. Lengths differ by genre. Here are some loose guidelines in the genres I both write and look for as an editor with City Owl Press:

Fantasy: 80,000 to 110,000 A little under is alright, but you will likely be asked to flesh it out some, over by much and you risk having two books instead of one. Not a bad problem to have, but understand that you may be asked to break it up into two books with full story ARC's worked into both.

Paranormal: 75,000 to 95,000. A little under is alright, but if you drop below 70,000, you may be asked to flesh it out, over 95,000 and it will likely get passed by.

Science-Fiction: 80,000 to 120,000. Rarely will you find sci-fi under 80k, it's just too involved for a shorter word count. On the longer side, you can go over, but don't go crazy. Know when your story and character ARC's need to complete, don't go beyond it. Too much more than 120 might mean you are burying the story (and the reader) in too much description and world building. While this genre requires a lot of both, it is a careful balance. If you find yourself going longer than 120k, think about writing it as a series instead of one book.

Historical Romance: 75,000 to 110,000. I would't really go under on this one because then it is likely that you aren't putting in enough 'historical' to give it the right feel, over and it becomes harder to sell. Even approaching the far end at 110k you need to make sure it is a very compelling novel with a good pace that doesn't lag.

Why didn't I put in romance except for as historical since it is one of the main things I read and look for as an editor? Because romance can (and should, for me personally) be worked into any genre and it shouldn't change the length much in my opinion.

For me, as both a reader and an editor, under 75k is too short to fully develop the story and over 100k is pushing it when it comes to keeping readers' attention. These numbers will vary from agent to agent or editor to editor, but not by much. There are a lot of other genres out there. For more info on other genre lengths, click here.

What I'm Looking For

As an Associate Editor with the new up and coming City Owl Press out of New York I'll be on the lookout for great adult fiction with romantic elements. I'm excited to be working with such a fantastic group of ladies to help make dreams come true.

A bit about City Owl: Based out of New York, City Owl Press was co-founded by the award winning authors, Tina Moss and Yelena Casale who together have more than a decade of business, writing, editing, design, marketing, advertising, and publishing experience. They have plans to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Entangled who began as a small press that launched authors onto the NY Times bestseller list, then merged with one of the Big 5, and the award winning Month 9 Books, but for adult genres. We are well on our way by scouting for amazing authors that we can launch onto the best seller lists. Please note: City Owl publishes adult books only.

A bit about what I'll be looking for: City Owl has a strong focus on romance, which I love. With that in mind, I'll be looking for great fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, steampunk, dystopian~all with romantic elements. That part is a must! The level of romantic element all depends on the story, as does the heat level. We publish all heat levels except for all out erotica (at this time). Strong, clean (grammar) writing, with great characters (who ARC), great world-building, and enough description to put me there, are what I look for in each manuscript. To break the sex part down, sex that moves the plot is fine, but it must not be the plot. 

In fantasy, I love epic but it has to be original, strong writing, and character driven. Write another sub-genre of fantasy? Try me.
In sci-fi, while I'll take hard sci-fi, it has to blow me away and must be character driven, 
In paranormal, I want something unique, not just your run of the mill vampire or werewolf story that has been told a million times over. Bring on the ghosts and other paranormals!  
In steampunk: send it to me, please for the love of steampunk, send it to me! No seriously, I love steampunk and it will always go to the top of my reading list, but it needs to be inventive, unique, and have strong world building. Outside of Victorian London is a plus because that's been done to death. But it doesn't mean a no, so send it!
In dystopian: Send it to me! I love dystopian almost as much as steampunk, the more original the better. Vampire and zombie apocalypses have been done to death, so if you have something different, I want to read it! But, like I mentioned before, it it's good enough, send it to me because those elements don't mean a no if the story is good enough. 
In Historical: I will look at a limited amount of historical so long as the setting or time in history catches my interest. Got a good strong romance set somewhere or sometime interesting? Send it my way. 

If your polished work matches any of the descriptions above, feel free to query me directly at:
hmccorkle (at) cityowlpress (dot) com. Please include a query and the first ten pages pasted into the body of the email. No attachments until I ask for them! Best of luck!