Edit My Novel Blog

Writing Advice

All About Agents

Agents are still the gatekeepers to traditional publishers. Read more about them. 

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Avoid Plot Pitfalls

Don't make rookie mistakes with your novel or manuscript.

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Benefits of Editing

Why hire a freelance editor? Here are a few good reasons.

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How Do You Find Time to Write?

Tips and tricks on making extra time in your schedule to finish your book. 

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Staying Motivated and Why You Shouldn't Quit

Millions of people have half-written novels and manuscripts on their laptops. How to make sure to finish yours.

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What Should You Write About?

Tips on how to get started.

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All About Agents

By Cara Lockwood

 

You’ve finished your manuscript, had it edited (hopefully by me), so now what? You’ve had it in your mind that one day you’d sign a huge deal with a major publishing company, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it. Literary agents have long been turnkeys in that process. They have ongoing relationships with editors at big publishing houses, and they can make those relationships work for you. I’ve been represented by an amazing agent for the last fourteen years, and I feel I have a good understanding of how agents work and where to find them.  There are editors and companies out there who want to sell “find an agent” service to you, but I think you can arm yourself with the knowledge you need to find your own.


Why should I consider getting an agent?

First of all, having an agent endorse your work means that someone out there with serious professional experience believes in you.  It’s a huge ego boost, but beyond that, the endorsement means something in the publishing world.  Agents have trusted relationships with editors and those editors will take special care to really consider pitches from the experts they’ve come to trust. Agents also help you negotiate the best possible deal. Publishing contracts have never been more complicated. There aren’t just domestic and foreign royalties; there are digital royalties, mass market paper royalties and the possibility of who makes money if the work is optioned for a movie or TV show. The best agents make it their business to understand how to protect your interests in this ever-changing world. Plus, when you work with an agent, you’re more likely to get a multi-book deal, which is what any new writer wants!


What do agents charge?
Agents shouldn’t charge anything up front. Agents will take a percentage of your earnings, typically 15%, but that’s only after they land you a deal. If they never get you a contract, they never make a dime.  Agents who ask for anything up front are typically not above-board.How do I find an agent?Some editors and companies out there promise to give you detailed lists of the best agents and tailor your submission package to these agents. Beware of these services, as agent directories are public. Agents want to be found, and they advertise their specialties prominently. Here are some of my favorite lists:
http://www.writers.net/agents.html
http://www.pw.org/literary_agents

How to I choose agents from a list?
Choose an agent who represents your genre of work. If you’ve written a mystery, pick an agent with a specialty in this area. Pick agents who are from big agencies, as well as those from small ones. Do I focus on large agencies or small?  Agents are inundated with submissions, some getting thousands in a single day. The larger, more commercially successful an agency is, the more likely they’ll ignore your submission. Big successful firms are less likely to be digging to the bottom of the slush pile, or what we call the stack of submissions waiting on a desk or in an email inbox. This task usually falls to the overworked and unpaid intern. There’s no harm in hitting up the big guys for attention, but I’d also include mid-size and smaller agents in your list.

I really have my heart set on a particular agent. How do I grab his or her attention?

If you really love a particular agency and want their undivided attention, tell them you’ve submitted your work exclusively to them for a particular time period (say two weeks to a month) and if you don’t hear back from them in that time, you’ll be moving on to other agents. 

How many submissions should I send out?
There’s no set number. I sent out nearly a hundred query letters to agents back before I landed my first contract. You won’t hear from the vast majority of agents you query. Remember, they have hundreds of queries a day.How do I make sure my timing is right? You can’t.  Agents are culling query letters and submissions looking for a particular kind of book. Typically, they hear from editors about certain trends and certain things they want to buy.  Agents look for these in their submissions, and you may just hit the perfect storm when your steampunk sci-fi young adult romance lands at the opportune time. You just never know. You have to write what you love and then hope the timing works. Unless you can write a novel in forty-eight hours, chances are you won’t be able to predict a new trend based on some big new bestseller you just read. By the time a big bestseller hits Amazon’s homepage, editors may already be on to the next trend. Write what you know, but more importantly, write what you love.


How do I keep from getting discouraged when I don’t hear back?
In my experience, literary success is a little bit talent, a little bit luck and a hell of a lot of perseverance. The biggest thing separating publishing authors from unpublished ones is that the published ones didn’t give up. When you make submissions to agents, you will get rejections. Rejection is just part of this business. All you can do is stay the course. Keep trying and don’t give up.  

How do I improve my chances with an agent?


Have a near flawless manuscript. 

Agents are looking for completed manuscripts that are almost flawless and ready-to-publish. Long gone are the days agents would work to cultivate talent or take a young writer under their wing and help them grow. Agents have too many talented writers already knocking on their door. The best way to improve your odds of getting noticed is to make sure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before submitting it. 


Hire an editor, or enlist an army of beta readers, or take your manuscript to a reading group, or do all three! Competition is stiffer than it’s ever been.  Make sure your manuscript is as perfect as it can be before you ask an agent to represent you. If your first draft is awful, most agents won’t give you a second chance for a rewrite. 


Follow their submission guidelines. Be sure to find out their submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM. Each agency wants a different kind of submission. Some may want a query letter and synopsis, some may want sample chapters. Make sure you take the time to find out what each agent is looking for and follow their instructions. You’d be amazed at how many people spend years writing a novel and then don’t take the extra few minutes to tailor their submission, thus wrecking their chances before they’re even out of the gate. Agents have been known to simply delete or throw away submissions that don’t meet their guidelines. After all, they have hundreds or even thousands a day!


Bring the marketing muscle with a big social media presence. If you have thousands of Twitter followers, include that little fact in your query letter. Agents want clients who can market themselves. Now, even major publishers expect their authors to promote themselves on the major social media sites. If you have tons of followers, they are potentially book buyers. Any beefed up presence you have online can only help you. 


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WRITING TIPS: AVOID PLOT PITFALLS IN 7 STEPS

By Cara Lockwood 


When crafting a story, you want to make it water-tight, but how do you keep your plot from being riddled with holes? Here are a few tips to keep in mind to make your plot believable and compelling: 


  1. Characters must act consistently towards their goals.  Characters need goals to motivate them to do things. Whether it’s the detective hoping to solve the mystery or the broken-hearted divorcee who secretly wants love. If, midway through the story, a detective abandons his suspect to fall in love with his neighbor, readers will cry foul. If their goals change mid-story, give us a credible reason for this change. 
  2. Characters can make mistakes, but they can’t make dumb decisions. Characters can – and should – make mistakes, but they can’t make dumb decisions. A woman alone in a house, won’t go down into a dark basement by herself just to check out a strange noise, because that would be a dumb decision. But, if she thought her daughter were down there and in trouble, she might fly down the stairs. Put yourself in the situation. Would you do what your character is doing? If not, why not? 
  3. Characters shouldn’t ignore the obvious. When trying to make a complicated plot, sometimes the downfall of a good story happens when characters ignore the obvious. If a reader can pick up on context clues and figure out the murderer well before the detective, this is a problem.
  4. Let your characters experience conflict. No one wants to read about a character who has everything go right for her. Where’s the fun in that? Let your characters struggle more and spend more time fighting each other, and resisting emotional resolutions (as all of us so often do).
  5. Show us, don’t tell us.  This is the major rule of thumb in most any novel. If you have characters sitting around telling us the plot, rather than living it, you’ll lose readers, and you can create holes. For instance, why would a bad guy sit around talking about his grand scheme in front of the spy who wants to thwart him, thereby giving the spy a chance to escape? 
  6. ​​Pivotal plot points can’t happen by accident. Coincidences may happen in real life, but in fiction, they can sink your plot. No one wants to read about a hero who sits around and has things magically fall into place for him as he passive waits for love to come to him, or for his enemy to stumble into a comprising situation. People want to read about characters who are proactive and who make things happen, ideally by battling through conflict. If your story has an accidental coincidence that moves the plot forward, think about ways to make that not an accident. Take, for instance, a romance, where two strangers meet by accident at a coffee shop and fall in love. If one of them actually planned to be there and had an ulterior motive for meeting that so-called stranger, then that makes for a more interesting story. 
  7. Tie up loose ends, and don't forget subplots.  No reader likes loose ends, but as most authors work tirelessly to tie up the main plot points (the murderer has been found and caught!) sometimes, they let subplots fall by the wayside. Don’t let subplots (a romance, or a relationship with family) go unresolved.

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Finding Time to Write

By Cara Lockwood

 

We all have incredibly busy schedules these days, and if you’re trying to write a novel while also juggling a full-time job, a family, and a social life, writing often takes a back seat. In our full-throttle life mode, finding time to write your dream novel can be nearly impossible.


I think it’s vital for every new writer to try to find at least an hour a day to devote to writing. Writing every day helps keep the story fresh in your mind so you spend less time reminding yourself of what you’ve already written. Writing every day also helps you hone your skills. But where to find the time?

I wrote my first novel, I Do (But I Don’t), while I was also working a full-time job and planning a wedding. To say that year was hectic was an understatement!  But here are some tips and tricks to carve out that extra hour a day you need to write: 


  • Unplug your Internet or WiFi or switch off your phone for an hour every day. Everyone wastes time on Facebook or Pinterest or some other social site. Spend less time stalking your high school boyfriend and more time writing! Vow to cut out or trim back social media time, and you’ll be amazed how much extra time you’ve got for writing.Don’t turn on the TV until AFTER you’ve written your hour a day. TV can wait. Once I sit on the couch, I know I’m not getting up. So, I don’t sit there and turn on the TV until after I’ve finished my writing for the day.Put writing in your schedule. If you block out time for it, you can do it. Thinking “I’ll get to it when I can” usually means “I’ll never do it.”
  • Schedule writing time on your calendar like you would a yoga class or doctor’s appointment. Write on your lunch hour. When I worked full-time, I’d often take lunch at my desk and work on my novel. And, to be honest, if it was a slow day, I might work longer on it if I could get away with it. I always did my day-job work first, but there were slow days, and instead of surfing the web, I'd pull up my manuscript.
  • Take your laptop or tablet with you and write on the go. I’ve been known to write chapters while my kids were at ballet class. Take your laptop with you, or even a journal and pen to jot down scenes. I also always take my laptop with me when I travel, so I can use the airplane time or time waiting at the gate for writing.
  • Dictate in the car. You don’t always have to use a laptop. If you’ve got a long commute in your car, get a tape recorder, or use your phone to dictate scenes or ideas.
  • And, finally, if your life is out-of-control hectic, look for ways to streamline it to give you the time you need. Out of college, I worked as a newspaper reporter and often worked sixty to seventy hours a week including weekends. I was exhausted and run-down, and hardly had any time to write my novel. Eventually, I decided my passion was fiction writing, but my life wasn’t organized to help me achieve my dream. I quit that job and found a less stressful, and less demanding marketing writing job with more regular hours that allowed me the space to write. If I never made that switch, I would have never found the time to write my first novel. If being a novelist is your dream, you need to structure your life to help make it happen. Time is never going to volunteer itself, you’ve got to make it work for you.​

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Staying Motivated

By Cara Lockwood

 

Whether you’re trying to write a novel in a month for Camp NaNoWriMo, or you’re simply trying to finally finish that griping fantasy novel you’ve been working on for ten years, it’s hard to stay motivated while writing. 


As a novelist, I find that there are days when the words flow easily, and others when even writing the first sentence feels about as easy as climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops. 


While I love writing, and I can’t imagine not doing it for a living, I also know that there are days when I’d rather do almost anything other than face the pages I have to write. Every distraction, even laundry or the gym, begins to look like a more fun way to spend my afternoon. Here are some tips of getting and staying motivated while you write your novel:



Write something every day even if it’s terrible. When I’m facing down a deadline, I don’t take a day off. I try to live with my characters as much as possible so that any time I open up my computer file, I don’t have to waste a lot of time bringing myself up to speed by figuring out what I wrote a week ago and where I am in the story. Writing every day helps keep the characters fresh in your mind. It also will help the words flow a little better.


Tell your inner critic to take a hike. All authors at one time or another have a crisis of confidence in their writing abilities, but when you’re trying to hit a tight deadline the fact is you just don’t have time to worry about whether you have enough talent to even be doing this. Get words down on paper and then worry later if they’re any good or not. It is far easier to edit a bad manuscript than to write one from scratch. 


Make reasonable goals for yourself and stick to them. The key here is to be reasonable in your daily page-count goal. I always thought of daily page goals as minimums and I’d always try to exceed them. I didn’t always succeed, but when I did, it felt really good. 


Find a place to write that will ensure you won’t get distracted. For me, this happened to be at the local Starbucks with my headphones on and my WiFi turned off. I refuse to let myself check email or Facebook or Twitter until I finish the pages I’d planned to do that day.


Don’t think about how much more you have to do. Concentrate on what you did already. This is the writer’s equivalent of “Don’t look down.” If you start worrying about how many pages or words you have left to write, you might find yourself with a pretty hefty case of vertigo and get stuck from sheer fright. For me, after writing every day, I print my pages out. I like to read over them before I went to bed. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment. As I hold the papers in my hand, I can really see how much writing I am really doing every day. As my stack of pages grows, so does my confidence that I will finish on time.


Remember that deadlines are the world's greatest motivator. Even as you’re cursing the fact that you signed on to make what seems like an impossible deadline, remember that this is just the universe's way of inspiring you to finish. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and write! 


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Why You shouldn't quit writing

by Cara Lockwood

 

    Every writer has thought seriously about quitting. I know I think about quitting every time I hit a rough spot in the middle of a new novel. Writing, as everybody knows, is not easy, and while there are days when the words just fly onto the page, there are just as many days when I’m staring awkwardly at the blinking cursor wondering what to write next. 
       Before I published my first novel, I started –and stopped—at least seven other stories. Say you have an unfinished novel—or seven—on your computer, and you are thinking about deleting them for good. I’ve got seven reasons (one for every half-finished novel of mine) why you shouldn’t: 


Every great writer has thought about quitting, but didn’t. Stephen King famously threw his manuscript Carrie into the trash in frustration. His wife fished it out, told him it was too good to throw away, and now he’s one of the world’s most well-paid, prolific and famous authors.
Your writing probably isn’t as bad as you think. For most of us, our inner critics are worse than any we’re ever going to find in the real world. 

If you quit, you’ll never get published. There are plenty of bad novels that get published every year, but  nobody ever published a half-finished novel.

Don’t let someone else decide you’re not good enough. Writing is subjective, and every writer has faced criticism, either from agents, editors, or friends, spouses or relatives. If someone is telling you that you don’t have what it takes, remember Kathryn Stockett. She shopped her novel, The Help around to every single major publisher and was rejected by dozens of them on the first go round. Everyone told her to give it up, but she didn’t, and now she’s got a bestseller and a movie.

Take a writing vacation, before you decide to quit for good. Take a month or two off from your manuscript and then come back to it. You’ll be surprised by how you feel about it after letting it sit for a bit.
No one sets out to write a bad novel, but there are still plenty of them out there. The fact is no one dreams of writing America’s Worst Novel. To make sure yours doesn’t land on that list, get constructive feedback from an experienced editor.

Just because you haven’t been able to finish the novel you’re working on, doesn’t mean you can’t write one.  Sometimes you do hit dead-ends with writing. If this story isn’t working for you, try a different one. You can always come back to the original manuscript later. Writing is like anything, the more you practice, the better you get.

If writing is in your blood, you won’t be able to quit anyway. Writing is my passion, and I couldn’t imagine a world where I didn’t write in some fashion, whether that was novels or my own personal journal. If you feel the same, then you can try quitting all you want, but it just won’t stick. Might as well face facts: you’re a writer and writers write. 


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What Should You Write About?

By Cara Lockwood


Not all good ideas make good novels.

Writing a novel requires more than just a good premise. Your novel needs sustained conflict with a story nuanced enough that it keeps readers involved for 300 pages. Sometimes, it is best to keep conflict on a general level (boy-meets-girl, but-has-trouble-keeping-girl) which will leave you more room to dial down to specifics later.


Look for side stories to branch off from your main narrative.

The best kind of conflict in a novel spurns other kinds of conflicts in a kind of ripple effect. Think about how a main character might have supporting characters involved, either with their own problems or related problems.


Consider where you want your book to be on a book store shelf or in an online list.

When developing your premise, keep in mind what kind of novel you want to write. Is it a mystery? A romance? Sci fi? General fiction? Genres shouldn’t dictate exactly how you write your novel, but they can help you focus your premise. Is this MOSTLY a love story or a mystery? Prioritize the storyline you want to be most prominent in your book.


Keep in mind the kind of voice you want to use to tell this story.

It’s never too early to think about how you want to tell this story, and from what perspective. Do you want a first-person narrative, which reads like a diary? Or close third-person narrative, where you tell the story mostly from one or two characters, using “he” and “she” and occasionally dipping into their heads? Do you want to choose distant third-person narrative, where the reader NEVER gets inside a character’s head? The voice of your book will also inform your premise.


Get inspired by your favorite novelists.

What about the storyline and basic premise of your favorite novels attracted you the most? Was it the love story? Or the suspense of a whodunit? Get in touch with the nuts and bolts of the stories that you love the most. What kept you turning pages? Think about what drew you into a book AND what made it stick with you long after you stopped reading. Was it the surprise ending? Was it just the happy ending? Was it the humor throughout?


Write what you know (or what you want to read about).

A general rule of thumb in writing a novel is to write about what you know. This means that it’s generally best to write about characters and places you’re familiar with so that your writing sounds authentic. It’s no accident that some of the best legal thrillers are written by John Grisham (a lawyer himself). This doesn’t mean that you have to get a law degree to write thrillers. Do your research and become an expert on what you want to write about. This leads me to my second rule of thumb (or one I made up for me), which is to write about what you WANT to read about. If there’s a story you want to tell that you’d buy at a bookstore if you saw it on the shelf, then there’s a good chance someone else wants to read it, too. Writing about what you want to read about is a good way to gauge whether your topic has appeal.


Use people and places and stories from your real life.

All good writers mine their lives for characters, plots and stories. Most of the characters I’ve created are combinations of people I know in real life. This makes them interesting and real. The stories I write about are often exaggerated examples of what’s happened to me in real life. Writing fiction can be very therapeutic in that you get to explore events from your life in a fictional setting (you can give the characters in your book the happy ending you didn’t get, or, conversely, a not-so-happy ending for the not-nice people in your life). I once killed off an ex-boyfriend in a murder-suspense book I wrote! That was more than a little satisfying.


Don’t be afraid of the drama.

Write this summary in enticing and dramatic language. Think of this summary as something that might even be on the back cover of your book. Use action verbs! Think about ways to describe your story that are inviting and the most interesting.


Have fun with it.

Writing is a labor of love, but it’s also fun. Don’t worry about your premise being absolutely perfect. And don’t second guess yourself too much. The premise is NOT set in stone. After all, sometimes when you dig into a novel, things will change. Writing is a fluid process, which is why your keyboard has “delete” and “cut and paste.” 


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Start with a Good Premise

 What is a premise? 

Think of the premise of your novel as the most basic description of your plot. The oldest premise might very well be Boy-Meets-Girl. In those three words, we already know this is a love story, and that we’ll learn how a couple met and fell in love. Instead of just three words, use three paragraphs to describe your novel. Remember that a premise is only a starting point. A story told in a novel is far more nuanced and detailed, but this is a place you want to start. What should be included in a premise? 

  1. The major players: Introduce your major characters. Give brief descriptions such as “twenty-something marketing maven Bridget Jones” or “ten-year-old boy-wizard Harry Potter.”  Characters should be interesting and three-dimensional and people we WANT to read about.  
  2. The conflict: First and foremost, you have to introduce the major conflict in your novel. Most stories revolve around the introduction and resolution of conflict. In a mystery novel, the conflict is between the detective and the criminal (your traditional whodunit).  In a romance novel, the conflict is usually between the hero and heroine and it's either other people or their own baggage that keeps them apart.   
  3. The resolution: While the back of a book jacket won’t tell you how a book ends, you need to include an ending here so that YOU know where the book is headed.

Organize your premise into three paragraphs. Think of these three paragraphs as summaries of three acts in a play. The first paragraph is the first act, in which you introduce your main characters and your conflict. The second paragraph deepens the conflict or makes it more complicated and dire, and the third paragraph offers the resolution. Nearly all screenplays and many novels follow the “three-act” structure. While not all do, it’s a good place to start, especially for first-time novelists.  
Some other things to keep in mind:
 

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