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Getting published is a big challenge but you may find some helpful advice on finding an agent, avoiding fiction mistakes, writing the dreaded synopsis, overcoming writer's block, and more, by clicking on the links below.

How to get published

How to find an agent

Avoiding Fiction Mistakes

How to write a synopsis

Writers Block


Writing Links


Getting Published


The most important part of getting a book into print is to first make it the best written book it can possibly be. Take classes, join a critique group, read the kind of books you are interested in writing, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Below I offer you advice I've culled from all of the sources above-maybe you'll find it useful

1. SHOW, don't tell. Use all your senses to help place your reader in the scene-what would they see, hear, smell, touch, taste? Instead of telling us your character walked out into another miserable New England winter morning, show us her cheeks stung, her eyes watered, the wind howled, cars skidded off the road.

2. Kill your babies. If you have written one phrase or line that you especially love, you probably need to take it out. The reader should see your characters and your plot, not be distracted by your fancy words.

3. Avoid "adverbitis". If you think you need an adverb to describe the action, your verb needs work. Instead of "she walked quickly", try "she hurried" or "she trotted".

4. Every line of dialogue should do three things: move the story forward, reveal character, sound realistic.

5. Read everything you write aloud and listen for clumsy patches, unintended repetition, and clichés. Find other words for the clichés. Look out for character clichés, too. Ex.: A stepmother, instead of being wicked, might save the day.

6. Tell the story "in the moment". Use specific details and simple language to help the reader feel he/she can understand exactly what your character is going through. Ex.: "It was a small front room with a hard bed and a mattress slightly thicker than the cotton blanket that covered it. The broken spring underneath me stabbed my lower back."

Books are not written, they are rewritten. (Only God gets it right the first time.)

When I've felt discouraged about my writing, the following books were helpful:

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages
G. Miki Hayden, Writing the Mystery
Gillian Roberts, You Can Write a Mystery
Larry Bernhart, How to Write a Mystery
Stephen King, On Writing
Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft
John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

Other books on writing mysteries and general fiction:

How to Write Killer Fiction By Carolyn Wheat
How to Write a Damn Good Mystery By James Frey
Forensics For Dummies By Dr. DP Lyle
The Elements of Mystery Fiction By William Tapply
Writing Mysteries (2nd Edition) By Mystery Writers of American
Writing Mysteries (MWA) Sue Grafton, Editor
Writing Mysteries By Margaret Lucke
Writing the Modern Mystery By Barbara Norville
Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Mystery By Jeffrey Marks
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead with Style
By Hallie Ephron Writers Digest Books (coming out in Sept, 2005)
Letters to a Fiction Writer Edited by Frederick Busch
How to Write a Novel By John Braine

And here's an entertaining and comprehensive article--Michael LaRocca's view on breaking into print publishing, along with tons of writing links.

Finding an Agent

I don't have a magic formula for this subject.

However, I did find an agent and she did sell my book to a publisher. None of it came easily or quickly. I studied Elizabeth Lyon's The Sell Your Novel Toolkit and Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I contacted agents who had interests like mine (mystery, sports, psychology), or who had some feature in their personal background that made me think we might connect. I hired an independent editor to give me fairly inexpensive but useful feedback on my manuscript-she directed me to several agents. I attended mystery conventions and talked with people there about the process. I attended the International Women's Writers Guild "Meet the Agents" forum in New York City. I groveled in front of everyone I even remotely knew connected with the publishing business. And I suffered through multiple rejections and shouldered gamely forward, my skin toughening by the hour.

The following websites have helpful information on this topic:

Chris Gaveler's advice on playing the agent game

Mystery author Susan Hubbard's site has an excellent article on writing a great query letter.



http://www.literaryagents.org/ - lists of agents, news about who’s good, who’s looking, who’s hot, tips for cover letters and more


Making Light--a blog entry on getting an agent

Preditors and Editors

Todd Pierce's nine tips for finding an agent

Todd Pierce's advice on finding an agent in the Internet age

Here's a helpful article on fiction writing mistakes by Sally Zigmond:


by Sally Zigmond

Are you wondering why your short stories keep coming back with polite rejection letters? It could be that one of these ten "fatal errors" is standing between you and publication!

Lack of Editing
The best writers re-write and re-write. New writers tend to think that editing merely means a brief read through for typos and spelling errors. That's the very last thing to do. The first
draft of a short story is like a lump of wood. Removing unnecessary waffle, sharpening up images and choosing the exact word will reveal the beauty of the grain.

Dull Writing
Too many new writers don't give their imagination full rein. They seem afraid look beyond and beneath the surface. Their characters are dull and lead dull lives. Above all, fiction must intrigue
and entertain. Avoid stereotyped characters and situations. Why can't a rich business man be kind and compassionate? Why are unemployed men always lazy and sit around in their vests swigging out of cans? Why can't one or two learn Latin or take up line-dancing?

Too Much Irrelevant Detail
In short fiction especially, include information only if it furthers the plot, aids characterization and provides a sense of place and time. Too much background information makes a story all
tell and no show. Don't go into detail about characters if they have no significant part to play in the fiction. Never give bit part players a name. If all a postman has to do is deliver the
all-important letter, don't say he's Stan, the postman whose wife nags him and has a bad back after falling off his bike in 1976. His function is just to be a postman. Don't lead up to an event.
Jump in straight away. Drip-feed vital information subtly. Don't drop in heavy indigestible chunks of history or description. Make it a central part of the current action.

No Attention to Language
Too many writers are so busy "telling a story" that they fail to choose their words carefully enough. All writers should try to increase their vocabulary; not by using fancy words just for the
sake of it -- writing should always be clear -- but by using intriguing language in new ways. Wind doesn't only blow. It can rip, roar, strangle, whip. Be imaginative. It's not only what you
say but the way you say it.

Absence of Imagery and Reliance on Cliches
Too much fiction is flat because it lacks vibrant images. Cliches are similes and metaphors that have been so overworked they cease to mean anything and sound limp and stale, like as cold as ice, as black as coal. Don't say, "she sighed with relief"; think of another way someone might show relief. Match your imagery to the story and character. If your main character is always rushing about, use imagery relating to speed. Send him to the greyhound track to act out his scenes or place him by a railway line where express trains thunder past. If your character is depressed then send her into tunnels, underpasses, cellars and basements. Reinforce the prevailing mood, but avoid the obvious. Don't draw the reader's attention to what you're doing. Just do it.

No Sense of Place
People are not only the result of their genes, but are shaped by their environment. Show the readers where your characters live and work. If it's the sprawling suburbs, then show us. What does a suburban avenue, sound and smell like? How does the light shine on it? Show us its life -- a man delivering charity bags from door to door, wheelie bins standing by gates. If someone lives in a filthy hovel behind the gasworks, let's see, hear and touch it. Too many writers let their characters float around in a vacuum. Don't forget to engage all the senses. Most writers describe how things look, but how does fear taste? How does anger smell? What does beauty sound like? Be adventurous.

No Shape or Structure
All fiction, but especially the short story, works best when it concentrates on one person in one situation that takes place in a reasonably short space of time. A short story expresses a moment
of change and charts the journey through this change and shows what happens at the far end. Begin the story as close as possible to the moment of change. Don't waffle on once the change and its aftermath has happened. Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked. Learn how to pace a story, when to give and when to withhold information, when and how to create tension, speed things up, slow things down. This is done by carefully choosing words, not only for the sound they make but the length of syllables etc. Writing is a craft as much as an art. If a writer needs to
introduce flashback, it should be carefully sign-posted in and out, to avoid confusion. Shifts in viewpoint should also be carefully introduced.

Poor Dialogue Skills
Dialogue in fiction isn't real but it must sound real. Keep it sharp. Don't allow your characters to make long confessional speeches or engage in too much cozy chit-chat. Use it to provide essential information and above all to show character.

Lack of Technical Knowledge
All writers should learn or brush up their grammar by learning why things are so. The most common mistakes, such as confusion of "it's" and "its," "your" and "you're" mark you as a beginner. Learn the reasons behind the rules and you can't possibly get it wrong. Only when you know the rules inside out can you be brave enough to break them. The best way to learn how to do it is to read as much published fiction as you can. If you read plenty by a variety of authors you cannot possibly "pick up" their style. It will, on the contrary, help develop your own.

My Top Tip
When you think your story is the best you can make it, put it aside and leave it for as long as possible -- minimum one week. Then read it out aloud. Your errors will leap up at you like
snarling dogs! Now rewrite it.


Sally Zigmond has had nonfiction and fiction published in several magazines, as well as anthologies, and has won several major short story competitions. She is a joint assistant editor of QWF magazine, and editor of The Historical Novels Review. She writes articles and reviews for the Society and also reviews for the Virginia Woolf Society. Zigmond is a member of The Society of Authors, and lives in North Yorkshire, England.

Copyright 2002 Sally Zigmond

Five Fiction mistakes that spell rejection--Moira Allen interviewed fifty fiction editors for advice on avoiding rejection.

Pat Holt offers "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)"

Writing a Synopsis

Don't forget to write an attention-getting synopsis. Here are three methods, from former literary agent Alice Orr, and mystery writers Kris Neri and Beth Anderson.

How to Write the Fiction Book Synopsis
By Alice Harron Orr

Synopsis defined: A narrative summary of the main action of your finished or unfinished booklength manuscript.

Suggested length: Up to ten pages for a book up to 100,000 words long, a few pages longer for longer books. (Individual editors may then request a longer version of the synopsis, but this is the ideal length for an introduction piece,) Note: The synopsis should always be double-spaced.

Any fiction submission, including a complete manuscript, should be accompanied by a synopsis. Therefore, it is crucial that the author develop a talent for synopsis writing. This is where you showcase your writing ability to the editor; and, thus, it is important that the synopsis be written as painstakingly as the rest of the book. Never dash off the synopsis as an afterthought. Craft it. Polish it. Perfect it, until it is your very best work. Think of this as a telling of your story in the tradition of the ancient tribal storyteller who had to tell a story that kept his audience interested or be banished into the wilderness with no supper. That's motivation for you! So, tell your story in the most compelling and riveting manner possible, and keep that editor leaning ever closer to the tribal fire at storytime.

You begin that task by getting off to a fast start with an opening line that has been crafted into a truly stunning narrative hook. Then, move directly into the story. Do not amble in. Start where the excitement of the story starts, not before, just as you must start your book at the same point. Don't begin with backstory (the details of what happened before the book starts) or with description of any kind. You can feed these details in very gradually, never in large doses, and only as they are needed to understand the present action of the story. Open your synopsis, and your book, with conflict. The situation is underway which will plunge your protagonist into the conflict which is the reason for this story being told and the thing that makes it interesting.
Before writing further, determine what the main points of your story are, especially (1) the complications that will happen to your protagonist (which must escalate in seriousness as the story progresses), what brings them on and how they are or are not resolved; and (2) the climactic scene and resolution of the story, which must be worked out specifically and in a fair amount of detail in the synopsis so that the editor can determine whether or not this is a satisfying and effective ending.

Write the synopsis in the present tense and the third person. This must be snappy, high interest writing; but be careful that the tone is appropriate to the kind of book your are writing. Begin with chapter one and continue on through the ending. If you are sending sample chapters, the action from those chapters must also be included in the synopsis.

Pay special attention to the verbs, using these in preference to adjectives to maximize the expressiveness of your synopsis. Use action verbs to sustain the sense of intense and compelling action that is ongoing in your story. This is very important, as is the use of present tense to make that action seem more immediate.

Write the synopsis in the form of the running story summarized rather than chapter-by-chapter, unless a specific editor has requested otherwise of you individually for this specific book. One technique for preparing to write this running narrative, is to tell the story into a tape recorder, always in chronological order as the events will occur in the final writing. You can use this verbal narrative as a basis for the synopsis story. Some authors can make their synopsis flow more naturally by employing this device first.

Do not include separate character sketches with your synopsis. Instead, include brief description when a character is introduced, concentrating on the individual's nature and personality rather than physical appearance. Do not include his/her age. Secondary characters need almost no character description in the synopsis other than to identify their function in the story. Use specific names for all persons (and for places as well).

Try to balance the synopsis in proportion to the book in terms of length, with the first half of the synopsis roughly paralleling the first half of the book, the second half paralleling the second half of the book. The exception to this is the ending which, in order to be worked out in detail as described above, may take a slightly disproportionate amount of space in the synopsis.

Do not dramatize or act out the story in the synopsis. This is a telling of the story as opposed to the showing of it, The one exception in this instance might be an occasional line of dialogue, but only if that line is short and has great impact.

Stick to the story line; don't wander off track. And don't overexplain. This is the "meat" of the story. Don't get bogged down in details. Still, you must keep the interest level up; and, by all means, avoid writing what sounds like a catalogue of events (this happened, then that happened, then this happened...). Avoid monotony at all costs!

Make sure there is enough happening here to fill a whole book. The editor is examining this synopsis to determine that you have enough material to sustain a workable full-length manuscript. However, do not contrive incidents to fill in space. Nor should you contrive incidents for the sake of non-stop action alone. Each story event must arise from what happened before it and lead to what happens after in a cause and effect continuum from beginning to end.

Avoid cliches both in phrasing and story action. Use this synopsis as a way of spotting these and other problems in the story itself. Correct these problems in both the story and the synopsis before submission. Other story weaknesses to watch for: outlandish plot developments, jumps in action without sufficient transition, places where the story lags.

The quality of the synopsis is critical to the selling of the popular novel. Nonetheless, you must neither say or think, "I can't write a synopsis", or even "I hate writing the synopsis." The reality is that you have to do it and do it well. A negative attitude will be more likely to hinder than help in that process.

And if all of this seems a bit difficult, maybe even a little daunting, remember the mantra of those who succeed:



Kris Neri on Writing the Synopsis

I find a synopsis of any length miserable to write. I hate 'em. How can you do justice to your richly detailed novel in a few pages? However, after writing quite a number of them now, I find different approaches work at different lengths. For a 2-page synopsis, I would simply write a cover blurb that included the ending. Read a number of cover blurbs and get a sense of what they're doing. Go for the drama, the high points, the emotional aspects of the story. And since it's a synopsis, do that all the way to the ending, which you wouldn't include if it were an actual cover blurb. With the blurb approach, you'll probably end up in the length-ballpark without much effort.

For a longer sysnopsis, what I do is make a list of all the events I consider important; for character, I tie it into events. Then I go through and rate all of those items on a 1-3 scale, with 3 being the most important. Then I start writing a rough synopsis linking the 3's, tying in a few of the 2's, and dropping all the 1's. It's invariably very rough, and it takes a fair amount of revising before I can make it sound polished. But those approaches have both worked for me.

Mystery author Beth Anderson describes her method for producing a tight synopsis that sells books.

Writers Block

By Vicki Hinze

If you don't know your characters as well or better than you know yourself, how can you write how they'll react to a given novel situation? You can't. And so you stumble to that stop without a clue as to how to proceed. And that is often interpreted as writer's block.

The solution to work past it: interview these people. Author, Kim Kozlowski, crafted a wonderful character interview that is indispensable. It takes time to complete, because it's very thorough, and you won't use all the information you glean in preparing it. But you will know these characters, and you will know what they wouldn't or wouldn't do in any given situation. And in interviewing them, they will spur the plot-one that is custom-made to highlight their goals, motivations, and conflicts, and enhance their novel purpose. Result: no more writer's block.

The same situation with character holds true for plot. Without a clear path on where you're going in the novel--and what story events you intend to incorporate to take you there, you can write yourself into countless corners, brick walls, dead-ends with no logical way out. And while this too is often interpreted as WB, it isn't. Not really. It's a lack of planning. Of knowing how you intend to get from Point A to B. One way to eliminate this situation is to use a plot board.

Do a synopsis; lay out your chapters and scenes. Then check that plot board for all manner of things. Character growth and development, conflict, motivation, logical succession of events. You can check for logic gaps, natural progression, character consistency. You can check your time line-make sure things are happening in the right order, sequentially. Check your settings to make sure each is compatible with the mood and tone of the scene. You can check essentially all elements of the novel on this board.

In addition to realizing that thoughts hold an enormous amount of power, that creativity must be nurtured and that well refilled to be able to meet demands of putting out, knowing the novel, the characters and their deepest secrets, fears and desires, and having a plot plan, I think it's essential that a writer feeling blocked examine the whole. I mean the whole novel, and more. I mean the whole writer.

First look at the novel. Do you love this book? Does it tap into your emotions? Make you want to laugh, cry, choke the living daylights out of something? Does it arouse your passion? If not, change it until it does. If you don't, then apathy sets in, and you're setting yourself up for more blocks. And for rejections. You can't arouse empathy in anyone else if it isn't put there by you, the writer. If you don't feel it, how can you stir it in others? So get passionate. Write something that matters to you. If you can't do that on this novel, then ditch the project. If your passion is aroused, you'll have plenty to say-and tons of ways to say it. Passion arouses all the nebulous creative juices and they make the work flow.

As a writer, how do you feel about writing this particular book? Are you writing a category novel because you love them, or because you've heard that so many of them are published your odds of breaking into publishing are greater by writing one of them? Are you writing your novel because it's the kind of story you love to read? The kind you've always done and changing is too hard, or intimidating?

Writer know thyself. Know why you're doing this project. And if the reason is anything other than for the joy of it, because you love the story, do yourself a favor. Recognize the odds of it being your best work are shot before you pick up a pen. Why waste your time-this is your life, you know?-working on a project that doesn't matter to you? Feigned interest and enthusiasm is glaringly apparent, and it's as offensive as anything else that is hypocritical. You can't fake it. You have to feel it.

WB is an unforgiving term. It can cause writers a lot of pain and agony. It can have numerous tentacles and each one of them can choke the writer. With each choke, fear and doubt that you'll ever be able to write again, gain strength. But you have the power to work past it. By analyzing each tentacle, writers often find that they're not blocked at all. They love writing as much as they ever did. They've only burned out and not recharged their creative batteries, they've forgotten the value of passion, they've stepped off the trail and gotten mired in the brush.

Well, get a sickle. Hack through that brush and more often than not you'll discover you're truly not blocked; you're suffering phantom pains. Ones that are rooted in exhaustion, splintered focus, too many demands. In structure, discipline, and definition-lost limbs.

The best news is that once you identify them, you can form a concrete plan of action to combat them, and these limbs can rejuvenate. It takes effort, a little indulgence in spending the time and energy to figure out the root causes of the problem. But when you have, you can rejoice because you've worked your way through writer's block.*

Vicki Hinze is the award-winning author of 16 books with another 3 currently under contract and hundreds of articles on writing. She's published with Silhouette, Bantam, St. Martin's Press, Pinnacle, and Spilled Candy Books. LADY JUSTICE and BODY DOUBLE will be released this summer. Visit her websites: http://www.vickihinze.com and http://www.bombshellauthors.com.


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