Taking a Personal Day(s)

In the midst of a personal issue. Will post winning questions later this week.

Also, have only received two submissions for the fan-fic contest. Extending the deadline through Saturday, May 5th.


Taboo Topics

What subjects are "off limits" that you would not consider publishing, no matter how well written?
This is going to vary from publisher to publisher. However, in the LDS industry, there are some basic standards--for example, most are not going to publish books that celebrate or glorify lifestyle choices contrary to the doctrine of the Church. Most will not publish books that bash Church leaders or policies. Most will not publish novels with graphic sex or violence. Most will not consider books on the occult.

After that, you're looking at individual preferences. Some won't touch novels with polygamy in any form; others don't mind it in historical novels. Many won't publish "contemporary" topics (addiction, unwed pregnancy, homosexuality) in any form; others will, if it's done tastefully and shows the consequences of poor choices.

I won't accept anything that I think will upset or tick off the average LDS reader, even if I think it's well written or it's something that I personally like. For example, I received a submission a few years ago about an addict who turned their life around. I thought it was well written, had a great message, and that some LDS people would be touched by it. But I rejected it because too many people would be upset by its grittiness and I cannot afford to offend my readers. Other taboo topics at my company include homosexuality, child abuse, incest, the occult, gratuitous violence, descriptive intimacy, murder of children or real-time description of the death of children. Topics that would raise a flag, but might not be an automatic rejection are addiction, spouse abuse, infidelity, unwed pregnancy, loss of testimony.


How to Make Me Hate You in One Easy Step

I've heard it was a good idea to turn a page upside down in the middle of the manuscript to make sure it was really read. I was thinking, if I turned every other page upside down, not only could I tell if it was read, but I'd be remembered, too. What do you think?

I would much rather you hide a $20 bill around page 115.

Just kidding. Please do not send money.

Brain Surgery

Do you think it's easier to become a brain surgeon than a published author?


It's all about perception. There is an actual mathematical equation for this. It is:

Actual difficulty + [(perceived personal skill + personal desire to achieve goal) X number of people who believe they have the skill and desire] + number of perceived stumbling blocks unfairly placed in the way by people who are not as intelligent as you = perceived difficulty

According to the scientific study of 1,000 random people that I did last night in preparation to answer this question, I discovered:

(10 being most and 1 being least)

10 + [(0 + .2) X 0] + 3 = 13 = Difficulty in Becoming a Brain Surgeon

4 + [(10 + 9.5) X 1,000] + 10 = 19,514 = Difficulty in Becoming a Published Author


Subplots--What's the Magic Number?

Is there a general rule of thumb for how many subplots should be in a novel? How many are too few? Too many?

You want enough to keep your story interesting, but not so many that the reader can't remember what's going on with who. How's that for a definitive answer?

I'm gonna' go out on a limb and really commit myself here and say between two and ten. Part of it depends on how complex your main plot is; how complex the subplots; whether the subplots are needed to move the story forward (good), or if their main function is to add pages (bad); if the subplots involved the main characters or side characters; etc. etc.

Here's my general rule--if I'm bored, it needs more complexity, which can be provided by subplots. If I have to read with a pencil and paper to keep all the characters and plots straight, then you've got too many.


Grammar and Writing Resource Books

What writing books would you recommend? I've heard that some rules of grammar have changed/are changing--how do we keep up?
Much as I personally hate it, grammar rules change over time (ex: lit vs lighted). Even the experts disagree about what is correct grammar and they will argue over something as "simple" as comma placement, each absolutely certain that they are correct and fully supported by other experts. To someone unfamiliar with the history of language and basic grammar rules, it may seem that there are no rules, or that rules can be broken at will.

This is an incorrect assumption. There are rules, and there are acceptable ways to break the rules. Editors know both. We can tell if you're breaking a currently in-vogue rule because you're following a different rule, or if you just don't know what you're doing. Unfortunately, there is no one, generally accepted, definitive grammar rule source book.

I prefer more traditional usage over the modern, but I've argued with many of my colleagues about what is correct, and we can all defend our own stance. You're never going to guess what a particular publisher uses/wants, so don't bother trying. Even if you know what a publisher usually wants, the grammar rules may change slightly depending on the style of book.

The key to grammar is to select a good source book and be consistent. You need to understand enough grammar that you know why you're following (or breaking) a particular rule.

Here's a pretty good list of sources. You're probably safe with the current edition of Chicago Manual of Style (although I don't agree with all of their rules). I like Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Trus as a punctuation manual. If you're writing LDS, use their Style Guide to Publications.

Now, for writing books in general, there are so many good ones I hardly know where to start. I have about 40 on my shelf that I really love, and almost that many that I'd like to get. Some of my favorites are Julia Cameron's books on writing, Natalie Goldberg and Annie Dillard. I also have a lot of books published by Writer's Digest that are pretty good. The best way to find good books on writing is to just go spend a day at the bookstore and browse. Or ask a writer you know and respect what their favorites qre.

So how about it readers? What are your favorite writing books?



Might as well finish the week on the same theme:

Don't you think a fancy font would get noticed more than that boring Times New Roman or Courier? And, what about a few drawings, too? I'm a pretty good artist.


Because all editors are stuffy, stodgy, opinionated bores.

We want to make our own pictures.

And we don't really like Courier either.


Publishers Directories

Is there a directory available that lists publishers and editors with their home phone numbers? I'd really like to call a few and ask them why they rejected my manuscript.

Thank you so much.

Yes. It's 1-800-I'll never publish your book in a million years!

Although the person who sent this question intended it to be humorous, it's really not that funny when I get the call. (Yes, I get those calls. Usually when I've just dozed off for my Saturday afternoon nap.)

With all the resources available these days, it's not too hard to track down a publisher's personal info. Don't do it! I guarantee, they will not admire your tenacity and gumption. Anything else you send them in the future will be an automatic pass. And they'll probably gossip about you to their publisher friends.

[And it's not just writers who do this. A million years ago, in a city far, far away, I was a drama critic for the local paper. I gave a show a moderate review, but pointed out several things that were sub-par in the performance. The director called me up and chewed me out--several times. From then on, I always wrote with a pen name. It's also one of the reasons why this blog is anonymous. I can't handle conflict. I buckle under criticism. I...well, fine. I just don't want the aggravation.]

Tips to Make Your Manuscript Stand Out

I'm trying to figure out if it's best to use designer perfume to scent the pages of my manuscript and cover letter or if it's okay to just go with a perfume from Target?

The more expensive the perfume, the better. The stronger the scent, the more I will enjoy reading your submission. Don't be stingy. Douse that thing. Or better yet, soak your paper in it over night, then line dry it before using it to print your manuscript. And if you have any left over, put the rest of the bottle in the package as a bribe.

Do I really need to give a serious answer to this? Yes, apparently I do, because I sometimes get scented submissions--particularly romance submissions.

I have also received submissions with:
  • the query letter hand-written in purple ink
  • the entire mss printed on neon paper
  • the entire mss printed in a calligraphy font (or script; or Curlz; or...)
  • confetti that explodes out of the envelope when you open it



Reader Comments

I have heard that you can request readers' comments from publishers after you have submitted a manuscript to them. What is the best way to do this? In the query letter? A note after you have been rejected?

You can request them. You may or may not get them. Depends on the company policy. Some companies don't mind sharing the comments; others won't.

I would make the request in the query letter. Some publishers file readers' comments and keep them for a long time. Others simply note them in their log and toss the originals, in which case, by the time you get your rejection and request to see them, they may be long gone.

FYI--Readers' comments refer to the practice of editors/publishers sending pages out to trusted readers with a comment form. If all the comments are favorable, chances are you'll be accepted. If they're not, you'll be rejected.

However, many submissions are rejected before they go out to readers. Readers are only involved after the editor and a few in-house employees give the manuscript a thumbs up.

Tangent question: What if the editors like it but the readers don't, or vice versa? Who decides? The marketing department.


I Despise Taggers!

Okay, maybe despise is too strong of a word.

I was going to pretend I didn't see the tags over on Six LDS Writers and on Josie Kilpack's blog. (Both of which I read regularly). But then some blabber-mouth mentioned it in the comments trail here. Kind of hard to pretend I don't read my own blog.


1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your birthday without the year:
(Thought you could trick me, eh? Josie said I could use the date my publishing company started--as if I can remember that far back. So I'm going with the date I started this blog.)

April 29--voted 364 to 1 as THE most boring day in the history of the world

2. List 3 events that occurred that day:
1429--Joan of Arc arrives to relieve the Siege of Orléans.
1770--James Cook arrives at and names Botany Bay, Australia.
1967--After refusing induction into the US Army the day before (citing religious reasons), Muhammad Ali is stripped of his boxing title.

3. List 2 important birthdays:
1982--Kamran Jawaid, Pakistani film critic and producer
1957--Timothy Treadwell, American bear enthusiast

4. List 1 death:
2002--Lor Tok, Thai comedian and actor

5. List 1 holiday or observance:
Baháí Faith--The ninth day of the Festival of Ridván.


Resubmitting Rewrites #2

Let's pretend I sent you a manuscript and your company liked it enough to ask for a rewrite. Then let's pretend the rewrite got lost in the cracks: the editor who asked for the rewrite changed jobs, the rewrite sat somewhere in the office for several months and then was rejected after I called to inquire on its status.

Fast-forward several months and now let's pretend the rewrite has been reworked, had professional input and editing, and is even better and tighter than before.

How would you want me to ask you for the chance to resubmit once again?

Okay...forget pretending. It really happened and I really want to resubmit it.
Okay, this is a slightly different question from the last one. Based on the timing of events, your rejection may have been a matter of cleaning house, rather than a true rejection based on the quality of your book. This happens sometimes when editors leave. It's not fair, but that's the way it is.

My first suggestion would be to try to track down your first editor and see if the company they're with now publishes stories like yours. They might remember you and be eager to see your rewrites.

If that isn't a possibility--because they're in a different specialty or a different industry--then send a query reminding us that we'd liked the original enough to ask for rewrites, and that you've now done those rewrites based upon our previous recommendations. Give a few specifics about the changes.

This would be one of the few times I'd suggest sending the entire mss (or the first few chapters) vs just a query because the first thing I'm going to do is check my log. If my comments aren't glowing, I'll reject on the query. But if you've mentioned the issues in your query that I have listed in my log, and if I have a few chapters right there on my desk, I'm going to accept your challenge and read a few pages.


Resubmitting Rewrites #1

Is it taboo to rewrite/rework a rejected novel manuscript and send it back for review to the same publisher that rejected it?
No, it's not taboo, but it isn't often successful. Whether or not you can resubmit depends upon why it was rejected. If they gave you reasons that have something to do with your style or your story, and you've done rewrites to address that, then your chances are better.

Your best bet is to send it to other publishers, but if you're really set on this one (and face it, you have limited choices in the LDS market), then send a query stating that you've rewritten and would like to resubmit. Be specific about how it's been rewritten. Then cross your fingers and hope it works.


Big SASE, Little SASE

Howdy LDSP,

Is there really a point to sending enough postage to have a novel-length manuscript returned? Doesn't it make more sense to just send the SASE for your reply?


No. There is really no point in sending a large envelope with postage for the return of your manuscript. By the time it goes through the mail twice, plus gets read through several times, it's really beat up. You won't be able to send that same copy to another publisher and most of the time, there will not be notes of any value in the margins.

If I do have notes that I think would be helpful to the author, I e-mail them and tell them that they have a week to send me a large SASE if they want the mss back. Then I date a stickie, slap it on the mss and put it on my assistant's desk. If the SASE doesn't show up by that date, I assume she tosses it.

A #10 SASE is all you need to include.


How to Spot an Amateur

What are some common mistakes that a first time or amateur author makes, that an experienced author does not? This can be both in writing and/or in submission.

Sometimes even experienced writers make these mistakes, but these are the ones that immediately pop into my mind.

Writing Mistakes:
  • Thinking your story is polished and done, when it is not.
  • Writing in a style that's wrong for the genre.
  • Technical errors--grammar, punctuation, spelling.
  • Thinking the editor will (has time to) fix all the mistakes.
  • Failing to send mss out to qualified readers for critique.
  • Characters, plot, storyline problems.

Submission Mistakes:
  • Sending the mss to a publisher before it's ready.
  • Sending mss to publishers who don't publish in that genre.
  • Using the shotgun method of submission (sending out queries/submissions to every single publisher on your list without doing any research to see if your mss would be a good fit for them.)
  • Lack of research into the business side of publishing and the common how-tos for submitting.
  • Doing the research on how to submit, but ignoring the suggestions and doing it your own way because that shows you're unique and creative. (Not.)
  • Poorly crafted query.
  • Making excuses for less than quality writing in the query; emphasizing that you're a beginner and lack experience (I do not mean that you can't state that this is your first novel. That's fine. I mean going on and on about how you don't really know what you're doing and you hope I'll overlook your ignorance and inexperience...)

Experienced authors, help me out. What am I forgetting?


May Contest

I can't deal with the fact that I've disappointed a reader by not running a writing contest--and one of my most frequent readers at that. I had nightmares of her taking revenge upon me all weekend! (Well, not really. But I did think about it once or twice.)

So in addition to the Question contest, here is a contest for May.

In honor of Star Wars Day on May 4th, let's do a fan-fic contest. Submit a 500 word story for consideration. It does not have to be a Star Wars fan fic; pick anything you like. It does not have to be LDS, but it does have to be PG (no swearing, sex or graphic violence).

Deadline for Submission: April 30th.

I will post all submissions during that next week. You can vote for your favorites. Prizes will be awarded to My Fav and Readers Fav. More details later, but this gives you enough to get started on your story.


(How's that Melanie? Now we're both happy.)

Don't You Dare Query an Unfinished Novel!

I like the new contest. Very interesting. So here is my first shot, and yes, this is a real question. :)

What is the benefit to submitting a query letter before actually writing the book?

Thanks for the blog. I love it. :)
If you are writing non-fiction, you do not need to complete the work before querying. All you need is well expressed compelling reasons that speak to the need for a book on your topic, a well developed outline (chapter by chapter breakdown and synopsis), the first couple of chapters, and probably some credentials. But you need to be prepared to finish the book very quickly after acceptance--within a few months, if not sooner. Some non-fiction is accepted because of its timeliness and if it takes 6 months or longer for you to finish it, it may not be timely anymore.

If you're writing fiction, you ABSOLUTELY have to have a finished work before you query. An editor expects to see the finished manuscript immediately upon request. Also, many stories change as you write them. You think it's going to go one way, and then the characters develop minds of their own and take it another way. It could very easily become a different book from what was described in your query.


April Contest!

Melanie had some great ideas for an April writing contest--and I will keep them in mind for the future. But between asking for your ideas this morning, and uhm, NOW--I had a thought. I know some of you will think this is a self-serving cop out, and you would be right. But if you play nice, I'll do an actual writing contest next month.

April 29th marks my one year anniversary for this blog. It's been fun for me. I hope it has been helpful to you.

The biggest difficulty I have, however, is trying to figure out what to blog about--every single day. (It's sort of like the 'what's for dinner question,' which I never have a good answer for.)

So here's the contest. Between now and April 29th, Submit questions for the blog. I will give prizes for the following categories:
  • My Favorite question
  • Made Me Spew My Drink While Laughing question
  • Almost as Smart as Me question
  • Obviously Doesn't Have a Clue question
  • Got to Be Kidding question
  • Never Heard That One Before question
  • Are You Sure You're Not a Three-Year-Old? (aka: person who submits the most REAL questions--fake questions do not count; anonymously submitted questions do not count)

Categories that will get acknowledgment, but no prize
  • FAQs (aka: most frequently asked question)

I may add more categories, if I think of them, so check back. I don't know what the prizes will be yet, but I'll think of something between now and then--probably something silly and cheesy.

Rules are:
1. Send your question to me via e-mail, not in the comments trail.

2. Your question has to have something to do with writing or publishing. (No historical fact questions, like what was the very first published LDS novel--because I don't know and I don't want to do any research for this.)

3. I reserve the right not to award a prize if none of the questions seem to fit in a particular category.

I'll post and answer the questions in whatever order I feel like answering them; one per day, as usual. (I hope I get 365 different questions. That would just make my year!)

I'll post the winners on April 30th because the 29th is a Sunday.

Big Hugs

Although thanks to you, I no longer think ornery thoughts when someone doesn't include a SASE with their submission (unless they want the whole mss back and expect me to foot the bill), I have to admit when I do get a SASE, it makes me smile.

Lately, I've been getting a lot of SASEs with self-stick flaps. A big hug to all of you who are sending those. I just love them. It makes me feel pampered, cherished, spoiled rotten. :)

P.S. I'm all out of questions. Send more.

P.P.S. Is it time for another contest? What would you like to do?


Age is Relative

I recently attended the LDStorymakers Conference and received a recommendation from a couple of authors that I increase the age of my main character (it is a romance novel). At the beginning of my book, she is 19 but the bulk of the book transpires when she is about 23-24. What age range would you recommend? Is 25 still too young? Thank you.

I generally don't like to have a character introduced at one age, then jump forward in time five years to where the story actually takes place. You can sometimes get away with this in fantasy by using a prologue, but prologues aren't really the "in" thing right now. Maybe it's tolerable if something happens to the character as a very young child, and for some reason it needs to be described in real time, and then you jump ahead 20 years. But even then, it usually is going to be better to start the story at her current age, then fill in the backstory at appropriate intervals.

As to what age your main character should be, it depends on the story you're writing. Teen romance is fine, if it's not explicit or too sensual and follows LDS dating standards and guidelines. Romance in your early 20s is fine, and generally this is when most LDS girls fall in love and get married so I don't see a problem with it.

Not knowing anything about your story, I can't say why the authors thought your character needed to be older or if they are correct in that advice. But if those advising you are successful published authors in your genre, I'd probably listen to what they had to say.


No More Submissions

I know it's advisable to look for the publishers instructions on how they would prefer you to follow up on a submitted manuscript. However, the publisher that currently has mine is no longer taking submissions, and has taken all that sort of info off their website. What's the best way to follow up if you're not sure what they would rather have you do? Thanks.
I think I know who you mean because I regularly visit the websites of all the LDS publishers and I noticed that happening very recently on one site. I haven't heard any industry gossip so understand that what I'm about to say may be way off base.

If they've suddenly stopped taking submissions, they're most likely in trouble or are going through some restructuring and need some breathing space.

Do you have an e-mail address for the submissions editor? If so, that's the easiest and (in my opinion) least intrusive way to contact them. Send a short polite e-mail asking the status of your submission. You can mention the change in their website and express curiosity if you want, or not. Give them a couple of days to respond because if they are struggling, they may be understaffed.

You can also send a letter asking the same thing. If you write, give them two weeks to respond.

Or you could call. This is the last option I'd advise because if they're way past the time when they should have responded, it probably means they're swamped in the day-to-day business of staying alive.

In any case, if you e-mail, snail mail or call and you don't get a response within 30 days, you can probably safely assume that your manuscript has been rejected.

I'm sorry I can't be more definitive on this. As I said, this is my best guess on what is happening, but I could be completely wrong.


High Risk Manuscripts

Hi LDS Publisher,

How much impact does a first-time author's sales from their first novel have on your decision to accept another manuscript from them? If a book sells only about 600 copies in the first year, would you be hesitant to accept their next manuscript, if that manuscript was good?


Unless I am personally committed to your cause or career, or I'm trying to impress you for some reason, sales of a previous book has a HUGE impact in whether I accept your next manuscript, because in that scenario I will have lost a ton of money.

Exceptions to this would be:
  • I made some type of marketing mistake and it's my fault they didn't sell (highly unlikely, and I'd never admit to it publicly, but it could be possible).
  • Your next manuscript was much better or would appeal to a different market.
  • You were published by another publisher and I thought perhaps I could do a better job at promotion and marketing than they did.
  • I can lock in 1,000 pre-sales before I go to press (and you would need to be the one creating the buzz for those pre-sales, because I will be thinking it won't happen).
  • You're willing to share the expense of publishing--but I would only consider this option if the manuscript was significantly better.


LDS Content in the National Market

Why are national publishers so reluctant to publish anything with LDS content? It seems like when you do find mention of Mormons...someone is commenting on how odd they are. Do you think we'll ever see serious LDS content in the national market?

Yes, I do think we'll see some serious LDS content in the national market. Aside from the fact that Brigham Young prophesied it, and so I believe it, there are indications that we are moving that direction now. Our prophet has been interviewed by Mike Wallace and positively received on prime-time national television. The Other Side of Heaven, a movie about an LDS missionary, was nationally produced and did okay. The Work and The Glory movies get national distribution. LDS artists, illustrators, musicians, and authors are getting national attention. So yes, I think it's only a matter of time before a novel with LDS content makes the national market.

I hope I get to publish it. And perhaps you'll be the one who writes it.