Writing Tip Tuesday: How Do I Know When My Chapter is Over?

I'm ready to divide my manuscript into chapters and I was wondering if there is an equation for converting my document pages into book pages. This would greatly help me with placing chapter breaks.

A general rule of thumb (and you know that old adage about rules) is that a chapter should be about 10 to 12 pages, maybe 14, but no more than 16. It's also generally a good idea to vary the length of chapters, to create drama or suspense. For example, chapter 1 might be 10 pages; chapter 2 might be 12 pages; chapter 3, 14 pages; chapter 4, 10 pages. You get the idea.

Chapter length is also dependent on genre. Historical, romance and literary fiction have longer chapters. Mystery and suspense have shorter chapters—sometimes only two to three pages. I've seen chapters that are only a few words. This is rare, but can be used effectively.

I'd rather an author err on the side of short chapters, rather than one that goes on and on. (Readers do occasionally need bathroom breaks, after all.) Also, I like chapters that end with a little tease, inviting me to—sometimes demanding that I—read on.

However, the number of pages in a chapter is less important than what happens in a chapter. Just like a paragraph conveys a unique idea, a chapter creates a unique scene or event that moves the story forward in a concrete step; or a chapter may be a series of small but interconnected scenes or events. It's a matter of feeling complete.

There is no magic number or equation. I'd recommend that you do some study of the structure of popular books in your genre. Pick a few best sellers from a variety of authors and do some analyzing as you read.
  • Count the number of chapters, as well as the number of pages in each chapter. What is the average length? Are the chapters within the books the same length or varied?
  • How does the author use the chapter length to add tension to the story?
  • Analyze the structure of individual chapters—is it one scene or several related scenes? Is it one event, one POV, or multiple events and POVs?
  • Does the chapter feel cohesive and complete?
  • Does it end at a natural break in scene or events? Or does it end in a cliff hanger? Does this help or hinder the reading experience?
After you've analyzed several popular books by authors you enjoy, go back to your book. Read it slowly, noticing where it changes scenes, events and/or POV. At each change, determine if this is a good place for a chapter break or if it is a small change that is part of a larger scene or event by asking yourself the same questions you asked as you analyzed the books you read.
  • Are there a sufficient number of pages since the beginning of the chapter? Are there too many? Do I need to develop this scene or action a little more? Do I need to cut some of it out or break it into two chapters? (How long was the previous chapter? Is this one a little shorter? A little longer?)
  • Does this scene or event (or these several interconnected scenes or events) draw to a natural conclusion?
  • Does this section feel cohesive and complete?
  • Does this feel like a natural breaking place?
  • Do I want this chapter to have a soft ending/resolution? Or do I want it to be a cliff hanger? (What was the previous chapter ending? I recommend varying this a bit. That doesn't mean they can't all be cliff hangers, but vary the "height" of the cliffs the reader will be hanging from.)
To read what other writers have to saw about breaking your book into chapters, click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Do You Really Think I'd Copy THAT?!?

It seems that every time I make one teensy little change to my computer, all heck breaks loose! I've been dealing with network connection issues all day yesterday and today. Sorry for no real post so far this week.

But here's a good post that I saw when I was surfing some of my favs over the weekend. While this is a specific situation, it happens a lot in the publishing world—the accusations, not the plagiarism.

Also, just a reminder, today's the last day to comment for a chance to win one of the two books in the sidebar under the "June LDSP Contest Sponsors" label.


Fatuous Friday

Do you have any embarrassing habits that you'd like to confess? We all love you here. It's safe. We'd never tell. Promise.

If you could live any other place but Utah, where would it be and why?

Hmmm. Never thought about that much. I really like South Dakota in the summer—it's got pretty mountains, like Utah, but it's GREEN. Arizona or New Mexico in the winter—because I like the dry air and I hate the snow and cold. Definitely a small town. I don't like the fast pace of the bigger cities.

Or maybe somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley. It's gorgeous there.

I've also thought it would be nice to live in Greece, or maybe Australia.


Press Kits

I'm about to self-publish a book and an author friend suggested I put together a press kit. (And when I say suggested, I mean strongly insisted that I had to have one.) So what exactly is a press kit? How do I make one? Where do I send it? Do I post it on my website? Help!

A press kit is simply a collection of information about you and your book that provides everything newspapers and other media (TV, radio interviewers. bloggers. etc.) need to do a story on you. And for those of you who think you don't need to know this because you're going traditional publishing—guess again. Many publishers will ask you to send them the meat for the press kit.

It doesn't have to be super fancy or elaborate—although, if you want to go that route, have at it. But seriously, unless you're hitting the national market big time, a simple kit is the best way to go.

Okay. Here's what I need to include in a press kit:
  • Cover letter—the content of this is similar to what you'd put in your query letter, but instead of asking them to publish you, you're asking them to write an article about you. Include a list of everything included in your kit at the bottom of the letter.
  • Author biography—Limit yourself to one page.
  • Press Release—one page. Write an article about yourself and your book. Some papers will publish this verbatim, under their own byline. That's okay. Don't get chapped over it
  • Book Bio—Usually the liner notes.
  • Personal Photo—current. I usually send the one used on/in the book. Black and white, and color (depending on where you're sending it). Suitable for printing; that means 5x7, color, 300 dpi.
  • Book cover art—suitable for printing; that means 6x9, color, 300 dpi.
  • Postcard &/or brochure—whatever marketing piece you've created for your book.
  • Business Card.
  • Endorsements—this would be author endorsements that are on your book cover, excerpts from other reviews.
  • Question & Answer Sheet—one page.
  • Book—if it's for a review.
Now, you may be thinking, Holy Overkill, Batman! But it's really not. I usually put in a printed copy of the cover letter and the press release, then burn the rest on a CD. This makes it really easy for them to cut & paste whatever information they want to use. (Use Microsoft Word for your documents because almost everyone has that.)

Print in large, clear type on your CD label: Title, author, contact information. For example:
Jane's Best Seller Media Kit
Jane Doe, Author
LDSP Publishing
(123) 456-7890

You can see more information on this HERE and HERE.

Many authors and/or publishers include this information on their website. For example, Shadow Mountain has online info on a lot of their titles, like The 13th Reality, Vol. 1: Journal of Curious Letters.

I googled "Author Media Kits" and found a good one: Karen Rose (I know nothing about this author, other than I found her site and it's a great example of what to include.)

Authors, if you have an online media kit that you'd like to share, please post the link in the comments section.


How Many LDS Publishers Are There?

I am also a BYU student who just turned a "self published" book in as a creative project for a class. The professor loved the book and suggested I should look into publishing it for real. Since I was more concerned about a good grade than publishing, this is a brand new concept for me, and I have no idea where to start.

My book has a definite LDS slant so I jumped on the internet to see who the LDS publishers are and found your site. You may be just the perfect person to get me started wading into this undertaking. I've looked at the submission guidelines for Shadow Mountain, Covenant, and Horizon. (I tried to look at Cedar Fort also, but the link to their submission page was broken.)

Are there other LDS publishers out there other than these? Is any one better than another to start with? Any other suggestions or helpful hints you want to throw my way would also be appreciated. Much thanks in advance.

Oh, there are so many more LDS publishers than that! For example, the biggest one: Deseret Book. (Shadow Mountain is one of their imprints.) How many are there? I don't know—there are always new ones popping up and others closing.

Without knowing what your book is about, it's hard to know what to advise. Do your research. Submit to the companies that publish the type of book you've written.

There are free lists of LDS publishers online HERE and HERE. Some of the info may be outdated.

Or THIS, which costs money but is pretty comprehensive.

[Cedar Fort's site is working fine right now. HERE is the link to their Submission Page. ]


WTT: What Should I Write?

Ideas for books come from a zillion places.

Sometimes a character just pops into your mind and refuses to leave. Their voice must be heard and you build your story around them.

Sometimes you'll dream a scene, or an entire plot, and fashion your book from that.

Sometimes a current event on the news or something in your personal life will spark an idea. Or even reading a poorly written book.

But what if all you know is you want to write a book? Where do you start? How do you pick a genre or find a plot?

I recommend your first stop is your own bookshelf (or your library history). What do you read? What do you love? Divide your books into genres and count how many you have in each. The genre with the most books is the one you should be writing in.

Then I recommend googling that genre, learning about it. What are the best sellers? What are the typical story lines and conventions for that genre? I feel comfortable guaranteeing that somewhere in your study of the genre, you'll stumble upon a spark that will start your book.


Electronic Submissions: The Wave of the Future

I'm curious... Do you think LDS publishers will eventually convert to electronic submissions / equeries? In order to save trees and all of that jazz? It's becoming increasingly common in the non-LDS publishing world, but it sounds like LDS publishers are resisting.

Here's the thing with electronic submissions:

1. Viruses. I've had my computer go totally brain dead because someone sent a submission via email and it had a virus in it. It costs me time and money to fix that. Yes, I have virus detectors, multiple ones, in fact. But there's always the chance that something will get through.

2. Eye strain. It is harder to read on computer. I can't tell you how often I end my day with a killer headache caused by reading on the computer. This is less of an issue if you have a Kindle (and I do; and all editors and publishers should get one). I can convert Word files to Kindle files, which are much, much easier on the eyes. But it is still easiest of all to read black type on white paper.

That said, e-files are more portable, won't break your desk no matter how many you stack on there, and if you happen to be reading outside, the wind can't blow them away.

Personally, I think electronic queries and submissions are the way to go. As older editors retire and are replaced by younger, computer savvy editors, you'll see more and more houses accepting e-files.


Fatuous Friday

What brand of toothpaste do you use?

Aquafresh Extreme Clean. I like the way it foams up. It's like a little party in my mouth. I alternate between the Whitening Action and the Freshening Action.


It depends on the season. In the winter I use a more moisturizing shampoo; in summer, a lighter one. I really like the 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioners because I'm lazy. I like Suave, Garnier and Pantene Pro V. Not a big fan of Dove.


Whatever is on sale, usually in a powder scent. Right now, I have Suave 24-Hour Protection Powder Aerosol Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant in the 4 oz. size.


Standard Manuscript Formatting

I wrote this post late last night. When I checked it this morning, I found a few things I'd left out. They are in red.

Hi LDSP. I'm new to all of this. I was looking at some publishers' websites to find their submission guidelines because you always say how important it is to follow them. It seems that all of them are just a teeny bit different in what they ask for in formatting a manuscript. Do I need to reformat for every publisher? Also, one publisher said to submit my novel using "standard formatting." What does that mean?

Most publishers put formatting guidelines on their websites to prevent someone from sending in a 500 page manuscript, 9 pt type, single spaced, with 1/4" margins all around. Ugh! (Yes, I've gotten more than one like that.)

No, you don't have to reformat for each publisher, if you use standard formatting (unless they're just obnoxiously picky). If you use the following formatting, you should be safe with 99.9% of agents, editors and publishers.

Basic Page
  • Margin—1 to 1.5" all the way around. (I prefer 1.5"—more space if I need to write notes.)
  • Font—Courier or Times; 10 or 12 pt type. I prefer Courier, or another serifed, monospace, easy to read type because it's easier for me to read (although I have peers who prefer Times). I also prefer a 12 pt type for the same reason.
  • Line Spacing—Double-space. Absolutely necessary so the reader doesn't go blind.
  • Left justify the text.
  • Paragraph Indent—First line, 5 pt or 1/4". I prefer set tabs, not auto-indent. My typesetters always cuss me when I send them an auto-indent mss because when they convert it to their typesetting software, it deletes the indents and sometimes it's hard to tell where new paragraphs begin.
  • Header—In the top right hand corner, on one line of text, put your last name followed by first initial/TITLE (all caps)/Page #; right justified. For example:

    Publisher, L./MY BEST SELLER/1

    This information on every mss page is very important because we often get pages out of order, and sometimes mixed with other mss.
  • Do not print on the backs of the pages, one-sided only.

Cover Page
  • Use same margins and font as other pages. No header on cover page.
  • Contact Information—Your name (your real legal name, not a pen name), full mailing address, phone number (with area code) and e-mail address in the top left corner. Single-spaced; left-justified. For example:

    LDS Publisher
    123 My Street
    My Town, ST 00000

  • Title—Centered, about the middle of the page, or just above. One double-spaced line beneath.
  • by—Centered below title; one double-spaced line beneath.
  • Name—(or pen name) centered below "by"; one double-spaced line beneath.
  • Word Count—centered below your name; one double-spaced line beneath.

First Page
  • Header—in top right hand corner. Start on page 1. (Do not count the cover page.)
  • Chapter Title—Hit return/enter two times (no more than six times), using double-spaced lines. Center title on page. Do not use all caps, or bold, or bigger font sizes. If your chapters don't have titles, type: Chapter 1 or Chapter One.
  • Mss Text—hit return/enter two times using double-spaced lines. Start your story.
  • Scene Breaks—If you feel you need to insert an indication of a scene break, hit return/enter two times, type ###, center it, hit return/enter two more times, go on with your story.
  • New Chapters—Start each new chapter on a fresh page, using the same Chapter Title formatting as above.
Picture books and screenplays have their own special formatting.


Follow Your Bliss

Hello LDS Publisher, I am a BYU student and an aspiring writer who loves your blog. [thank you] I have a question: I've heard rumors from my friends in the sf&f writing scene here in Utah that most of the LDS publishers (Deseret, Shadow Mountain, Cedar Fort etc) are eagerly looking to acquire, more so than usual and especially for LDS novels with an sf&f spin. Is this true?

I know that it's never a good idea to "chase the market," but I have a story idea for an LDS fantasy novel that I could probably have ready to submit within the next three months, if I made it my top priority. I have several other more mainstream projects that I'd like to shop around in New York, but if the LDS market is more open to acquisitions right now, would it be better to work on my LDS project first?

The publishers you've mentioned do seem to be looking to acquire. Other smaller ones have slowed down a bit.

As to the SFF preference, that is so hot right now—and has been for awhile. That doesn't mean publishers aren't looking for other things too, but like any business, they like to give their customers what they want.

As to which you should work on first—IMHO, work on the one that has the most energy and excitement for YOU. That will give you a better story because you are more invested in it. Chasing the market is only a good idea if you happen to love the particular genre and story line that's hot.


Romance Plot Lines

Hi, LDS Publisher!

First, thank you so much for creating this site and troubling yourself with us, the plague of novice writers. [you're welcome] I'm happy to discover your carefully channeled expertise and only just now became one of your 'followers.' :) [thanks. I love followers.]

But I have a question. . . I've been thinking about romances—any love story found in any tale. I've been trying to categorize them because I'm currently trying to decide what type of romance I would like to emerge in my second novel. So far, I've tagged four scenarios that bring about any well-known love story.

1. The man and woman are from opposing spheres/worlds
2. The love is forbidden
3. There's someone else
4. The relationship was built on a lie

Would you suggest another scenario? Or consolidate one of the four? I've been thinking about some of my favorite love stories and it seems like many of the most successful emerge from the first scenario. Or, my favorite option, they combine a few of the scenarios to make a more complex story. What do you think??

Thank you so much for taking the time to consider this. I didn't know who to bounce this off of, and then I found you! You might actually know something!! [ya think?]

I found the following at Author's Den. It's written by Kathye Quick. You can read the full article HERE. This is a good site with pretty good info. I'm reposting an excerpt from the article here, rather than simply linking to it, because on their site it sort of all runs together in places and is hard to read.

These are her basic romance plot lines:
  • Adventure. Your heroine goes out in search of fortune motivated by someone or something to begin the adventure and needing the hero to complete the task. (Any Indiana Jones movie).
  • Pursuit. Make sure there is real danger associated with getting caught, and in fact, your hero and heroine may even get caught or almost get caught before the end. Establish the ground rules for the chase, establish the stakes and start the race with a motivating incident. (Murder on the Orient Express)
  • Rescue. The hero, heroine and “bad guy” weave a journey of pursuit, separation, confrontation and reunion. (The Princess Bride).
  • Escape. Begin the plot with the imprisonment (of person, of mind or of concept), deal with the plans for the escape and make sure that these plans are almost upset at least one time until finally comes the escape or the liberation of the heroine’s heart. (Rapunzel)
  • Underdog. The against all odds plot. (Cinderella).
  • Temptation. This plot examines the motives, needs and impulses of human nature. The hero and heroine must learn something about themselves and why it is right for them to give in (or to not give in) into the temptation. A lot of inner turmoil, a lot of emotion in this one. (Adam and Eve).
  • Change. The change usually can only be accomplished through love. (The Frog Prince).
  • Forbidden Love. The hero and heroine defy social convention and pursue their hearts, often with dangerous results. (Romeo and Juliet)
  • Sacrifice. The sacrifice is often made at a great personal cost, often with a strong moral problem at the center of the story. Make sure the reader understands why the sacrifice must be made. (Casablanca)
[End quoted material.]

I'd also add the Beauty and the Beast category, where the man seems like a rough, boorish animal, but then we discover he's really a prince of a guy.

I personally prefer a story that weaves together a couple of different plot lines. I find them more interesting.

What else, readers? Other romance plot lines?

Also, which is your favorite?


Fatuous Friday

If you were going to accept a bribe (even though we know you wouldn't) what type of chocolate would you prefer?

Dark. Definitely. With caramel in the middle. I also like the flavored middles, like orange or raspberry truffles.


Speaking of Publishers. . .

An editor from a new publishing company left a comment on Monday's post. I love it when my peers comment. Especially when they say nice things. Because I'm vain.

She didn't post a link to WiDo's website. Here it is. I'm glad to see that there are some people who aren't afraid to jump into the market with both feet right now. (Personally, I still have my big toe in the market but that's about all I can do right now.)

It isn't clear whether they're looking for books with LDS content or just good clean books. Maybe they could clarify?

The reason I brought this up though, is I'm wondering what your perspective is on the LDS publishing market now.

It's been awhile since Deseret Book and Covenant/Seagull joined together. Several small publishers have closed their doors. Other publishers have cut back on accepting new titles. One publisher seems to be going nuts acquiring new authors, but they're also pushing back release dates.

What has been your experience lately?

Previously/Continuing to be published authors: Are you finding it business as usual? Are your publishers accepting your new manuscripts with the same zeal as before? Is the time from acceptance to release the same? Or has it increased? Have you had to look for a new publisher because yours closed? Are you finding that being published by a now closed publisher gives you creds to get in somewhere else? Or not?

Accepted authors waiting for release: Has your release date been pushed back? By a little or a lot? Or has everything gone forward as planned?

Not yet published authors: Do you feel your chances of being accepted are less than they were a few years ago? Do you feel you've run out of options in the LDS market? Does that make you want to give up on writing for LDS readers? Have you considered self-publishing? How seriously? Would you consider an alternative type of publishing—say, a new publisher who distributed through less traditional methods?

I'm just curious as to the general feeling of those writing for the LDS market right now.


Waiting for Spectacular

[Now that the technical issues have been resolved, I can post Wednesday's post.]

This may seem like an odd question, but do publishing companies ever find themselves without something good to publish? What do they do then? Not publish? Or publish something mediocre?

Depends on the company. Larger companies get enough submissions that they can fill their schedule with enough good titles to satisfy their sales department.

Smaller companies do sometimes find themselves without manuscripts they feel strongly about. My company was often in that situation—especially the first couple of years.

What they do about it also depends on the company. We chose not to publish anything, rather than publish something we weren't ecstatic about. Other companies insist on putting out a book on their regular time schedule, so they'll publish something less than wonderful.

Now my question for you is, why did you ask this question?


Writing Tip Tuesday: Practice and Feedback (plus a Contest)

I believe writing is a skill. You learn it just like any other skill. Yes, some may have a greater aptitude for it, but anyone can learn to write well if they practice enough.

There are certain things you do to hone your skills, just like practicing drills for the piano. One of those is writing exercises.

Another one is to enter writing contests. This not only lets you practice writing, it also lets you practice following guidelines, submitting, and—if you're lucky—it provides some feedback from professionals.

That is why I run the occasional short story contest here on this blog. I want to give you a head's up on an upcoming writing contest, because this time, not only will it act as a writing drill and give you valuable feedback, it will also give some of you publishing creds!

Every year, I host a Christmas themed writing contest here. I will do so again this year—but not in December. It will be coming up the end of the summer.

Why so early?

Because I'll be taking the best of them and turning them into a published short story collection that will be published and available for purchase on Amazon.


So get started on your story. Story guidelines will be very similar to these. (More information coming later this summer.)


Category Faux Pas

Would you be interested in publishing my non-fiction novel about my life as a Mormon in the backwoods of Canada?

No, because there is no such thing as a non-fiction novel.
novel: a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes. (dictionary.com)

non-fiction: the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality. (dictionary.com)

Admittedly, there can be some blurring of the line between the two, but for submission purposes and shelf placement in the stores, you have to pick one.

If your book is a how-to book (in your case, how to survive in the backwoods of Canada) but includes personal experiences as examples of the principles and concepts you're discussing, it's non-fiction. (Example: He Did Deliver Me from Bondage by Colleen C. Harrison)

If your book is about a personal life experience or event, is in story form and written in first person, and follows what really happened very closely, it's a memoir (classified as non-fiction). (Example: Running with Angels by Pamela H. Hansen; Room for Two by Abel Keogh)

If it covers your entire life, it's an autobiography (classified as non-fiction).

If your book is based on a personal experience or event, written in first or third person, some liberty is taken with the facts to make it flow better or to hide the identity of certain participants, it's a novel based on true experiences (classified as fiction). (Examples: Torn Apart by Diony George)

*Updated 6/10: I moved Room for Two up into the memoir section. I thought I remembered it being advertised as a novel based on a true story. I have been corrected.

And this is why no one should feel bad when I use their mistakes as examples on my blog. Chances are I'll make a mistake or twenty along the way too.


You Guys Gotta' Tell Me These Things!

When you sign up for the SRT, I go visit your blog and leave a comment. I also leave comments on your reviews. As I was leaving comments this morning, I read in someone else's blog's comments and discovered that they'd tried to e-mail me and it didn't work.

I double-checked and it worked just fine for me. So I contacted my lovely assistant, who knows way more about this kind of stuff than I do (she does all my design work here) and she informed me that if you use a web-based e-mail service, like Hotmail, when you click on my links, it doesn't open an e-mail box.


I've now put my e-mail address prominently at the top of the sidebars on every site. If your e-mail goes through Outlook or Mac Mail or something else on your computer, then all you have to do is click the button and it opens a window. But if you use Hotmail, etc., you'll have to type that address in manually.

If there's something else that isn't working right on any of my sites, please leave a comment on any post and I'll do my best to get it fixed, ASAP!

Fatuous Friday: The Power of the Pedi

Do you ever get pedicures? And if you do, what is your favorite color of toenail polish?

Yes! A good pedi can revitalize your spirits and make your day. There is this one little shop I found in—ooops! almost gave away too much—anyway, I love them. They do spectacular work.

My favorite color toenail polish is not a color, but a seasonal design. So if it's July, I go with red, white, and blue. If it's October, I go with black and little pumpkins on my big toe. If it's February...well, you get the idea.


Bad Advice

What is the worst advice you've seen someone (like from another blog or a writer's book) give a writer?

The absolute worst advice I've seen is recommending that you NOT follow the publisher's submission guidelines.

The guidelines have been created because they make things go more smoothly within the publishing house. You may not like the hoops you have to jump through, but if you want to work with that publisher, you need to jump through them anyway.

The next worst advice is that you don't need to worry about getting your manuscript perfect because your editor will fix it, and as a tangent to that, to purposely leave in something "bad" because editors feel like they have to change something and that will give them something to change and they'll leave the rest of your book alone.

That is just ridiculous! First, if your manuscript is too far from perfect, it will be rejected because it will take to long to clean it up. Second, editors don't have time to fix things that don't need fixing. Leaving in something "bad" is just idiocy and makes you look like an inconsistent writer.

One last piece of bad advice is to look at what's hot and then write a formulaic novel based on the current trend.

This is just so wrong. Formulaic novels are usually boring and will be rejected. And by the time your book makes it through the publishing process, the current trend will most likely be old news.


Turning the Tables

Do you ever have those days when you start up your computer and then you just sit there, staring at a blank screen, with no idea what to write?

I'm experiencing that today. I keep checking my email hoping someone will have sent a question I can answer, but no luck.

Sigh. So I'll follow my own advice—write something, even if it's not very good.




Maybe I should ask you a question:

If you had to choose one thing for publishers to do differently, what would it be?


Writing Tip Tuesday: For Left-Brained Writers Only

All you right-brained, go-with-the-flow, write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type people—stop reading now. This post will just frustrate you and you'll feel like you have to leave nasty anonymous comments pointing out that I don't know what I'm talking about.

But for writers who are a little more left-brained and especially those who are working on their first novels. . .

Setting writing goals is a good way to work through a writing project. Sometimes, you know where you are and where you want to be, but the task is so big and overwhelming that you don't know how you're going to get from here to there. It's easy to get frustrated, discouraged, and then give up. Setting specific and measurable writing goals can keep you on task and help you get to where you want to be.

1. Set a long-term goal.
Do you want to start and finish a novel? (or two?) Do you want to get your WIP polished and submitted? Do you want to write for contests? Or try something in a different genre? Or maybe you do okay with the big stuff, but you need to set a goal for blogging. Whatever it is, decide what your specific focus is going to be for the next 6 to 12 months.

When I say specific, I mean measurable and achievable. Don't set a goal that says, "I want to be published." First, it's too vague. Second, getting published isn't under your direct control.

A solid goal might be, "I will complete my 90,000 word Young Adult novel by December 1st." This is clear and measurable, and you have the ability to achieve it.

2. Break your long-term goal into smaller, short-term goals.
Look at your schedule and decide how you want to chunk things down. Will you write every day? Three days a week? Or all day on Saturdays? Block out the time in your schedule, then create realistic mini goals.

Using the 90,000 word novel in six months as an example, that would mean your smaller goals would be to write 15,000 words each month; 3,750 words each week; and, if you write 5 days a week, that's only 750 words a day. That is reasonable.

Remember, your goals need to be specific and measurable as to what (750 words a day) and when (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.).

If your goal is to build your writing creds, your smaller goal might be to write and submit one magazine article each month.

3. Track your progress.
I believe in the power of tangible, visual progress charts. You can use a wall calendar, giving yourself a sticker for each day you reach your goal. You can make a graph that shows how many words you've written. There are some good online goal trackers like Joe's Goals and LifeTick (this one has an iPhone app). If you're motivated by sharing your goals with others, you can put a word count ticker on your blog to show your progress, like these from Writertopia.

4. Assess your goals.
After you've been completing your smaller, short-term goals for awhile, take a look at them and make sure they are supporting your larger goal. Sometimes what you think will help you reach your goal might be slightly off target. Or perhaps you've set your goals too high, or too low. Assess and readjust your goals, if needed. I like to do a quick assessment once a month, to review the progress I've made and what's still ahead.

What types of things do you do to make and meet your writing goals?


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There, Their, They're: A No Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd by Annette Lyon

Finally: a book with clear and easy explanations of your most common grammar, usage, and punctuation questions!

There, Their, They're: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar from the Word Nerd cuts the convoluted terminology and explains things in a way anyone can understand.

The Word Nerd—as the author is affectionately called because of her "Word Nerd Wednesday" blog series—is known for her ability to help even the most frustrated writer get it.

Annette Lyon (aka The Word Nerd) was given the 2007 Best of State medal for fiction in Utah and was a 2007 Whitney Award finalist for her fifth book, Spires of Stone. She's been writing for most of her life, beginning with stories about mice in second grade. While she's found success in magazine and business writing, her true passion is fiction. In 1995, she graduated cum laude from BYU with a BA in English. Annette enjoys reading, knitting, and chocolate—not necessarily in that order.

Pickup Games by Marcia Mickelson

When Mick Webber gets a new job hosting a college basketball show, he is less than thrilled to learn he will be co-hosting with Cara Jones, a pretty brunette trying to get over her failed engagement.

From the start it is clear the two will not be playing nice, and work soon turns into a battlefield. But as the season progresses and the two are forced to work together more closely, they begin to see that first impressions can often be deceiving.

In this riveting story about the game of love, you ll find yourself holding your breath to see what the scoreboard says when the clock runs out.

Marcia Argueta Mickelson was born in Guatemala but grew up mostly in New Jersey. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University and lives in Texas with her husband and three sons. When she is not writing, Marcia enjoys playing at the beach, reading, blogging, watching movies, and making train layouts for her boys. She is the author of Star Shining Brightly and Reasonable Doubt.

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