Writing Prompt Friday

Oh. My. Goodness! Is it Friday already? I suppose I could blame my lack of posts on my Internet connection which has been giving me fits lately, but really, I think I just had too much fun at the Whitney Awards last weekend. It's taken me this long to recover.

So. We're back to Writing Prompt Friday. Here is your prompt:

Your MC is just back from the gym (or a jog) and is going to take a shower.

From this angle, everything in their bathroom looks perfectly normal.

But when they pull aside the shower curtain...

Write up to 1,000 words inspired by this photo/scenario.

If you post your story on your blog, feel free to leave a link in the comments section.


Whitney Winners!

The 2009 Whitneys have been awarded. The winners are...

Best Romance

Best Mystery/Suspense

Best Youth

Best Speculative

Best Historical

Best General

Best by New Author (Tie)

Novel of the Year

Congratulations everyone!

A big thank you to the Whitney committee and all those who make these awards possible.


Which Book Would You Pick as the 2009 Best General Fiction?

Last Whitney voting category today and the last chance to catch up on the past weeks to state your opinion before the winners are announced tomorrow.

The nominees for best GENERAL FICTION are:

In the comments section, state which book you think should win 2009 Best Romance and why.

Or, if you have another favorite that didn't make the list, you can go ahead and tell us about it too.

(And I'd love it if you'd repeat your comment over on the LDS Fiction post for that book.)


Getting Ready for the Whitneys

I would totally be writing a post for today except that I'm off to find a new dress for the Whitney Awards Banquet.

Which one do you think I should go with:

I thought it went without saying, but apparently not. ALL of these gowns will be altered to fit LDS standards—longer sleeves, higher neck, a little looser in certain areas...


A Case Where POD is a Good Option

Dear LDSPublisher,

I've been following your blog for several months now and have found your posts to be knowledgeable and very helpful.

I am hoping to get your insight on an idea for distributing a young adult novel. The novel is my way of sharing the basic beliefs of the LDS church in a story form. My goal in writing it was not to be famous or make money (although either is welcome), but to share my testimony with others. That being said, my thought is to create a website where I would post a chapter a week for anyone to read freely and also offer the option to purchase a hard copy of the full book from an on demand publishing site, like lulu.com.

Being in the publishing business, what are your thoughts on such an idea? Pro's/con's?

Are there legal issues to be considered?

I don't have a problem with that at all. I think it's a great idea, given your reasons for writing it and your stated goals—as long as you understand that if you do this, a traditional publisher will most likely not pick it up for publication in the future. (Although, I worked for a publisher once who did just that, but the author had to agree to take the posts down.)

You should still have it edited. This is a must if you're going to have it available for purchase.

You may also want to have it typeset and a cover design done by professionals—or not, depending on how much you want to invest and how important it is to have print sales. Personally, I think it should look as nice as books of similar content and style that you'd buy in the store.

Lulu.com is a good place. As is CreateSpace (Amazon). If you want to make ebook versions available, Smashwords is easy to work with. I've worked with all three of these companies and had good success with them.

There are a variety of other POD publishers out there. Just make sure you read their contracts carefully. Make sure that you retain the copyright and the ability to republish elsewhere at any time. Also, make sure their prices are competitive.

And good luck!


Writing Tip Tuesday: Different From

You've been picking up on some common errors I'm seeing a lot of lately and handling them well. How about clarifying "different from" and "different than" sometime.

I lot of people use them interchangeably and see no problem with it. I'm a nit-picker.

"Different from" is almost always the correct one because it is used for simple comparisons between two things—and that's a more common sentence structure.

Example: My book premise is different from the one that made the bestseller list.
(Comparing my book with another book.)

Example: My grammar preferences are different from a second grader's.
(Comparing my grammar prefs with someone else's.)

"Different than" is only acceptable when followed by a full clause.

Example: The publishing industry is different than it was twenty years ago.
(You would never say "...different from it was..." although you could say "...different from the way that it was..." but that's cumbersome.)

Clear as mud?


Summary vs Synopsis

Dear LDSPublisher,

For those of us attending Storymakers next week, could you please tell us whether an agent/publisher would rather look at a summary or synopsis, what the difference is, and why there is a difference? Also, how often have you seen someone's career take off at a writer's conference?


Some people use these terms interchangeably, but there really is a difference.

A summary is a short description of your book; think if it as a sales pitch or the blurb on the back of the book. It's 1-2 paragraphs, no longer than half a page. You hit the hook, the teasers, the main conflict. Ideally, it's what you would put in your query letter.

At a conference a few years ago, I heard an agent describe it as what you would say if you suddenly found yourself on an elevator with an agent or editor, who turns to you and asks, "What's your current work-in-progress?" You have until the end of the elevator ride to get them hooked.

A synopsis is longer and can be up to 2 pages. It's more like an abbreviated Cliffs Notes for your book. Write it in third person (even if your book is in first person), present tense, include your main characters, their motivations, conflict, major plot events, setting, themes, AND the resolution. (That means, if it's a murder mystery, you tell who dun it.)

The synopsis should be representative of your writing skill, so make it shine. It shouldn't read like a user manual or a dry encyclopedia entry. Punch it up with the same sensory based imagery, tone, and humor that occurs in your book.

(I tried to find some good examples of a synopsis online. Didn't have a lot of luck. Here are some but beware, they are racy.)

As to which I would rather see? The answer is BOTH. This is particularly true for a values based publisher, like here in the LDS market. Example: A novel about a teenage coming of age story. From the summary, I might be interested. But a synopsis would tell me that in chapter 17, she discovers she's pregnant and decides to have an abortion. That just wouldn't fly in my market and I'd like to know that before I'm 150 pages into the manuscript.

Careers taking off at a writer's conference? It could happen. I know several people who've gotten that toe in the door from a conference—submitting to an agent that spoke at the conference, winning an award at the conference which got them a "bypass the slush pile free" card, and signing up for an actual pitch sessions. Readers—do you have any success stories you want to share?


Which Book Would You Pick as the 2009 Best Historical Fiction?

Another Friday — another chance to state your opinion on which book YOU think should win a Whitney on April 24th.

The nominees for best HISTORICAL are:

In the comments section, state which book you think should win 2009 Best Historical and why.

Or, if you have another favorite that didn't make the list, you can go ahead and tell us about it too.

(And I'd love it if you'd repeat your comment over on the LDS Fiction post for that book.)


Is the Query Still Important?

From the comments on this post:

Question, though: obviously we're still going to want to include a query to hook the editor/slushpile reader, but most LDS publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Do you think getting the query letter perfect [is] less important than when the query is the only thing the agent/editor has?


The query is still your first contact with the editor—and first impressions are a big deal. Therefore, your query (with or without accompanying manuscript) is still very important.

Real life example: My assistant reads all queries first. Good queries = manuscript goes into my Read Now pile. Bad queries = manuscript goes into my Read When I Have Time pile.


Grammar is a Non-Issue. NOT!

My grammar skills aren't horrible but they aren't great either. How much will this hurt me when submitting something to an LDS Publishing House? I had a teacher once say grammar is for your agent and editor...don't worry about it. How true is that?

P.S. I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for the contest critiques. Any idea how long until we get them? I'm probably pestering/annoying you. Sorry.

That is so totally NOT true!

When you're writing your story, don't worry about the grammar. Get the meat of the story down. Focus on plot, characters, setting, pacing, sensory imagery, etc.

But before you submit, you MUST go back through and fix the grammar mistakes.

A million years ago, editors and agents were more willing to look at manuscripts that needed heavier clean-up. The world moved at a slower pace. There were fewer submissions so when they got a good story, editors and agents were willing to work with it.

That is no longer the case. With the advent of word processors, the relative ease of printing, the constant consumer demand for new and more books, the editor's job has changed. Yes, they still do clean-up work, but they have to do it fast. The cleaner the manuscript is to begin with, the less time (money) it takes to edit, the more likely it will be accepted.

If you know your grammar needs help, find someone to help you clean it up before you submit.

(Contest critiques—bad timing on my part. I forgot I had to read Whitneys and that I'd committed to another project in March. Working on them now.)


Writing Tip Tuesday: It's "Could Have"!

I was reading a partial the other day and the author used this sentence:

It could of been different.

Uhhnnn. (That's the sound of the incorrect buzzer going off.)

"Could of" is wrong, wrong, wrong. As is, "would of" and "should of."

My guess is this mistake originated from the contractions "could've/would've/should've" which sound like "could of/would of/should of" when spoken aloud.

  • Correct: It could have been different.

  • Correct: I would have eaten the pie but I was too full.

  • Correct: You should have gone to the movie with us.


Query Critique: Romantic Suspense

Dear Editor,

Last Resort [italicize or all caps book titles**] is a complete [of course it is], 85,000 word, contemporary novel targeted for the LDS market. [What age? What genre?] The exact setting of the book is never revealed, though much of the inspiration comes from the small communities of rural Northern Arizona. [Why not reveal the setting? This is an odd statement to make.]

Meg Connolly is stuck. It has always been her plan to follow in her deceased father’s footsteps and attend law school at Stanford University. Unfortunately, upon her graduation from Arizona State University her application has been rejected. Left with no other options, she ends up taking a job teaching high school history in the small town of Green Hills [Isn't this the setting?] as a way to pad her resume and reapply to Stanford the next year. [Watch out for passive voice. If it's in your query, it's probably all through your book. Not good.]

Fully expecting to tediously bide her time, Meg is surprised that her new situation is not as bad as she imagined. As the months pass, she finds herself becoming increasingly attached to her job, new friends and, especially, a landscaper she begins to date named Sean Taylor. Finally, her long awaited acceptance letter arrives and she must decide between the life she has always had planned, or the one that has fallen into her lap.

More complications arise when she must come to terms with tension in her family life and she stumbles onto a stolen cache of money from a string of bank robberies in the area. The criminals responsible for the heists remain at large and a few months later, the same ruthless men take the Green Hills High School hostage. When the dust settles, it becomes apparent that someone on the school’s staff has helped the crooks, and Meg is the FBI’s number one suspect. [THIS is the main part of the story, or it should be, with the romance, teaching and life changes secondary. Lead with this. It's the best paragraph of the letter.]

I am a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. I completed my student teaching in 8th grade Language Arts and I taught 8th grade Social Studies. I was also a writing tutor in college and have been a substitute teacher. [None of this matters.]

If you are interested, I would be glad to send you a manuscript to be considered for publication. I have enclosed a SASE [I probably see it. You don't need you to tell me it's there. Save your words for more info on the book.] and eagerly await your response. Thank you for your time.

Based on the description, I'm guessing this is a romantic suspense. You need to know your genres and be able to tell me which one it falls in. It would also help if you could tell me what it's similar to—is your style more like Betsy Brannon Green's Murder by the Book, sort of light-hearted and fun; or Stephanie Black with lots of twists and turns to the plot; or Traci Hunter Abramson's Royal Target where the romance is as strong (or stronger) than the suspense; or like Julie Coulter Bellon with heavier FBI-type intrigue? This is going to help me place it. As it is, I can't really tell.

At this point, I'd probably pass. Punch up the description of your book. Make it more exciting, like what would go on the back cover. While lacking some plot details (because I don't know your book) the letter below would be adequate.

Meg Connolly's dream is to follow her deceased father's footsteps and attend law school at Stanford University. Rejected once, she takes a job teaching history at the high school in Green Hills, Arizona to pad her resume and waits to reapply to Stanford the next year.

Fully expecting to tediously bide her time in this small town, Meg stumbles onto a stolen cache of money from a string of bank robberies in the area. The criminals responsible for the heists remain at large and a few months later, the same ruthless men take the Green Hills High School hostage. When the dust settles, it becomes apparent that someone on the school’s staff has helped the crooks, and Meg is the FBI’s number one suspect.

If that's not enough complication, Meg must come to terms with tension in her family life. She also finds herself increasingly attached to her job and to her new friends, especially Sean Taylor, landscaper extraordinaire.

Finally, Meg's long awaited acceptance letter arrives and she must decide between the life she had planned and the one that has fallen into her lap—assuming she doesn't end up in prison!

I've based Meg's classroom scenes upon my own experience as an 8th grade Social Studies teacher and modeled the fictional town of Green Hills, AZ after several small rural towns near Arizona State, where I received my Bachelor's degree.

At 85,000 words, Last Resort is a contemporary romantic suspense for LDS adults, particularly women. Readers who enjoyed Traci Hunter Abramson's Royal Target will also enjoy Last Resort, which has a similar mix of romance and suspense (or whatever is true about your book).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Updated 12:15 P.M.
**Whether you use initial caps, all caps, italics or quotes is NOT a deal breaker in a query letter. I prefer italics (on print submissions) or all caps (electronic submissions). (Actually, now that I really think about it, the trend seems to be going to all caps—and I'm totally fine with that.)

But don't take my word for it. Go to Pub Rants, a blog by Kristen Nelson (agent), and you can read several successful query letters with her comments about them. Some of them used initial caps, some used all caps. (BTW, she sold Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. You can read his query HERE.)


Which Book Would You Pick as the 2009 Speculative Fiction?

Another Friday — another chance to state your opinion on which book YOU think should win a Whitney on April 24th.

The nominees for best SPECULATIVE FICTION are:

In the comments section, state which book you think should win 2009 Best Speculative Fiction and why.

Or, if you have another favorite that didn't make the list, you can go ahead and tell us about it too.

(And I'd love it if you'd repeat your comment over on the LDS Fiction post for that book.)


Those Dratted Publishers!

Dear All Knowing One,

A quick question; I finally signed my first book contract. Aaahh!! (I got the 10% net on the first 5000, BTW.) I'm just wondering; I signed it on the 19th of February with an intended date of publication of on or before April 30, 2010, and got the e-file of the manuscript to them the next day. However, since then I've heard nothing from the publisher. About every ten days I've sent a short e-mail asking if they need anything from me, but haven't even gotten a reply. Doesn't it at least need to go to an editor? Can they really print a book in six weeks? What should I be doing here? I feel an urgency that they obviously don't, but I don't want to be obnoxious either.

Okay, so that wasn't a quick question. Sorry.

Also, I've been thinking of a way to repay you for your willingness to help without blowing your anonymity. I came up with an idea to leave tickets (in the name of LDS publisher) to something you enjoy at a will-call desk somewhere. Any favorites? Or other ideas? Thanks for you wisdom and great attitude.

Ahhh. The travails of publishing. I feel your pain.

Okay, here's the thing. Almost no one hits their original release date—unless the book is a highly publicized and anticipated release. It's much more likely that your release date will be pushed back at least once. Hope that it's only by a few weeks. I know some books that are over a year behind their original schedule. (This happens in all markets—national and LDS.)

Upon submission of your completed manuscript, it should go to editing. Then it should come back to you for rewrites. Then it goes to typesetting. Then you see "bluelines proofs" (which aren't really bluelines anymore but some of us old-schoolers still call them that). Then you send back final corrections. Then it goes to press. Then, depending on how they're printed and bound, it could be anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks (longer if they go overseas for printing).

That's how it's supposed to work. Yes, it can be done in six weeks, but usually it takes longer because they're probably working on multiple projects.

The fact that you're going to most likely miss your original release date doesn't bother me. It happens. What does bother me is that they aren't responding to your emails. This could be for any number of reasons—like vacation, sick days, reassignment of jobs within the company. Or maybe they aren't getting your emails or you aren't getting theirs. That can happen sometimes too. (If they're just ignoring you, that is unprofessional, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt for now).

If by the time you read this (your email to me must have gotten lost over China because even though you sent it three weeks ago, I'm just now seeing it...) you've still had no response to your emails, I'd call them. (Yes, I know I say never call your publisher, but this is one of the FEW situations where it's okay.) Tell them you're concerned because your release date is fast approaching and you haven't heard from them so you just wanted to make sure they were getting your emails.

And as for the tickets? The thought is wonderful but I'd be too paranoid to go pick them up. But you can always send me a comp copy of your book when it does come out. I lurve books.


Writing Tip Tuesday: Semi-Colons

I have a question for your blog. If this has been answered before, then just ignore it. If not:

How do you feel about the use of semi-colons in fiction, and how and when do you think they should be used?

Personally, I love semi-colons. They are so cute! (I could have sworn I'd talked about them before but couldn't find it using the Search feature...)

I hate reading about semi-colons (and other grammatical stuff) because it's so darn boring! And confusing. (Unless you're a word nerd.) So I'll try to make this easy.

The most general and widely applicable rule for semi-colons is: Use a semi-colon when you need a pause that's stronger than a comma, but not as strong as a period.

The second rule for semi-colons is: Don't use so many that they distract the reader with their cuteness.

There are a few other rules, too. Use a semi-colon when:

  1. Connecting two independent clauses (phrases that could be stand alone sentences) into one long sentence, without using a conjunction. (This is the most common usage, and IMHO, the only way it should be used in fiction.)

    Example: I looked into the vampire's cold, black eyes; I was doomed.

  2. Connecting two independent clauses into one long sentence, while using a conjunction. This is only done when one or both of the independent clauses is really long or uses a lot of commas. (Most of the time, IMHO, it's better to go ahead and make it two sentences.)

    Example: The vampire loved the flavor of types A-positive, B-positive, and O-positive blood; but AB-negative always gave him a stomach ache.

  3. When a sentence contains a long and wordy list. (Use this only in non-fiction, scholarly works. It's just too cumbersome in fiction.) (It's also telling, not showing.)

    Example: The vampire had lived under many identities during his six hundred plus years—a farmer in the 1600s, a lesser prince in the 1700s, a ship's captain in the 1800s, a merchant marine in the early 1900s; most recently, he was posing as a dot com millionaire and that suited him just fine.

There are a few other times when using a semi-colon is acceptable, but they're awkward and I don't recommend using them that way in fiction. If you really want to know ALL the details of the semi-colon, do some research; look it up on Google.


Query Critique: Romantic Comedy (?)

Dear Acquisitions Editor, [or in this case, Dear LDS Publisher,]

When young [How old is he? This makes it sound like he's a boy, but he's going to college. It's better to be specific.] Chris Kerry leaves his Texas home and his checkered past [? better to be specific, drug-riddled? convicted felon?] to attend the University of Utah , he does so against the wishes of his Aunt Jean, who has been a mother to him since he was orphaned at the age of three. Chris is less interested in his aunt’s harsh views on Mormonism and more interested in a change of scenery and starting his own life. He doesn’t expect to find himself homeless on his first day in Salt Lake City, or the twists of fate that make two girls from Idaho his best friends. The job he finds in a downtown tuxedo shop barely pays the rent, but the outlandish cast of co-workers fills his days with both humor and frustration. Chris is in Utah to get an education. He’s certainly not looking for love, religion or shocking revelations about his past, but all three find him [the part that intrigued me most] in this funny, moving novel that illuminates how we recognize truth, how one young man finds a home and a heritage in the most unlikely place, and how love and friendship change everything.

The Rogue Shop is my first novel and the attached manuscript is complete at 106,000 words [a tad long for a debut YA novel, but okay for an adult novel]. Several drafts have been carefully revised with thoughtful feedback from an alpha reader group including both genders and a wide age range. [good for you!] This humorous romance [this was a surprise; there are not enough clues in the previous paragraph for me to recognize it as a romantic comedy—I was thinking a coming of age, even though he's a little old for that (?)] is targeted at the LDS Young Adult (18-30) readership. [Young Adult is not 18 to 30; YA is 12 to 18, give or take a few years. 18+ is Adult. This tells me you're not sure who your reader is.]

I am a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in English Literature. In the years since graduation I have established a successful career in sales and business management in the Salt Lake City area, but with this effort I return to my passion for fiction. Upon publication I intend to take an active role in promoting and marketing my work in close partnership with my publisher [good; but that is assumed]. My experience in speaking and teaching in a business environment is wide and varied, and I look forward to taking my show on the road and selling my work with enthusiasm [good; the fact that you have skills and experience meeting with the public will help].

I appreciate the time you invest in considering my submission and gratefully await your reply [good].

Romantic comedies sell well, so that's a plus. Your book is unusual, in that it's a romantic comedy from a guy's perspective. (They exist, but aren't common.) But I'm not sure, based on your first paragraph, if your book truly is a romantic comedy. If it is, play up those points. If it's not, you need to recategorize it. This isn't a horrible query, but it doesn't immediately place the book into a sales category for me. Also, the personality of the book doesn't really shine through. It would go in my "Maybe" stack.

ALSO, read Jordan's very, very good comments.


Which Book Would You Pick as the 2009 Best Youth Fiction?

Another Friday — another chance to state your opinion on which book YOU think should win a Whitney on April 24th.

The nominees for best YOUTH FICTION are:

In the comments section, state which book you think should win 2009 Best Youth Fiction and why.

Or, if you have another favorite that didn't make the list, you can go ahead and tell us about it too.

(And I'd love it if you'd repeat your comment over on the LDS Fiction post for that book.)

[If you're on the Whitney Academy, your vote is due NOW!]


April 2010 Prize Sponsors

Last month's prize winners announced HERE.

Please take a moment to learn more about our wonderfully generous sponsors.

Wrong Number by Rachelle J. Christensen

“I think you have the wrong number.”

When Aubree Stewart answers her cell phone on the way to work one day, she isn’t prepared for her life to change. Someone dialed a wrong number, a simple mistake. But the call changes everything when Aubree overhears information about the murder of a government official. Now she must run for her life as the caller tries to eliminate her.

Aubree is placed in the witness protection program, but when the FBI’s protection fails, she heads out on her own. She soon realizes she’ll never stop running until she can solve the mystery behind the wrong number. Unable to trust anyone but herself, she’s cautious about accepting the help of a Park Ranger named Wyatt Erickson. As she struggles to keep herself hidden from the enemy, she finds it harder to protect her heart.

Rachelle J. Christensen was born and raised in a small farming town in Idaho. She says of herself, "I’m a dirt between the toes, irrigation boot-wearing, ponytail flipping in the wind as I drive the 4-wheeler FARM girl all the way!"

Currently living in Utah County, Rachelle and her husband, Steve, have three wonderful kids–2 girls and one boy. She graduated from Utah State University.

In addition to writing, Rachelle loves to read, run, crochet and knit, play volleyball, sing, play the piano, and cook.

Rachelle's next book, Lost Children: Coping with Miscarriage for Latter-day Saints, will be released in May 2010.

My Ridiculous Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite

A perfect blend of wit, comedy, suspense, and, of course, romance.

This is NOT your typical romance novel.

Sarah Howard’s first year at the university is everything and nothing she expected—especially when a very cute boy named Ben in her Art History class starts to show interest in her.

Sarah feels like she’s an average, normal, everyday girl. So, when Ben (to whom she secretly refers as Adonis because she thinks he could be a Greek god) begins to take interest in her, Sarah is in denial. For one thing, last year she was deeply crushed and humiliated by “Jesse James”—a guy who she thought liked her. She’s determined not to get burned again. But in her heart of hearts, what she really wants is a Jane Austen kind of romance.

Ridiculous, right? That kind of romance doesn’t exist anymore . . . or does it? Sarah is smart and fun to be around and even pretty, despite her Medusa-like red curls. She even plays the guitar. (So does Ben!) Yes, Sarah is everything Ben has wanted. He’s crazy for her, but Sarah is just not getting it. She’s playing hard to get, and if she’s not careful, she’s going to lose a real “hot” gentleman—her 21st-century Mr. Darcy.

Becca Wilhite
says: I'm a writer, and a reader, but mostly a family girl. I have a near-perfect husband and four above-average kids.

Kids literature is my favorite. I have a published novel, "Bright Blue Miracle" written for the "clean teen" market. It's a family story - about step-twins. (What? You've never heard that word? Possibly because I recently made it up.)

I love reading great books. Even though all my kids can read, we still read aloud together, because we think it's fun. And helpful, and it means we always have things to talk about.

CLICK HERE for details on how to win these books.

CLICK HERE for details on sponsoring the contest.