Following is Chapter One of my first finished, alas unpublished novel. I thought I would offer it here for the people who have been supportive of my writing endeavors. If you comment and ask for more, I’ll continue posting chapters (yes the entire book) –otherwise you’ll have to wait until I get around to self publishing it. Read the rest of this entry »

Whether you are a writer who has written for some time or one who is just starting there is always that lingering worry about punctuation.

For me, it is commas. I have had a several years of experience in Journalism, and I have to tell you that college didn’t teach me everything. I took lots of literature classes but none in English grammar and punctuation. An oversight, but it is what it is.

English: A normal and an italicized comma in T...

Worrysome little buggers, aren’t they?

Here I am offering but a few tips, mainly because I am not an expert. These, however, have helped me:

On commas: Parenthetical expressions constitute a large use of commas in everyday writing. We include a clause or word which is not necessary to the sentence, but adds information. You notice I did not include a comma after the word which in the preceding sentence because it wouldn’t have made sense if I lifted the italic section out. The sentence could not stand alone (and that’s the rule here). If you have a clause not necessary to the sentence it should be set off in commas.

For example: “To be a better writer, and have a command of your words, you must write daily.”  In this preceding sentence, the highlighted text is a parenthetical addition to give the sentence extra oomph, but it is not needed. I could take it out and the sentence would stand on its own and make sense. Therefore, it needs commas. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the things a beginning novelist must do is send out queries and receive rejections.
It seems my whole life I have always had to face rejection. I have been in sales, real estate, and represented people as a union steward.
I seem to always put myself right square in the middle of rejection. But that is part of life, I guess.
It’s how we respond to rejection that makes us who we are.
As writers, if we avoid it, we don’t do ourselves any favors. As potential authors, if we continue to put our work out there and it is rejected, it does have an overall effect on us.
I remember after sending out queries to many agents , wondering if I was in over my head. I was at Bouchercon in 2005 when I met Jonathan Grant, author of the Lovejoy mysteries, and practically a modern-day Agatha Christie in England.
We talked, and he offered to read my first novel and critique it. Read the rest of this entry »

This column is about blogging and writing, for writers who need to promote themselves and for people who think they can’t write.

If you are writing a book, you need to have a web page. Agents expect you to have a platform to be marketable.  If you are not a writer and have convinced yourself you can’t write, maybe its time to open your mind.

Two women knitters with blogs, holding up thei...

These two women blog about . . .yep, knitting.

People communicate everyday, on the telephone, person to person, and (you should have seen this coming) on Facebook and by texting.

So have you always had a story you wanted to tell, but didn’t because you thought you couldn’t write? Did you know that thousands of people just like you have gone online and started a blog or journal? Journaling is the new popular arm of writing.

You can start a blog, like this one on WordPress, and be sharing your feelings, ideas, hobbies, memories, creativeness, etc.,  as often as you like. Write a daily journal. Do a weekly post about something you are passionate about.

Even if you are a writer, and say, I don’t have time, there is a blog for you. It is a micro blog where you can write as few as a couple of paragraphs at a time.

Okay, time to look at the elephant in the room. “I can’t write, you say.”  Writing is just thinking about what you want to say–a thought in your head–and then putting it down on paper. Don’t worry about grammar, you have a voice: the way you talk–and your voice can carry your words. Spelling?  That’s what spell check is for and blogs will alert you of possible misspellings before they allow you to post.

So, maybe you aren’t a professional writer, and you don’t need to market yourself. Did you know blogs are set up to find readers for you. Yes, amazing but true. First you can invite your friends to visit and subscribe to your blog. The more times you post, the more people will find you. If your topic is especially juicy or popular, they may find you overnight. If not, there are tips and tricks you can learn to draw people to you.

If you don’t care about building an audience, you can write for yourself and seven or eight of your closest friends or family. Twenty years ago you had to be a journalist to get published. Today anyone can be published. There are many community bloggers out their reporting on local sports, news, city hall meetings, politics, travel, entertainment, food, golf, backpacking, biking, losing weight–you name it.

Did you know there are hundreds or thousands of people who do reviews about books they read for their friends? Some of these fan blogs have huge followers, and novelists are starting to court them to get their books reviewed.

Most of these blogging platforms are free unless you want to spend money to customize it for a business use or host it yourself.

So there is no excuse. Yes, there is a learning curb, just like anything. But there are books, college courses, and the blogs also have tutorials.

What are you waiting for?  Put yourself out there!

Here are links to some of the more popular blogging opportunities:

WordPress is the most popular blogging platform and has a lot of features, but can be intimidating if you aren’t real techy. Still, I use it so it can’t be that hard.

Blogger is a bit easier to set up and use. It’s now owned by google, so you will have to establish a google account using the Signup box.

LiveJournal is a community blog that mixes journaling and social networking to find friends who share common passions and interests. Here you have to Signup to see the goodies.

Tumblr is a step up from twitter. Most people jot a few thoughts or paragraphs and attach photos to spice it up. It’s a little techy for me, but I haven’t really tried it so my advice is to explore it a bit.

Literary Agent Andrea Hurst recently did a workshop for Oregon Writer's Colony and will attend OWC's April Spring Conference of 50 people.

When I go to writer’s conferences I see hundreds of writers willing to pay tons of money to get face-time with an agent. Well, not tons, but some will pay $20-$30 for 10 minutes to pitch their book. I’ve seen some writers buy 10 or more such opportunities at a writer’s conference.

But is this money well spent? If it gets you a book deal, maybe. But there are other more expedient and cheaper ways. I think most writers go the purchase and agent for 10 minute route because they are . . . writers. They are not marketing genius’s or extroverts. By nature many writers are introverts, pounding away at their keyboards for hours a day, perfecting their perfect manuscript.

When they finish their books, this whole new world opens up, consisting of finding agents, finding publishers, marketing their book–even before they have an agent or publisher– setting up web pages, tweeting, and otherwise building an audience for their work.

I think there is a better way to find an agent. It’s called relationship building. There are several ways to build a relationship with an agent.

  • Try to meet an agent away from the pitch tables at a conference. I once bought a drink for an agent after hours in a bar. I was with a friend and we invited her to sit with us. I danced with one at a mixer. Agents are human too. They are open to meeting writers. That’s why they attend the conferences. It’s okay to pitch your book idea to them in a bar, down a hallway, or anywhere but the bathroom.  Just ask first. I’ve never been turned down and it has saved me tons of money.
  • Watch for workshops featuring agents. Some agents will conduct a workshop where they will review 10-30 pages of your manuscript and give you feedback.  The setting is usually small (10-15 people) and you spend a day or so receiving valuable feedback and getting to know the agent. Ask for the agent’s card and if it would be okay to send your manuscript to them upon completion. Remember, you may need to revise after the workshop. Please don’t send them your first draft. Revise, Revise, Revise.
  • Follow an agent’s blog. More agents are doing blogs these days as a way of giving back and likely to meet new writers. Subscribe to their blogs and read them in your email. If you can comment on their blog, do so. It’s the beginning of establishing a relationship. Also, check their website and see what types of books they represent. Make sure you are following agents who would represent your work. Many offer excellent resources for writers. I’ve followed an agent who represented Christian books because her advice is so good. Last month she announced she is working for a different literary agency and now represents mysteries (my genre).  When it comes time to find an agent, you can query with confidence, knowing you can mention you have followed their blog, know some of the authors they represent, and have commented on their posts. But make sure you’ve done your homework about them. Follow their submission guidelines carefully and polish your manuscript. You only get one chance at making a good impression with your book and how you present it.
  • Volunteer for writing organizations and meet people who can refer you to an agent or write a blurb for your book. Introduce yourself as a volunteer to an agent. Agents respect people who attend conferences–it shows their commitment–and they also respect people who volunteer in the writing community.
  • Write a query letter and get asked to send 30 pages or a manuscript. If you are rejected upon sending part of your manuscript, send a thank you note or email and ask if you can submit again on a future project. This can get you a “yes” and maybe a personal note about your work, which is always encouraging. Agentquery.com and querytracker.net can be very useful in researching agents. Query Shark offers a website where you can post query letters and receive suggestions from an agent. However, if you don’t follow the Shark’s guidelines, your query could wind up in the shark pool for “what not to do in a query” and read by all (It would have to be very bad or obnoxious).

The key is to start building relationships now. You can do it over time while you are writing your book. Follow a blog, volunteer at a writer’s organization, attend an agent workshop, send a query.  Save your hard-earned money to buy paper, ink, or that web page agents will say you need.

For info on Oregon Writer’s Colony

Remember browsing in your favorite bookstore?

Hitting the stacks looking for that next intriguing author. The smell of the books. The place where a community of readers could meet and talk books with knowledgeable sales staff. Maybe where you might find a book club that met once a month?

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...

Remember When Books were Fun?

What happened to all of that?  Could it possibly make a comeback?

I remember when I could drive a mile and visit Tower Records and Books, a great place to browse and find a good mystery to read. Then came the Behemoth Border’s Bookstore Chain, followed by another giant, Barnes and Noble.

Tower Records and Books closed in Portland, Oregon and so did a lot of other great independent bookstores. Looking Glass Books in Sellwood, OR., folded last year after 38 years.  Great Northwest Books downtown burned down in August 2010.

When I get a chance, I head over to Murder By The Book on SE Hawthorne in Portland, a surefire place to score a good mystery. But it’s eight miles from where I live. Powell’s Books, also eight miles. You get the picture!

It’s hard to find a good bookstore these days, even in Portland. There are some, but they are spread out. In earlier years, the giant bookstores forced a lot of independents out of business.

But this past year something happened no one foresaw. Borders went out of business chiefly because of the advent of the e-book. Barnes and Noble, the last bookselling giant, is struggling and may be the next to enter bankruptcy. Its Nook tablet and selling off a division of its properties was enough to keep it barely afloat in 2011.

Amazon is doing to the big bookstores what the giants once did to Independent bookstores. By providing a one-click purchasing machine on their Kindle readers they are making it simpler to find any book you want and be reading it the next minute.

For the first time this year, Amazon sold more e-books than hard cover. It has had help from iPads, its own Kindle, and other tablets that have more than doubled in number during December with one in four adults now owning a tablet or e-reader.

Here’s My question: What happens if Borders and the larger booksellers do go out of business. Where will we be able to buy a print copy if not from the Internet?

I dare to hope this might create a better environment to support smaller bookstores. People are still buying hard-cover books and not everyone is plugged into the Internet. I always envisioned myself running a bookstore, preferably at the beach, but I never had any misconceptions about making a lot of money.

Mainly it would be a place to hang out and work on my book and talk with others who like to read. One thing the Internet does not do is get people to meet face to face. Skype has tried it, but it’s not the same as being with a real person.

If you don’t want to lose your last contact with the printed book, and the world it creates, make a bee-line to your favorite (still existing) bookstore and buy a book. Heck, by two or three or more. Let the proprietors know you appreciate the vital service they still offer and tell your friends to go out and buy a book locally once in a while.

Other Bookstores in Portland: Annie Bloom’s Books, Broadway Books, Powell’s

If you plan to enter your book in Amazon and CreateSpace‘s fifth annual book contest, you’d better write the best damn query letter you’ve ever written. According to the rules, the first cut, which is 1,000 from the 5,000 total entered (in each category), will be judged on query letters alone.

Amazon, of course, is partnering with Penguin books and first prize is a $15,000 advance and a book contract. The two categories are fiction and young adult fiction. Entries are accepted beginning Jan. 23 to Feb. 5 or until 5,000 entries are received in each category.

Of course any time you write a query letter to an agent it should be as good as your book. Agents look at your query and consider your voice, story concept, and writing ability all in the query. I bet you thought they made their decision on the first three chapters or so of your book.

No. First you have to send them those chapters. And before you can do this, you must piqué the curiosity of the agent or editor.

The basic structure of a query is not difficult. It should be written in present tense. It should grab the reader’s attention. It should be representative of the agent or editor’s needs or expertise. It should list your publishing credits, if any, or any professional experience you may have which would show why you are the best person to tell your story.

You should tell the agent your genre, that it is finished, how many words it is, and if you are working on a series. The story outline should be in your writing voice, bring up some enticing questions, include a brief synopsis, and set the place and time (historical or if it is not set in current era).

The letter should be less than a page and should leave to reader wanting more . . . just like your first chapter.

Okay, I’m going to attempt to write an example here. Don’t judge me to harshly because I just decided to do this:

I am submitting my finished book, a mystery thriller, about 86,000 words. I’m working on a sequel where Billie Bly, P.I., stumbles upon a mad bomber using an online dating service* to troll for his victims. (*I changed this because I have a high concept idea I don’t want to share).

P.I. Billie Bly’s psychic warns her someone will be murdered today, but neglects to tell her it will be Billie.

As she walks down the sidewalk in the busy Pearl District of NW Portland, she sees two men grab a boy and pull him into a warehouse. She draws her gun and follows carefully when shots ring out.

She finds the boy lying in what looks like a pool of blood and looks for the shooter. When she looks back the boy is sitting up with an evil grin and a big gun, and he shoots Billie.

She’s left for dead, but is found by a white-bearded man she calls God and whisked to the hospital where her heart stops twice. The day she finally gets out of the hospital her younger cop brother is murdered during a second attempt on her life.

Billie vows to avenge her brother’s murder, but is met with resistance at every corner. Her former partner and boyfriend heads the investigation and puts her under house arrest as a material witness. The suspects include the mayor of Portland, who doesn’t want Billie snooping around; the mayor’s mistress, a buxom brunette who is married to the city auditor; a seedy con after revenge of his own; her former partner and boyfriend; and her assistant’s new boyfriend, an undercover P.I. who inserts himself into her investigation.

As she tracks down her brother’s killer, she is nearly blown up in her garage, she falls three stories escaping from a villain, is shot at by a sniper at a Pirate Festival, nearly run off a mountain road, and shot in a showdown with the villain.

If you have interest in my story, I will be glad to send it you.

Okay, first sentence I establish I am submitting my book, its length, the genre, and that it is finished. Yes, agents get queries from people with works-in-progress. I also indicate I am working on a second book because they want series character’s in mysteries and will want to set up a multiple book contract with a publishing house no matter what genre in fiction.

In the story synopsis I try to set the hook in the first sentence. What? She dies in the first chapter? (Read on).

Did you notice I wrote it in present tense? This helps grab the reader and avoids a passive query.  In the second paragraph, I show a call to action and tell the reader where the setting takes place, in Portland’s Pearl District.

In the third paragraph, I name the suspects briefly and set up a second call to action, her brother’s murder. I tell the reader she faces many obstacles. In the last paragraph, I summarize the peril my heroine will face.

Then, I attempt to close the sale, suggesting I am ready to send my manuscript. I have one agent in mind who has a pretty good blog I’ve followed the past year and subscribe to. I will probably mention it to her and thank her for some of her tips (likely one specifically) to show a personal connection.

That’s it. I didn’t do too bad, although I would probably go back and rewrite the obstacle and attempts on her life paragraphs.

One last thought. You should be ready in the event and agent or editor requests a synopsis, along with manuscript chapters. If you haven’t done one, don’t freak. The suggested length is five to six pages, unless otherwise requested (double spaced, single if you have a lengthy story). It should be a basic outline of the highlights of your book, of course written as well as your book and in your voice. Present tense is a good idea here too.

That’s all. Send it out now. Feel free to use the links below to find your agent:

agentquery.com

querytracker.net