Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting Started in the Fiction Business

Returning from vacation and too tired to cook, my husband and I went out for dinner. We talked about the week ahead.

“I have all these ideas for Wednesday’s blog but nothing seems to gel,” I told him.

“Why don’t you write about how you got started. You know your journey since you decided to leave teaching and start writing,” he suggested.

“Not sure that would be of interest,” I answered.

After dinner I came home to find the following message from a friend now living in Nebraska:

Hey, Becky!
I have been following your progress on your book, 
and I'm so happy that you're writing! How cool!

I bet writer wannabes are coming out of the woodwork asking your advice these days, and as much as I hate to be one of them, I will. I write some for The Lookout and write other freelance type things, and I have written a couple of very rough drafts of novels. They're currently just sitting on my computer, but from time to time I consider getting them in shape and trying to publish them. I know I don't do it because I'm scared, but I also don't do it because I'm uncertain how to begin.

How did you get started in the fiction business? The writing part I feel ok at, but I have no idea about publishing. Did you go through an agent? Did you approach a publisher on your own? If so, how did you choose one and how did you know which ones were real and which were just out to get your money in the self-publishing world?

I'm looking forward to reading your stuff. I bet it is great!


Open letter to L,
Let me first begin by saying I don’t have all the answers, only what I have done and learned along the way.
I’ll start with a bit of backstory. My husband had heart surgery in October 2011. We decided at that time to “retire” at the end of December 2012. I had been the teaching field for nearly thirty-five years. I felt I was doing what God had called me to do. Leaving my position at the university would be difficult even though I fully accepted that my role as a wife was more important than my role as a teacher.  I started to pray about it.

Two truths became apparent to me. I had always had a desire to write and like you, had several unpublished works tucked away in dusty desk drawers. The other truth God revealed to me was that God sometimes puts us in a position to change careers to further serve Him. Think about Peter. He was a fisherman and by all counts, good at his job. Then Jesus called him to a new line of work. Just saying.
Build a Business Plan
I began my new quest during Spring break. During that week I drafted a business plan. I highly recommend you do this. I wrote a vision/mission statement to identify what I hoped my writing would accomplish. I drafted three goals. (I am of the opinion you should not have more than five goals at any given time.) My goals included daily writing exercises, educating myself on the publishing business, and writing at least 2000 words a day toward finishing my novel.

The education piece included going to a conference on writing. I researched several and decided to go to the 2012 Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Illinois. I couldn’t afford the whole four day event so I went to two. While there I met acquisitions editors, publishers, agents, and authors. It was the best decision I made. The contacts and networking opportunities are powerful. After hearing Eddie Jones’ comments on a publisher’s panel, I made an appointment to meet him. His was not a self-publish venue. Here is what he said that piqued my interest:

·      You can’t pay us to publish your book.
·      We will not publish your book unless we think it will do well. That protects you. Agents and traditional publishing houses will look at your sales on your first book to decide if they can afford to take a risk on you.
·      We publish e-books and print-on-demand. That is the best way for a new author to break into the field.

We met. We talked. I gave him a synopsis of my book and two months later I received a contract. I read it, prayed about it, discussed it with my husband, and my book is scheduled to come out in March. I am convinced the best place to find a publisher is at a conference.

I have heard some good things about self-publishing. I don’t think the problem lies in the publishing. The problem lies in the marketing. I don’t intend to go that route, but if you are interested you should talk with other authors who have done that.

Agent or No Agent?
I heard a talk given by Lynn Austen. She has never had an agent. She said her agent is God and he only requires 10%! That is not to say I will never have one. I don’t have an agent now, and at least at this point, I have found agents more difficult to communicate with than acquisition editors. Agents tend to want you to prove yourself first before they will consider you.

The World of Fiction Writing
To enter the world of fiction, you may want to join a local writers group. I didn’t find one meeting during the times available to me so I started one. Now I am joining American Christian Fiction Writers ( The $65.00 annual fee includes tutorials, critique groups, etc. It is kind of like having your own personalized conference on-line.

So there you have it. Everything I know about starting a writing career.
Much love,

P.S. Let me know how you are doing in your own quest to become a writer. I'll be praying for you!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Stuff" I Have Picked Up at Writing Conferences

In working on my novel, I came to a dilemma regarding my protagonist’s inner journey. I remembered hearing something at a writing conference about a similar situation so I started sorting through my conference notes. During the search, I came to realize I have collected a lot of “stuff” at conferences. I am not just talking about free pens and an assortment of writer’s guidelines.

Jotted in the margins of my notes are numerous references to comments made by fellow writers on the path to being published. Since many of you are reading this because you aspire to one day write a book, I thought I would pass on to you ten tidbits of info I have gathered to date. These are in no particular order. Do with them what you will.

1)   If you want your book to be available as an e-book only, feel free to write as many words as you like. But if you intend for it to be made available as a “print on demand” (POD) book as well, you must limit your word count to no more than 70,000 words. Some publishers even suggest 40,000-60,000 words for POD. Hmmm…who would have known that? I didn’t. Now my first novel, Breathing on Her Own, needs to skinny down by 12,000 words and my second book I thought to be “light” turns out now to be a slim, trim, and desirable 68,000 words. Why no more than 70,000? It has to do with printing costs.

2)   Every author should have a headshot. That is, every author should have a professional photographer take a decent picture that can be used on blogs, book jackets, Facebook, Twitter, etc. it is all part of “branding” and has to do with marketing yourself. Confession: I’m not there yet. When I needed a “headshot” for a blog where I was interviewed as a debut writer (see ) I wound up dressing up, holding my itouch out away from me and took my own picture. Yep, it’s still out there. I currently have it as my pic on my Twitter (@WatersAuthor). What can I say? I am a work in progress.

3)   Your first fifty pages are the most important. Okay, maybe I did know that, but talking about it in the halls during a conference brings home the “why.” Acquisition editors have stacks of books submitted on a regular basis. You have to grab their attention right away. And what is most startling is that they probably won’t read your entire book. Very few people at the publishing house will actually read your book. You cannot save the best for last. You have to come out swinging as the saying goes.

4)   Don’t count on writing a series. Every book should be treated as a story in and of itself with your best writing in each. Don’t hold back any portion of making the story you are crafting for the second book. You may never get a chance to write the second one if your first one doesn’t get anywhere. So far this isn’t a problem for me in that I haven’t thought in terms of a series. I just want my book out!

5)   Amish sells. Simple life over a complex reality. Enough said. Though I have as yet to take the Amish plunge.

6)   Identify your platform. Your platform is the message you have to share, your experience, and your reach. I talked a little about this in an earlier blog (see April 17, 2013 ). This has been extremely helpful. I was recently was asked to write a Christian romance novella. I tried. But my stories tend to be about forgiveness and restoration, not romance. Don’t get me wrong. I mix a little lovey-dovey stuff in my books, but that is not my central theme. Experience? I am writing in venues outside of novels to gain writing and editing experience. Reach? Or how many people will hear of my book and want it? Good question. I suppose a percentage of my Blog followers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers will want to read it. Then of course there is my family (If only to see if they are in it!). I have my high school friends, friends from college, my church family, friends from square dancing, colleagues from schools where I taught, former students, the gal who does my hair and there is that woman I met when my husband and I went camping…

7)   There are a lot of RE’s in a successful writing career: RE-flect, RE-write, RE-ject, RE-write RE-submit.
I want to be above average= more than 4000 books sold!

8)   More people read magazines than read books.  95% of books written never get published. Of the 5% that get published, the average print order is 4000 copies. So if I want to be above average, I want at least 4001 books sold. Until then, I can write for other publications and thus extend my reach (see item 6)

9)   When you submit anything on-line, be sure to put your name in the subject line and on the file name as well as on the document itself. This really helps an editor locate your submission quickly. I now do this as a regular practice so my submission doesn’t land in a computer landfill.

10)   Embrace technology. Write a blog (check), increase your Facebook presence (check), Tweet (check, although I am a newbie at this), develop a website (You have got to be kidding. I’m not ready for that yet!)

Well, there you have it. Ten bits of writing advice gathered in the hallways and over lunch at a couple of writing conferences.

What advice could you add? What have you learned along the way? Leave a comment or email me at  I will happily share your advice on a future blog and give you full credit! Then you can say you are published!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Novel Creation: Act III

My granddaughter was visiting. She wanted to set up the toy train set. As we began laying the track I couldn’t help but think about how much this was like the second Act in my novel. My first draft was much like laying down track, a straight line from beginning to end. As Nora and I played, we made the track more interesting by adding a few turns, a bridge and a small hill to climb. Eventually we set up trees and buildings along the tracks.

I have been working this past week to do precisely the same to my manuscript. I have been making sure I have a few twists and turns, an uphill climb for my main character. Along the way I added some descriptive setting elements. I am working to bring it all to a satisfactory end, my destination. I had to read Act II several times, refer to Act I to make sure I had laid down the proper track to set my story rolling. I  once read that to keep the momentum, a writer should use shorter sentences during Act II. That has been part of my work this week. I have also had to make revisions at multiple levels such as changing the order of events, rewriting passages for clarity and so forth. This has been a messy work week. Messy but rewarding. I cannot tell you it is finished. I have, however, decided to move on to Act III. I know my rewrites will take me back to both Acts I and II as I start digging into Act III, but the end product will be far more polished and closer to completion.

Goals for Act III
My main goal for Act III is to bring everything to a satisfactory end. I need to make sure I tie up all loose ends. Also, my villain (yes, I really do have a villain) will reappear in this act. He will rear his ugly head and my hero will need to come face-to-face with him. I like happy endings and I enjoy endings with a bit of a twist. More importantly, however, I need to actually have an ending. I don’t like those books where I feel compelled to write my own ending because the author left me hanging.

How My Novel Measures Up
On my first read through the remaining pages of my book I must say I am rather satisfied with the outcome. I think I addressed all questions pertinent to the story. I like how I handled my villain. I have an ending I like but I gave it a bit of a twist at the very end. Overall, I am pleased. I do see that habit of telling instead of showing has emerged in a few areas and I have a character arrive on the scene who really should have appeared much earlier. I didn’t realize I needed her until now.

Where Do I Go From Here?
I will start with going back into the manuscript and weaving into the earlier pages a character I need to make the outcome stronger (and make sense). I have some idea of how I will do this. I also need to spend this next week recasting those portions of text where I got away from showing my readers what my characters were experiencing. I need to make sure I have achieved a sort of balance in that. It is a process, but one I enjoy. Okay, maybe enjoy isn’t the right word. I’ll just have to live with it until the next rewrite.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Novel Creation: Act II

Wow! What a busy but rewarding week. I have said it before, keeping up a blog to track my progress in writing this book makes me accountable.  Never more so than this past week. I had to really get into the nitty-gritty of the story I had created and make revisions.

Of course, if you have been reading along, you know I changed Shirley’s name to Livvie. I am thankful I live in this age of technology. I did a simple search and replace command and Shirley became Livvie! I just wish other changes were as simple.

I examined the manuscript to identify those sections where I am “telling” instead of “showing.” I was able to recast some of my story by working it into dialogue or action. I worked on helping my audience “feel” what my character was feeling without coming right out and saying it. We’ll eventually see how well I did that.

Taking the story apart Act-by-Act makes it a manageable task for me. This week I am ready to take on a much larger portion of my manuscript: Act II.

Goals for Act II
I had some specific goals for this portion of my story. I wanted the problem I have set up for Sonja to intensify. I really needed to see how she handled the situation. I also hinted at a secondary problem in Act I that I now needed to develop it in Act II. Act II is also a place where I can spend time developing my characters a bit. What motivates them? What past experiences have made them the people they are at this point in time? Finally, I have a subplot I have been nurturing along. I need both my main plot and subplot to reach a sort of tension; a climax demanding resolution.
A major turning point. Initially I allotted 40,000 words for Act II. I don’t’ think I took that much time to meet these goals, but I will be closely examining the next 40,000 to see.  

How My Novel Measures Up
Again, I found it best to read the words aloud and see how it sounds to me. This time I created a sort of checklist to note when I where I found evidence of meeting my goals.

After a cursory look, I see that I need to address the “show” don’t “tell” issue through sections of this part of the book. Not as much as in the first part, though. I think in Act I was anxious to put everything I knew about Door County in just a few pages! I also see I sort of pushed two problems Sonja faces very close together. It was intentional. I wanted that feeling of “when it rains, it pours.” Now though, as I read it, I think it is not only stressful for Sonja, but maybe a bit too much for my reader. I can keep the tension but lessen the stress by moving a few things around. Finally, I think I did a decent job of developing most of my main characters, but in doing so I dropped the ball on some characters I had introduced early on. I found myself wondering, “What happened to Rose?” or  “Did Sonja just drop her friendship with Joan after all she did?”

Where Do I Go From Here?
I obviously need to spend some serious time this next week working on my manuscript. I just want to make sure that by the time I leave Act II, my readers are anxious to turn the page and find out what happens in Act III. I let my mother read the first draft and I think my goal was accomplished in part because she said, “I thought that might happen. I was hoping it would.”

Another thought to consider: Act II has several recipes from the coffee shop in it. I have decided to cut some of them out of the manuscript.  I use these recipes and know them to be tried and true. I thought about putting them together in a free e-book cookbook of sorts. What do you think? Would that be a good idea? Scroll all the way down to add a comment or email me at If the response is favorable, I will work on a step-by-step cookbook (with pictures and everything) to pass on to you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Novel Creation: Act I

Actually, today’s blog is the beginning of a three part series. Think of a play or movie divided into three acts. I am sure there are many models for drafting a novel out there, but one good way follows the pattern of a three-act play. In this first segment I will share my personal insights on Act 1. That is, I will share what should be accomplished in the first act while at the same time evaluate the novel I am working on to see how well I have met those goals.

Goals for Act 1
In the first Act of my story I am obligated to my reader to set everything up. This means I need to set the tone and pace for my book, introduce my main characters, set up a serious problem for my character(s) and perhaps offer my reader a glimpse of a villain. I need a “hook.” The hook is a strong first sentence or action to compel my reader to continue. Finally, I want to create a turning point near the end of Act to keep my reader engaged and push them on to read Act II. As you can see, there is a lot to accomplish in those first pages.

How My Novel Measures Up
I identified the first 20,000 words as Act I of my novel. Remember, the number is arbitrary, but if I can’t accomplish the goals I have set in 20,000 words, I will lose my reader’s interest.

I am in the revising stage of my book.  As I am examining it Act-by-Act, I am also making note of word changes, edits, and structural changes that need to be made. I am sure all writers have their own way of doing this. What works best for me is to go into a quiet room and read my manuscript out loud.

So I sequestered myself in my office (read “daughter’s former bedroom with a table and chair in it) and read the first 20,000 words out loud. (I have thought about recording myself doing this to see if I hear even more revisions to be made, but the old cassette recorder I own no longer works. Just an idea.) 

I read the first 20,000 words to see if I was meeting my goals.

Hook? I think so. If you read “How I Spent My Words,” you will recall I started the story with a two word sentence: “A lump.” My critique group liked it and I think it speaks volumes to most women.

Introduce my main characters? Yes, although one of the characters who will play a prominent role in the story only makes a cameo appearance in the first Act. Is that a problem? It could be. I may want to think about how I can add a bit of information to that section, maybe someone else in the coffee shop makes a comment about him or calls him by name.
Suggest my villain? No. As I examine my current work, my villain doesn’t enter until word 21,440. I can live with that, though I will likely tighten my story and my villain will appear a bit sooner.

Do I offer a turning point by the end of Act I? Yes. I offer a turning point along with a problem for my character to face.  Although as I tighten my story, I expect this part, too, will gain strength and appear a bit earlier. So far, so good.

Where Do I Go From Here? I will spend this next week making revisions to Act I and trying to make sure to maintain the overall tone of my story is not compromised. I wanted to create a sense of "close knit family" in this first act, but I may have overworked it. I tend to overwrite sometimes so I will be looking closely at that part of the story.

Your turn- Take a look at your own writing or at a favorite book. Can you identify the Act I? I hope this helps those of you who are writing along with me. Let me know how your own writing is going. I am anxious to hear from you.