The Craft of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘authors’

The Secret to Writing A Riveting Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 1, 2010 at 8:34 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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How does a writer evolve from one who pens the first draft of a novel to one who attains the rarefied status of published author? Of course, there is no substitute to a strong and well-written story, powerful characterizations and effective, believable dialogue. However, as any experienced writer will tell you, you must also master the skill of editing. And within editing, one of the more powerful of tools available lies within the words you choose. That is, you should review every noun, verb and adjective to consider if you have used the most specific and compelling of words for them.  The goal is to insure you paint the most stimulating word pictures for your reader.

Here’s an example of how I wrote a sentence in the first draft of my current manuscript and how it reads in my sixth version.

“They raced across the open ground.”

“The soldiers plunged into the maelstrom.”

Both sentences indicate the same event, men fighting in war. However, which holds the more potent setting, the more powerful image? In the first, we see people running over a field. We might have children playing for all this indicates. Whereas in the second, there is no question a battle is underway and men throw their bodies into the violence. The change is dramatic, yet all I did was choose more specific words.

Here’s another example as to how strong word choices can improve your writing.

“Jak woke first.”

“The sun burst over the horizon and wrenched Jak from his exhausted stupor.”

In this case, the verb, “wrenched,” is much stronger than, “woke.” If you imagine a character who just wakes up, you might see him stir from a pleasant night’s slumber. You can almost see him flutter his eyes as he brings the soft morning into view. In my story, however, this scene is not so pleasant. So, to create a better impression of what I wanted my reader to see, I had Jak yanked into consciousness. By comparison, this is a brutal action and a better description of what I wanted my character, and my reader, to experience. Though I enhanced the sentence, this change of a single word created a much more dramatic scene.

This same technique works for adverbs and nouns, too. To show how adverbs can also be improved, consider my working title for this article. At first, I titled this, “The Secret to Writing an Interesting Novel.” Can you see how the change from, “interesting” to “riveting” made for a better image?

If you take the time to consider each noun, verb and adverb in this way, I believe you’ll experience a leap forward in your writing skills. In the process, you just might increase your chances of publication, too.

Now that you know the power in this editing technique, I challenge you to do this with your manuscript and let us know how it improved your writing. I look forward to hearing from you.

Until we meet again, know I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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THE Secret to the Slush Pile

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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We all know the best way to an agent’s heart is through a well-crafted query. The problem of course, is how to see that query past their hands and into their heart. However, did you know even if you’ve written the world’s best query, there’s a chance it might not be placed on an agent’s desk at all? Would you like to know why? It’s because the agents are not the first to review it.

I listened to a panel of agents a while back and they revealed a secret about queries. That is subalterns read your query first. Only if it passes their inexpert eye does it move into the agent’s inbox. So the first issue we as authors face with our book or novel, is it must pass muster with an inexperienced person. Now, I’m not knocking agent’s assistants, for we all have to start somewhere, but I have to rely upon an unproven stranger’s abilities to advance my writing career? This is not the most comforting thought, if you ask me.

So, how does your fraught-with-angst query get out of the infamous slush pile? That same agent’s panel I mentioned above gave me that answer too. All three agents agreed ninety percent of all queries are, and I quote, “crap.” Imagine! Nine out of ten queries are not even acceptable, let alone worthy. As severe as that sounds, I see it as an advantage.

Think of it this way. One hundred people apply for an important position at a company. Ninety of the applicants arrive in jeans and t-shirts, while ten of them are dressed in business suits. Which ones will move past the admin? The lesson here? Wear nice pants. Well, that too, but the real message is to learn the craft of writing. And the craft of writing includes the knowledge of how to formulate an effective query.

Now, armed with these two pieces of information, can you tell me what an agent’s assistant looks for? Here’s a hint, it’s not the next Great American Novel. The agent simply teaches them to spot a well-crafted query and to pass it along. With this information, the answer on how to avoid the slush pile, like so many answers in life, is simple. Write an effective query. How many times have we heard that one before?

I’ll bet we are all intelligent enough to craft a query letter, so I’ll assume everyone who reads this blog post will get theirs into the agent’s inbox. Now, comes the real problem. Once your query lands on an agent’s desk the process is, as you might suspect, subjective. And there ain’t nothing you can do about subjective. So, learn the craft of writing, pen an excellent query letter, be persistent and have faith.

The formula for an effective query is clean and simple and can be found all over the Internet. But in case you’d like an assist, here are some people and their article that tell you how to, and how not to write a query.

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


The Power of Subplot

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on February 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Click HERE for a podcast to the article.


To understand subplot, let’s first delve into the concept of plot. The main plot is the framework or storyline of a novel. It is the series of events that happen to your protagonist. In most novels, it can be summed up in one sentence. Think about Margaret Mitchell’s book, “Gone with the Wind.” Can you compile those many pages into a single sentence? I have no idea what Margaret Mitchell’s one-liner might be, but I’ll give it a go. How about something like this? A genteel woman of the old South must learn to cope with the ravages of civil war.

In like manner, subplots are lesser series of events that interweave within the main story. They, too, can be subjected to the compression of a one-liner. Looking to “Gone with the Wind” again, we find a number of subplots that Ms. Mitchell melded into her novel. For example, before and after the war, Scarlett’s love for Ashley as well as Rhett creates great conflict in her life. She also deals with a relationship with Melanie, Ashley’s wife and even a father who has slipped into insanity.

When you interject subplots into your novels, keep in mind they must maintain a direct connection to the main plot. They add substance and enrich the main story as they interlace within it by way of their relation to it. They do not stand on their own nor do they, as a rule, have a direct impact upon the plotline. Look at it in this light. If your plot is a haunted house, the subplots would be the ghosts that waft from room to room. They are part of the house, but the house stands with or without them.

I see two key reasons to interject subplots into your novels. They offer character contrast as well as enhanced conflict. My current manuscript, “Born to be Brothers,” is about the love triangle between two men and a woman. One of the subplots comes into play when war breaks out and the three must decide where their loyalties lie. War brings out the differences in people every time and increases conflict by its very nature. For another example of conflict offered by subplots, consider the Harry Potter series. The story is about Harry, of course, but interwoven is a subplot based on Hermione’s crush on Ron. Though Harry’s adventures continue unabated, the girl’s sentiments toward Ron take over entire scenes at times.

This brings us to the structure of subplots, which have the same configuration as your story and its major plotline. That is, they have starting points, middle points and outcomes. Within this, they have turning points, moments of great peril and questions answered. Yet, despite everything, they consume less of your word count than the main plot.

Should you decide to introduce a number of subplots, keep in mind one is premier to the others. You should have one foremost subplot and a couple others of lesser impact. A general rule is to have at least one scene relating to the subplot(s) in each act. (Most stories have three acts, but that’s another post altogether.)

One aspect of subplots I appreciate is they allow a lesser character to take on a larger role when the major plotline fails to offer that opportunity. Think of Prissy, the house slave who lied about her experience with “birthing babies” in “Gone with the Wind.” That minor subplot holds much more of our memory than it deserves when you consider its relation to the major plot line of that book.

Subplots, should you wish, can have a major impact on the main plot and are most effective at this when placed at the end of the story. For example, If you’ve read the original “Frankenstein,” you know a servant girl hovers about the story almost without purpose. In the end, however, the mad doctor uses her body to create a creature-wife for the monster. A very minor character turned into a major subplot at the conclusion of the novel.

Now, would you like to know the true secret to a subplot’s power? They are all about relationships. I’ll bet the light just went on for some of you, didn’t it?
As an author and writer, you can embellish your story with depth and life by the effective use of subplots. Take some time to intertwine them in your books and your readers will appreciate your extra work.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”

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The Secrets to Your Novel Writer's Reputation

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, Working with Agents on February 15, 2010 at 8:17 am

I can only suppose you’re reading this article because you are already a successful author or you plan that same accomplishment soon. If either case is true, then you’ve got a professional standing to uphold. How might you go about keeping your reputation up to form? As with anything worthwhile, it’s a bit time consuming but necessary. The good news, there are only a few secrets to keep in mind.

I attended The James River Writer’s Conference last year and listened to a panel where all three speakers agreed to the concept a writer needs to spend seventy-five percent of their time marketing their business and twenty-five percent writing. This means that to keep up your status as a professional writer, you should spend a great deal of your efforts on promoting your name and maintaining your status as a professional. Look at it like this. An Olympian isn’t racing most of the time, he’s practicing. The secret is this concept applies to your writing.

Basically, there are six major steps you should consider if you wish to build and maintain a professional writer’s reputation. I’ll outline them then discuss each in a bit more detail. These considerations are:

  1. 1. Utilize Social Networking
  2. 2. Join an Association
  3. 3. Create Your Web Presence
  4. 4. Write Nonfiction
  5. 5. Keep a Professionals Attitude
  6. 6. Stay Current

Utilize Social Networking: You’ve chosen a field where the competition is fierce, and when a novel writer wants to generate buzz about his manuscript, you have to employ WOM, or word of mouth. Keep in mind social networking is beyond simple posts on Facebook and Twitter, though these are important. You should also join writers’ groups, attend conferences and the like. Be found in those places where writers and readers congregate. Despite all the technological advances in recent years, WOM is still your best way of getting known.

Join an association: Once you’re published, joining a professional writers’ association helps build your cred. For example, if you write mysteries, consider the Mystery Writers of America. Find whatever organization(s) fit your genre then pay their dues and go to their gatherings. It’s a great way to hobnob with the successful and to garner loads of useful information.

Create Your Web Presence: In an earlier post I talked about when to build your web site, which is after you have something to sell. However, you should begin to build your web presence well before the web site is up and running. However, if you wish to establish a profile page sooner, that’s not a bad idea. You should establish a blog one to three years prior to becoming published. Update this no less than weekly.  You should have a professional email, (mine is CPatrickSchulze@yahoo.com). Be sure to include this web information on business cards and other marketing material you might produce.

Write nonfiction: You write fiction all the time. Why not improve your cred by writing nonfiction, such as this article? It helps you boost your reputation as a writer and if you’re unpublished, it also builds confidence.

Maintain a Professional Attitude: Nobody wants to do business with a prim donna or a fool. The more professional your presentation, the more others are willing to deal with you. And, after all, you are in The Business of Writing. You’ll gather more potential proponents and customers with the correct personal presentation. The old adage of “Image is Everything,” holds true in this industry as with any other.

There was an agent I followed on Twitter, had placed in my database, and planned to query at the appropriate time. I met her at a writer’s conference and although her personal appearance was well below standards, I attempted to look past that to get to know her and appreciate the work she might perform for me. Quite frankly, she’s a bitchy woman who looked down upon the unpublished and I soon discovered she is someone with whom I could never work. She lacked even a modicum of professionalism and I’ve dropped her as a possible agent. If you don’t present a professional attitude the reverse happens to you as a writer.

Stay Current: Keep your knowledge of publishing trends and market preferences up to date. You do this by reading industry magazines, various newsletters, blogs, articles and by reading the invaluable information on Twitter and other social networking sites. Staying current also means to write, write, and write some more.

Are there other thing you must do to establish and maintain your cred? You bet there is. However, get these initial steps under your belt and these other opportunities present themselves to you.

Do you have any stories about how you’ve worked to build your credentials as a professional writer? Are there other ways you go about building your reputation?

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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The Secrets of the Dreaded Synopsis

In The Craft of Writing on February 12, 2010 at 8:39 am

I’ve yet to meet an author who looked forward to writing their novel synopsis. In fact, many believe it’s more difficult to write than the novel itself. Not to say it’s easy, but a few simple tenets can get you started.

Let’s first ask if a synopsis is even necessary these days. From reading the submission guidelines of agents, I see many don’t request one and that leads me to believe it has lost much of its influence. However, some still do, and as an aspiring author never knows which agent will represent them, it’s a good idea to have it ready.

The second question is why would an agent would feel a synopsis necessary. The critical reason I found in researching this article is it can be THE pivotal item that gets an editor to read your manuscript. That’s enough for me right there. However, if you need more, consider the following. A well-crafted synopsis can assist the author in finding weak plot points and point you toward ways to polish your story arc. It also assists in improving characterization, plot and setting. Further, it is often utilized by various departments of a publishing house once they accept your novel.

We now know the if and why, but what about the what? What, after all, is a synopsis? Many confuse it with an outline which describes what occurs in the storyline, to whom it happens and when it happens. In contrast, a synopsis portrays the “why” of your story. The novel outline describes the action or what happens, whereas the synopsis offers the conflict or how your characters react to that action.

The essential components to a novel synopsis are:

  1. The Opening Hook
  2. Character Sketches
  3. Plot Highlights
  4. The Core Conflict
  5. The Conclusion

If you think about what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish, these five aspects make perfect sense. It will give the various readers a good feel for everything they might need to know about your story. Let’s look at each of these components.

The Opening Hook: Start strong. Remember this is about conflict, how and why your characters react the way they do. It is not about action, what happens to them. For example, you would not open with the first line following for it speaks of the action in the story, whereas the second tells the reader about the characters’ REactions.

Two men fight over a woman.

Two brothers lose their friendship when a woman comes between them.

As with any reader, the agent looks for something that will engage them. If your story doesn’t’ sound interesting right away, they’ll probably not read further. You’ve got ninety seconds, so power your way through them.

Character Sketches: This does not mean you describe your characters but rather get to their individual core conflict and the conflict between your two or three main characters. What makes your hero undertake his great quest? Why is your villain working with such diligence to thwart your protagonist? Think motivation rather than descriptions.

Plot Highlights: Give some detail to the first and the climactic scenes and a couple of those in the middle of your story. Use only those scenes that highlight the emotional action and conflict within your story. Make sure whoever reads your synopsis knows just how much trouble befalls your hero.

Core Conflict: Your Opening Hook will probably introduce your core conflict, but make sure you enhance it here. Don’t allow anyone to misunderstand the “why” of your story. If you have multiple conflicts, highlight the premier point then maybe the next couple of levels.

The Conclusion: Show the agent your novel is worked to its completion and flesh out the ending. They want to know the entire story. If they don’t know the ending, they’ll assume it doesn’t work. Tie together any major loose strings and point to a sequel if your novel is one of a planned series.

That’s all there is to it. With things spelled out like this, it doesn’t seem quite so onerous, does it? Use your writer’s voice as you did with your novel and the agent will have a good idea of what it is you’re offering for him to sell.

Best of luck and know I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze



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How Setting Influences Your Characters

In The Craft of Writing on February 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm

As I performed my research for this article, an idea came to me I should have visualized long ago. That is, setting serves as much more than a mere vehicle to cement my readers in the time and place within my story. It is a psychological force upon my characters. In contemporary writing, setting stands as an influence that acts upon the characters.

Readers now know that in life, environment is part of what molds one’s personality and their background is among the many factors that help to shape who he is. Further, they understand one’s choices in life indicate the “real” person within. It’s psychology 101. Therefore, the successful author will use setting as an indicator of personality.

To put this in perspective, consider these examples. We’ve all known someone who drove a red convertible and someone else who drove a used Pinto. Without doubt, these people possessed differing personalities. With this in mind, consider how a murdered parent might push the child toward a life or good or evil. Will a coonskin cap show a wanderer’s proclivity to the hunter’s life? Will the slums of Elizabethan England act upon the street rat to make him a thief. How might an American woman be influenced if a book was set in a Muslim nation? All these aspects of setting play upon the personality and mind of the characters.

How might a writer go about presenting setting as a psychological force? I see it in subplots. In my current manuscript, my hero’s parents are murdered when he is a child. This event then determines his choice of careers. Further, this subplot takes him to places in the world he would never otherwise visit and force him to commit actions he would never consider had he not become an orphan. Further, I wanted to use a pocket watch as a subplot. My hero purchases this when he is a young man with the idea he would bequeath it to his firstborn son at the appropriate time. He never has children. What happens to the pocket watch? It becomes a symbol of those unrealized aspects to his life.

All this behooves the author to look at his setting as even more authentic, more realistic than ever before. Readers will pillory an author for these kinds of errors, so a thin setting is no longer acceptable. Caution and adequate research is necessary, now more than ever.

Setting is more than place and time. It’s a power that creates your characters and influences their lives. Get to know your setting as you would your main characters and your novel will be the better for it.

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

How to Build Suspense in Your Novel

In The Craft of Writing on February 10, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Conflict, as we all know, is a critical component of a successful novel. In fact, without it, you probably don’t have a novel. One technique used by most successful authors to enhance conflict is to build suspense by judicious use of scenes.

What, you may ask, constitutes a scene? It’s a part of your novel that includes character interactions that moves your story forward. It places your reader in a position to “see” what is taking place. Therefore, a narrative of the landscape is not a scene as there are no characters speaking to each other. In contrast, two characters describing the landscape is a scene.

The purpose of your scenes is to:

•Move your story forward and toward its end

• Introduce and flesh out your characters

• Create a problem or heighten it

• Solve a problem • Set up the scenes to follow

• Create setting or atmosphere

Within the concept of scenes, you have what are called, “Master Scenes.” These portray the most critical moments in your manuscript, the turning points in the story. For example, two people describing the landscape as above is a scene, but isn’t a master scene. Include the enemy army charging over that landscape toward your speakers and you may well have a master scene.

By combining the critical elements of your story, characters, dialogue, conflict and setting into scenes, you create your novel. And these scenes should interlink like a chain – one linking to the next is logical order. (And yes, your story is only as strong as your weakest scene.)

How you connect these scenes together is another important aspect of your novel. You need to write your story so that the intensity of your story rises and falls in a rhythm intended to generate excitement. (I’ve designed a nice little chart, but it refused to upload into this blog, so you can see it by downloading my free eBook, “An Introduction to Writing a Novel,” HERE.)

Think of the way your scenes rise and fall from scenes to Master Scenes and back again as a roller coaster ride for your reader. The scenes build excitement, then release the tension, then build again, then fall again. By the end of the book, your story develops to its climactic crescendo before everyone is allowed their final sigh of relief. As you see from the graphic on page 22 of my eBook, your Master Scenes would have the most tension and interest for your reader and your hero. The other scenes build to these crescendos by always “setting up” the Master Scenes to come.

Must your story follow the exact graphical guideline I show in the eBook? Not really. In my example, I have three Master Scenes. Your story may have more, though it should have no less. Can you have more peaks and valleys than shown here? Absolutely! Just make sure your downs always lead to another up.

A secret for many writers, me included, is to create the climactic scene first. After that, create your other pivotal scenes, then fill in. This often makes the story much easier to write.

By employing this technique of ever-increasing tension followed by release then more tension, you’ll have a stronger story and a better chance of finding representation and publication.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

On Creating Good Bad Guys

In The Craft of Writing on February 8, 2010 at 9:21 am

Two of the three main character every novel needs are the hero and villain. The hero is the fuel for the novel and most writers feel his exploits need the most of the author’s time and effort. In contrast, the villain is often relegated to the task of an evildoer with little else to his credit.

As we create our heroes, we spend a great number of our allocated word count to create this bigger than life character that will engross our readers. We do the same for his love interest and often go out of our way to offer much detail about this character’s smoldering good looks and their budding respect and love for their emotional foil. The villain, however, is often not up to these standards of writing quality.

Many times a writer exemplifies their bad guys as superficial, narrow minded things whose only goal is to spread obstacles before our heroes and to create malevolence and mayhem wherever they can. This often leads to one-dimensional characters that can leave the reader with a sour taste toward your entire novel. This failure to create a complete antagonist makes it seem as if the threat he brings just isn’t tough enough for your hero. In turn, this can make the reader feel like the hero just isn’t as strong as he might be, and therefore less appealing.

When you invented your hero, did you look at someone you admired in life and imbue some of that person’s finer qualities into your protagonist? Did you take the time to get to know your hero in depth? Did you fill out that classic note card with the most minute of details so you even know how often he oversleeps? You probably did.

Did you go to the same extent of detail with your villain? Probably not. Most novice writers simply figure out what obstacles their hero needs to overcome and then paper-mache a character in place to perform those duties. This rookie mistake leaves the entire novel shallower than it need be. The secret to a good bad guy is to get to know him as well as you do your hero. And the secret to a good hero, is a good bad guy.

Why wouldn’t you choose one of those evil people you’ve met in your life and press them into service for your novel? The world is full of these real life charlatans and you’ve known as many of them as anyone else. There’s no reason you can’t utilize their characteristics, too.

The experienced writer considers as much about their bad guy as they did their protagonist. How often does your villain oversleep? If you don’t know, you’ve probably got some work to do yet. You should take the time to insure your reader understands the bad guy’s motivations as well as they do the hero’s. As we all know the villain won’t see himself as evil and, in fact, will feel perfectly justified in his efforts to thwart your hero. By showing your reader the villain’s logic and justifications, you’ll notch up the suspense within your novel and give your readers more opportunities to get involved with your writing. By creating a villain with intelligence, logic and complexity, you’ll construct the illusion he can beat the hero, thus building yet more excitement in your story.

Creating a good bad guy is as important as creating a good, good guy. Without a three-dimensional antagonist, your story will lack the depth and honesty your reader expects and deserves. So, get out your note cards, open up that database, review your annotations and make your villain as good at being bad as your hero is at being good.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze


The Single Most Important Secret to Landing an Agent

In General Information, Working with Agents on January 8, 2010 at 9:44 am

Yesterday in my blog I promised another article about how to find an agent for your novel. As I slaved over the research for today’s post, I searched for those perfect suggestions to include when a thought struck me. The information aspiring authors need is overabundant on the Internet. Multitudinous tomes are rife with just such instructions. With this understanding, I asked what knowledge could I possibly impart that might be new or unique? I slipped away for a cup of coffee but a single thought kept coming back to me, one I heard at a writers’ conference not too long ago.

While attending the James River Writers’ Conference, (@jamesRVRwriters on Twitter), a panel of accomplished agents sat perched behind a wide, draped table in the center of the stage to the front of an auditorium. The subject of the talk was what agents look for when writers send in query letters. I had parked myself in the second or third row, which is where you get the most information at any seminar by the way, and with ballpoint in hand waited to pen the copious notes the speakers would soon convey to launch my writer’s career toward the heavens.

I sat, writing implement poised and waited for that blaze of information to spark my livelihood and make my name a household word within the literary world. The speakers spoke, as speakers do, and I sat pen still poised, and waited for that flash of inspiration so critical to my plans. After about thirty minutes, I still sat, pen now drooping, and started wondering why I’d bothered with this seminar at all. I wasn’t hearing anything I didn’t already know.

Then at last! A note I could smear across the blank page before me! All three speakers attested to the accuracy of this information and with great fervor, I scribbled two numbers and a symbol appeared on the legal pad in my lap.

And that was all.

When the fifty minute seminar concluded, the audience clapped, the speakers smiled and people filtered out of the auditorium and into the halls. I sat, waiting for the crowd to thin, and considered the single note I had written on that otherwise blank sheet of paper. That’s it. That was all I got out of the seminar. Two numbers and a symbol.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The speakers did their job well, the audience was more than appreciative of the panelists’ time and as the writers herded out, the hubbub sounded enthusiastic and engaging. Nice seminar. Even to me, the time had been well spent. I was quite pleased with my one note that read, “90%.”

That number represented the number of authors who, when querying an agent, fail to follow even the most basic instructions required of their query.

Ninety percent of those who query don’t write a professional letter. Ninety percent don’t include a phone number for the agent to request a partial. Ninety percent don’t start with the story. Ninety percent don’t send in the first fifty pages when requested. Ninety percent talk down to the agent, etc, etc, etc. The secret of this story is found in a sage bit of advice my father offered so often in his life.

“If all else fails, follow directions.”

In the case with authors, you’ll have a better chance of publication than nine out of ten authors by listening to my father. Smart guy and good odds, I’d say.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Tips on How to Find an Agent for Your Novel

In The Craft of Writing on January 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

Can a novel writer achieve success without an agent?  Of course. All you require are strong marketing skills, a firm grasp of specific technologies, appropriate contacts, a few bucks, a bit of luck, time and perseverance. As you might expect, most of us mere mortals don’t have more than one or two of these, let alone all of them. So, it remains true for most of us, the best route toward success as an author is to place our novel in the capable hands of an agent.

So, how does one go about finding one of these elusive beings? Truth be told? Its difficult. It’s very difficult. However, if you can find that bit of luck, or better yet create your own, there are some things you can do to enhance your prospects.

First and foremost, write that saleable, excellent manuscript to its completion. No exceptions, no excuses. Without a marketable product, the agent has nothing to sell for you and everything else is mute. You may have a magnificent product, but if there is no market to buy it, agents can’t help you. You may have the perfect market, but a substandard novel will never sell. Writing is a business, so deliver a quality product first.

Next, understand two things. Agents are looking for new authors. Every agent wants to land the next Tolstoy or King or Koontz. If you’re not up to the status of these authors, agents will work with you, if you can help make them a living. (No, it’s not all about you and your book.) An agent’s goal is to sell books and they’ll sell your book if you have that marketable product.

The next concept to understand is agents are people too. They’re real people like you and I with children, bosses, vacations, illnesses, bills and all the rest. They’re not horned wild-eyed creatures looking for souls to crush. They actually want you to thrive, for your success breeds their success.

Next, narrow your search to those agents looking for your genre of writing. Consider this. If you’re looking to purchase a new automobile and some guy tries to sell you a table, what are the odds you’ll bite? They’re about the same as an agent who sells children’s books buying your horror story. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

There are any number of avenues by which you might filter the agents to find those who are receptive to your genre.  You can start, of course, with the current “Guide to Literary Agents” at your local bookstore or on the web. You might also consider the Association of Authors’ Representatives Web site at aar-online.org. There is no limit to the resources available to determine which agent will consider your work. Jump on the Internet and get to work.

Next, research the books the appropriate agents have published. This secret just might be one of your most important aspects to landing an agent, by the way. By knowing the agent’s published works, you can compare your manuscript to those they’ve already sold. When you query them later, compare your work to one or more of theirs. As an example, if your novel has exceptionally strong characters, then compare your characters to one or more books the agent has already represented that also have similar characterizations. This gives the agent a handle on what you have to offer and two additional pieces of information. One, you’ve done your research and are knowledgeable about the industry, and two, they already know how to sell your book to their publishers.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll continue with this idea and give you more tips on how to influence an agent to represent you.

Until then, I wish you best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze