Posts Tagged With: literary agents

How to Win NaNoWriMo Like a Pro

To win National Novel Writing Month, you have to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Sound impossible?  Not if you break it down to a daily word count of 1,667 words.  Heck, bump it up just a couple hundred words more and you can take Sundays off.

Is it easy?  No, but then again, I usually write more than 50,000 words every month, so NaNo doesn’t seem like such a stretch for me.  And if I can do it, so can you.  If you want to win NaNoWriMo, you can, and these four easy writing tips can help you do it in style.  Follow them and before long you’ll know how to write a novel like a professional.  Does it get any better than that?

Step 1: Two Dogs, One Bone

Your main character (protagonist) wants something.  What is it, exactly?  Write it down.  Now think about the one person who stands in the way, preventing your protagonist from getting what she wants.  This enemy (also known as an antagonist) must want something that directly contradicts your main character’s desires.  If one character wants to save the world, the other wants to destroy it.  If one character wants to prove a suspect innocent, the other wants him hanged.  If one wants to unearth a secret, the other wants to keep it hidden.  You get the idea. 

Picture it like two dogs fighting over the same bone.  One one can have it.  At the end of the fight, someone is going to be very unhappy.

Step 2: Collect ‘Em All To Win

Over the course of your novel, your main character will take a journey, either literally or metaphorically.  There will be several distinct checkpoints on this journey, obstacles that must be overcome, places that must be visited, truths that must be found.  At each one, your character gains something invaluable: a clue, an insight, a new direction, something.  Each scene leads to the next in a sort of literary scavenger hunt, until your protagonist finally reaches her destination.

You can make the journey easier to write by mapping out the “tokens” your character must collect to “win” the story.  If it’s a murder mystery, for example, she needs to find enough clues to identify the killer.  If it’s a romance, she needs to overcome the issues that would otherwise doom the relationship.  What does your character need to find?

Step 3: Captain and Crew

One character does not a novel make.  For some reason, I see a lot of first novels focused on the loner, the outsider, the enigmatic stranger who holds allegiance to no one.  I think that’s a mistake, because the relationships between characters form a big part of what keeps readers hooked on a story.

Think of your main character like a captain on an old sailing ship.  To survive the lengthy voyage ahead, the captain needs a rock-solid understanding of his crew.  He needs to know who’s got which skills, who’s loyal and who might mutiny, who can be trusted to stand watch and who spends their off hours drinking and dicing below decks.  When the captain misjudges someone, things go terribly wrong.  So who’s in your main character’s crew?

Step 4: Houston, We Are Go For Launch

Once you’ve nailed down what your character wants, what she must do to get it, who stands in the way and who’s along for the ride, the last step is deceptively simple: just write it.  Sit down, turn off your internet and force yourself to start writing something.  Anything.  Don’t stop until you’ve hit your word count for the day.

If you’ve set up the first three steps properly, you’ll never be at a loss for what to write.  You’ll laugh in the face of writer’s block.  Because it all comes back to the same basic questions: What does my character want?  Why?  Who stands in the way?  What does my character need to do next?

Then… just write it.

NaNoWriMo Rules

Just in case you’re looking for the official NaNoWriMo rules, here they are, fresh-squeezed from the National Novel Writing Month website:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: For Writers, how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Be Your Own Book Editor

Last time, I talked about how to get (and handle) constructive feedback on your novel without losing your mind.  If you haven’t read that post, go back and check it out.  (Hey, why not?  It’s free!)  Now, here’s how to be your own novel editor and rewrite your book manuscript like a pro.  Ready?

1)  Clone it.  
Make a new copy of your manuscript on your computer.  It’s crucial to keep a backup copy, just in case.  (Do you hear the pained voice of experience, here?  Indeed you do.)  In your new copy, cut out everything that’s “dead wood” at this point — any characters you’re going to remove, any subplots, major structural elements like that.  If you have ideas for specific new scenes you’re planning to add, put in some placeholders.  (“Car chase goes here!”  Or “He declares his love here!”  It depends on your genre.)

2)  Print that sucker out.
Punch it and put it in a gigantic 3-ring binder.  I’m partial to the old-fashioned kind with steel hinges.  They tend to last longer.  Which is good, because you’re about to put it through some serious abuse.

3)  Use your noggin.
Spend a lot of time skimming back and forth through this epic tome, looking for new ideas.  New characters, new scenes, new description, snippets of dialogue, anything.  As you come up with new material, hand-write it or type it (on a typewriter, if you’re feeling retro) on 3-hole paper and stick it right into the manuscript where it goes.  Why not use a computer for this part?  Because you want to get messy.  You want to give yourself permission to really scramble things up and possibly come up with something brand new and brilliant.  A computer is too sterile.  It makes your writing look like it’s done.  Which it’s not.  So get messy.

4)  Work it, baby.
Believe it or not, you’re rewriting your novel.  Right now.  The more time you spend on this mess, the more it will gradually transform into a shiny new draft.  It’ll be a beautiful thing, trust me.  The trick is that by doing this on paper, and flipping back and forth through the novel, you’re training your brain to handle the whole thing at once.  Sort of like a long-distance runner preparing for a marathon.  Except that you can do this in your slippers.

5)  Re-type it.
When your novel feels done (and you’ll know it when it happens), re-type the whole thing into your computer from beginning to end, fixing grammar and all of that other stuff as you go.  If you’re wondering, yes, I do wear the letters off my keyboards.

6)  Celebrate!  
You just became your own developmental story editor and revised your novel into a solid new draft.  It’s better now than ever before, I guarantee.  People will notice the difference in quality.  And by “people” I mean literary agents, editors, those sorts of people.  Way to go!

A disclaimer:  Obviously, this is the method that works best for me; your mileage may vary.  When I talk about this method of revising a novel, I get the most push-back about retyping the whole thing.  Why re-type your manuscript when it’s already in the computer? 

Because first off, if you haven’t marked up every single page of your manuscript with changes, then you haven’t edited it enough.  Trust me.  Besides, if you read a page to yourself and then re-type it, it will simply come out better.  Your brain will pick up on all of the little bumps and tend to smooth them out.  Your writing will flow more naturally, it will sound more authentic, and you’ll increase your chances of getting published.  ‘Nuff said!

Do you have a writing question?  Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel?  Just ask!  And if you try this method and like it, let me know!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Get a Novel Critique and Love It

Anyone who has ever gone through the pain and joy of publishing a novel can tell you that writing a novel is just the first step.  It might be the hardest part, but even after you type “The End” there’s still a lot more work to be done.  You need to revise and edit your novel before you send it off to literary agents or editors.  But in order to do that, you need to get good feedback on your novel.  You need a critique.  Here’s how to make the most of it:

1)  First, give your novel to someone else to read.
The best way to do this is to join a critique group.  You might find one advertised at your local bookstore, or you can find one by looking online.  Finding the right critique group is an art in itself.  Try looking for a writing organization in your state, or search by genre (,, Mystery Writers, etc.).  Or even Backspace.  If any of your friends are savvy fiction readers, you could try to pawn off your manuscript on them, but that path is fraught with its own dangers.

2)  Be patient!  

Even though you desperately want your feedback right away, you actually need some time away from your novel manuscript to gain a little perspective.  And your friends need time to read your novel, think about it and point out all of its problems in a way that won’t make you want to throw yourself off a cliff.

3)  Listen and write it down.
That’s so important, I’m going to repeat it.  When you finally do get feedback, you need to do just two things: listen and write it down.  Don’t defend your work, don’t explain anything, and above all, don’t argue.  Just transform yourself into a bobble-head doll and nod along as you write down everything they say, even if it sounds like idiocy.

4)  Put your notes away for as long as you can stand.  
A week is good.  A month is better.  Seriously.  Because only with time will you be able to tell just how valuable those notes are, and what a tremendous gift of insight your friends have handed you.

5)  Brainstorm.
Once you’ve had time to clear your thoughts, read through the notes and brainstorm as much as possible.  Write notes to yourself about specific things you could do to make the book better.  You’re not looking for carved-in-stone solutions right now, just options.  Come up with as many ideas as you can.

Spend some time doing all of that, and then coming up next, I’ll walk you through the steps of being your own developmental story editor.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Write A Synopsis the Quick and Easy Way

If you’ve ever tried to write a synopsis before, you know that it’s anything but quick and easy.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just sink into your beach chair, dig your toes in the sand and toss off your synopsis between sips from a coconut with an umbrella in it?  Obviously, that’s not going to happen.  But I’m about to show you the next best thing: a painless way to get your synopsis done in record time.


First, grab a stack of index cards and a handful of different colored pens.  (Or grab one pen and a handful of different colored cards.  Whatever works for you.)

Pick a color for your main character.  Take a card and write down the main problem your character faces at the beginning of your novel.  What’s wrong in this character’s life that desperately needs to be fixed?  Write it out as succinctly as possible.  If you can, get into a single sentence, like this: Jane is a struggling entrepreneur with a great invention but no money to build it.

Now grab another card.  Still using that same color, fast-forward to the end of the story and write down how that problem is resolved.  How are things different now?  If you can, focus on a single specific moment where the protagonist irrevocably ends the problem.  Again, keep it brief.  Example: Jane finally signs a million-dollar deal and starts her own company.

Now, choose a handful of key events that link the beginning of the story to the end.  Write each one on a card, again in a single sentence.  Focus only on the most crucial moments — no more than, say, six cards.  The trick is to stick with this ONE character and ONE story.  Don’t worry about anyone else or any of your subplots.  Just follow this one story line from beginning to end in half a dozen beats.

Once that’s done, set those cards aside and take a deep breath.  Now choose a different color and repeat the exercise with your second most important character, then your third.  If you have an important subplot, like a romance, you can do a set of cards for those, too — but only a few cards!  Focus strictly on the most important events, and leave out the rest.

And yes, you’ll have to leave out a lot.  But the simple truth is that your novel is far too long and complex for anyone to condense down to a few pages.  If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be much of a novel, would it?

Now comes the fun part.  Spread your cards out on a table (or the floor, if you have to) and put them all in sequential order, from the beginning of the story to the end.  Pretend you’re assembling them into one massive timeline.  If something doesn’t make sense, rearrange the cards as needed.  When you’re finished, you should have one thick stack of cards that starts at the beginning of your story and proceeds straight through to the end, like a super-condensed version of your novel.

Which is also known as a synopsis.  How cool is that?

Finally, head to your keyboard and type it all up, straight from the cards.  Put in paragraph breaks where they look good, but don’t worry about changing it too much.  Resist the urge to embellish or explain anything.  If you need to do any of that, you can do it later, when you rewrite it.  For now, just bask in the glow of knowing that you’ve done an amazing job of writing your synopsis.  Now it’s time for coconuts and baby umbrellas!

Do you have a burning writing question?  Want me to look over your synopsis? Just ask!

Categories: how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What Is a Synopsis?

This is a popular question, mostly because everyone seems to define a synopsis differently.  Is it one page or fifty?  Does it give away the ending or not?  Here’s what you need to know.

A synopsis is a condensed description of your entire novel told in present tense.  It’s similar to the back cover copy (or jacket copy) of a published novel, and for good reason.  Both of them are used to sell a novel to someone.  The jacket copy sells it to the reader; but long before that happens, the synopsis sells your novel to the editor.  One of the things an editor wants to know is that you’ve written a good story from beginning to end, which is why a synopsis also includes the ending of the story (whereas the jacket copy almost never does).  The trick is to remember that a synopsis is actually a sales tool, rather than a literary work.  Keep that in mind, and it’ll make the process of writing one go a lot easier.


  • Double-spaced 12-point Courier or Times New Roman
  • One-inch margins all around
  • Tell the story in third person, present tense
  • The first time you mention a character, put her name in ALL CAPS
  • Omit any dialogue
  • Keep it short; 1-2 pages if possible
  • At the end, put “THE END” or just ###

Not sure how to go about writing a synopsis?  Fret not.  Tune in next week and I’ll show you how to write a synopsis the quick and easy way.  No kidding! 

And in the meantime, if you have a writing question, just ask.

Categories: how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Fast Ways to Stop Editing Yourself

Write a novel on an AlphaSmart.  Why not?

Q:  When I’m writing a novel, how do I stop myself from going back and fixing things?  As I write, I’m afraid to even look at the screen because I’ll hate what I wrote.  I keep my eyes focused on my desk instead, or on objects that I’ve collected in my writing space that are inspirational to my story.  When I watch what I’m typing, I write much cleaner sentences with less typos, but I feel like I’m never going to finish my novel.  This is hard, because I want to figure out how to become a writer and someday publish a book.  I feel like I’m not getting any closer to finishing my novel!

A:  Okay, it’s time for my #1 free writing tip: Don’t panic.  What you’re experiencing is normal for aspiring writers (and heck, published authors fall prey to it, too).  Your writer brain is trying to create and edit at the same time, and it’s choking you up.  You’re getting distracted by the words you’ve already written, rather than pushing forward toward the end of the scene.  But with some practice, you can break the habit.  Here’s my advice: whenever you find yourself bogged down while you’re writing, take a moment to notice where your eyes are going.  Are they on the sentence you just wrote?  Or are they going back to the beginning of the page?  If you’re getting tripped up by the temptation to go back and revise while you’re writing, here are a few simple tricks to beat that problem.

1)  Change your writing software.
Minimize your screen so that you can only see a few lines of text at a time.  A basic program like Notepad works great for this.  It narrows your focus to just the words in front of you, so you don’t get distracted.

2)  Get a word processor.
Switch to an old-fashioned word processor with a small screen, for the same reason.  You can find old battery-powered word processors all over eBay.  I’ve written on an AlphaSmart for over a decade, and I love it.  I highly recommend the AlphaSmart Neo.

3)  Write your novel longhand.  
The act of putting down one word after another, in ink, forces you to keep moving forward toward the end of a scene.  Plus, you get to shop for cool pens and call it “working.”  My favorite: a Fisher Space Pen.  Write anywhere, anytime, even in zero-gee.  Why not?

4)  Write your book on a typewriter.  

Yes, a typewriter.  True writerly geekiness is as close as your neighborhood thrift shop.  Like writing longhand, a typewriter prevents you from going back and re-working the words you’ve already written.  It’s also faster, albeit noisier, than a pen.  Finding ribbons can be a bit of a hassle, but typing just has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like a Writer with a capital W.

5)  Make time to write.
Set a kitchen timer for five minutes (or 10, or even 20) and force yourself to keep writing, nonstop, for the entire time.  You’ll break through those nitpicking tendencies, find your groove and start pumping out the manuscript pages.

No matter what you do, the goal is to get something, anything, written.  You can always go back and edit it later.  Keep trying different writing methods until you find what works best for you.  Remember, the only “right” way to do it is the way that gets it written! 

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Win Writing Contests or Die Trying

As I write this, my unpublished novel Cold Million is a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest, which is held every year by the incomparable Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.  The competition is stiff.  I’m up against some of the finest undiscovered writers in Colorado.  In fact, a couple of the finalists in my category are good friends of mine, not to mention being members of my critique group.  (It would be even more ironic if we’d actually planned it this way.)  The good news is that no matter how this turns out, odds are that someone in our group will bring home the prize.  That’s an incredible feeling.

If you’re thinking about entering a writing contest, remember that you want to get the most out of it.  Ask yourself a few simple questions:

1. When is the writing contest deadline?
Write it down on your calendar. Use it to motivate you to write your story, get feedback and polish it until it shines.  There’s nothing like a deadline to get you writing.

2. Does the writing contest supply a critique?
Feedback is essential to your growth as a writer.  If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, how can you fix it?  Sadly, most of the time, when an aspiring writer sends out a story, the response is . . . crickets.  Silence.  Perhaps a curt, “Thanks, but not for us.”  That’s just the way the business is.  Wouldn’t it be nice if someone gave you a gentle nudge in the right direction?  Look for a writing contest that will give you some kind of a critique, so you can learn from it and write better next time.

3. Is there a writing conference involved?
When a writing contest ties in with a conference, you get a double dose of writerly goodness.  Not only do you get a chance to have your writing evaluated by professionals, you often get a chance to meet those editors and literary agents in person.  Take a few classes, sit in on a seminar and soak up everything you can about the craft and business of writing.

That’s it.  As long as the contest is reputable (check Preditors & Editors if you aren’t sure), it matches your genre and you can afford the entry fee, then why not?  Follow the writing contest guidelines closely, polish up your best work and just go for it.

Notice that in this whole list, I didn’t mention the prize.  Why?  Because although writing prizes are nice, they’re not the reason to enter a contest.  Your singular goal is to become a better writer.  Making new friends at the conference is always nice, and getting kudos for a job well done can really lift your spirits. But none of it means anything unless you’re growing as a writer.  Every time you have an “Aha!” moment and learn to do something better, you take a step closer to becoming a published author.  So even though only one person can take home the prize, every single person who becomes a better writer comes out a winner.

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Is Copyright, Exactly?

What is copyright?

Want to protect your work against copyright infringement without convincing literary agents and publishers that you’re a complete amateur? (Or worse, a paranoid loon?)  Here are a few simple points to remember.

Basically, copyright protects the embodiment of an idea in a tangible form.  That can mean a published book (or movie, or song, etc.), but it can also be something you’ve typed on your computer or even scrawled out in less-than-perfect handwriting.  The important distinction is that it’s tangible; I can print it out or point to it and say, “There it is.”

Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, however.  Let’s take this admittedly historically inaccurate situation between two writers:

CHARLOTTE:  I believe I shall endeavor to write a book about pride — and also about prejudice.

JANE:  Hold fast, you insipid cow!  I have already written such a book.  I shall sue the petticoats off of you! 

Despite Jane’s protestations, Charlotte is actually free to write about pride (and also prejudice) to her heart’s content.  Why?  Because she’s working from an idea, not a tangible piece of writing.

What Charlotte cannot do, however, is copy and paste any actual passages from Jane’s book or unpublished manuscript.  That would be plagiarism, also known as stealing, which would indicate that Charlotte has gone over to the Dark Side and must be dealt a suitably swift and period-specific punishment.

So what does all of this mean to you?  First, remember that the moment you start writing a book, it’s protected under copyright law.  You don’t need to stamp the copyright symbol all over it.  (In fact, I recommend you don’t.  It just looks tacky.)  Second, if you’re really concerned about protecting your work, you can register it with the copyright office.  It’s relatively cheap and easy, and it gives you much more robust legal protection.  Here’s the link:

By the way, the term trademark refers to something else entirely.  A trademark is something that you use to identify a product or service.  It could be a name, a title, a slogan, that sort of thing, e.g. Coca Cola.  And a patent applies to an invention or a method of doing something.  Neither term is related to copyright, so as long as you’re writing a novel and not inventing the next trendy soft drink, you don’t really need to worry about those.

The insidious Charlotte, however, might be in for a world of hurt.

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Free Writing Websites

Learn how to write a novel the right way.

Wait, don’t tell me, let me guess — you, dear reader, want to learn how to write a novel!  (Well, the fact that you’re on a web site called “You Can Write A Novel” conveniently gives it away.)  I’ve always believed that when you want to learn how to publish a book, you ask the literary agents, publishers and authors who already work in the business. 

So for your benefit, I’ve put together a few helpful writing links.  These top-notch writing websites are all chock full of the wisdom you need to achieve your dream of learning how to write a book.  Check ’em out!

Literary Agent Kristin Nelson’s Blog

Writer’s Digest

Science Fiction Writers of America

Mystery Writers of America

Romance Writers of America

Preditors & Editors

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

P.S.  Got any suggestions for more writing websites?  Send me an email!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When in Doubt, Check Preditors & Editors

Preditors & Editors

Have you been approached by a literary agent who wants to charge you a reading fee, has pointed you to a private “commercializing” service or seems just a little bit TOO slick to be a good catch?  It seems like the moment you decide you’re going to write a book, the sharks start circling. 

Time to protect yourself.  And in this case, knowledge is the best weapon.  Before you sign on the dotted line, check out those literary agents and editors on Preditors & Editors.  One look at that site could protect your fledgling writing career, spare immeasurable heartache and save you a stack of cash.  No joke.

Long before I sold my first piece of writing, I relied on Preditors & Editors to steer me clear of trouble.  (And since I’m now signed with a “highly recommended” literary agent, I’d say it worked out nicely!)  P&E is the gold standard when it comes to evaluating whether someone is trying to lift up your career — or just lift your wallet.

Dave Kuzminski, tireless editor of Preditors & Editors, has worked hard for years to spare people like you and me from the gnashing teeth of literary sharks.  He’s kind of like a caped superhero to the aspiring writer crowd.  He’s taken on scammers and unsavory characters of all kinds — he’s even been sued over it — and emerged as a shining sentinel of truth, justice and the “highly recommended.”

(And in case you’re wondering:  Yes, my humble website You Can Write a Novel is listed on Preditors & Editors.  I’m so proud!)

So protect yourself.  Check out ANYONE before you sign a contract.  Go ahead, it’s free!

Categories: writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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