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Dispatches From The Publishing Front


The Dos and Don’ts of Submitting to Agents

by Erin Brown

Do Find an Agent Who is Actually Interested 

First thing’s first. Do your research and find an agent who is passionate about your type of book. Savannah’s Broken Heart and Subsequent Bonding with Her Ten Bestest Girlfriends will probably not find a fan with an agent who exclusively reps science fiction. So even though your fellow writer told you the name of a huge agent at William Morris, make sure that he or she actually reps the type of book you’ve written. Exercise your mouse and head to the many Web sites that list agents and what kinds of books they represent. A good one is: www.agentquery.com.

Another method to uncover that perfect match is to find a similar book or novel you admire and look on the acknowledgments page to see whom the author thanks as their agent. But remember, just because you love to read Janet Evanovich doesn’t mean that her agent will be interested in your non-fiction tome on the year you spent eating your way through Russia while solving the world’s financial crisis. So look for a good match or your submission will get thrown in the trash. It’s a waste of postage, time, and energy.



Stuck Where We Were

by Jennifer Paros

Several years ago we had Venetian blinds in our living room that were old and had deteriorated to the point where they could no longer be opened and closed using the handle. Instead, we would fuss with the remaining nub at the top corner of the window frame in order to adjust them.  One day I began daydreaming that I was in our living room struggling to open the blinds.

I stopped, aghast that I was daydreaming broken blinds. I was so used to their broken state, that even when I had the ability to experience them as working (in my imagination) I did not take it. more...


The Verbing of Nouns

by Cherie Tucker

Someone once said, “There is not a noun that cannot be verbed.” Consider these gems from actual writings.  A student in my Practical Grammar for Editors class at the UW submitted a beauty about a shaving gel for women that has been “lotionized.”   A letter told a client his meeting had been “calendared” for June 15.  A restaurant stated it was “menuing salmon today.”

Of course, there are many words that do double duty as verbs and nouns, such as ship, mail, box, or vacuum.  We don’t have trouble with reading or hearing them, but one thing writers never want is to have their words interrupt rather than further their prose.   Writers agonize over word choice.  When the right word comes, writers feel it.  If, however, you use a word that you have rarely heard or seen in just that way before, stop before the thrill of pride in your cleverness washes over you to make sure the word isn’t just silly.




The Finest Place You Know
by Bill Kenower

One of the first pieces of advice a writer looking to find an agent will receive is to pay very close attention to the beginning of his or her novel. If the opening doesn’t grab the agent it won’t grab the editor, and it probably won’t grab the reader. So polish and polish those first five pages, we are told, and then scrub that first paragraph until it blinds you with its reflection.

Yes, yes, and yes. You must have a grabber opening, whatever that means for your particular genre. The opening is your invitation to the reader, so it needs to be as accessible and interesting as possible. In my own experience, I once had an agent ask to see an entire manuscript because she liked the first sentence of the sample pages I’d sent her. I grant then that your opening is not just where your story begins, but the first phase in the long process of marketing your novel. more...

  Seven Big Tips for Describing Characters

by James Thayer

Readers remember a novel’s characters long after the plot has been forgotten.  We still love Lonesome Dove’s Augustus McCrae, but who can remember all that happened to him in Larry McMurtry’s 840-page novel?  We still love Oliver Twist, but we have only a sketchy memory of all the ordeals Dickens put him through. 

A vivid physical description helps make a character memorable.  Here are some techniques to make your characters stick in readers’ minds. more...

Telling the Truth

by Laura Yeager

Are you a fiction writer struggling to publish your fiction, and no one is buying?   

That was my situation five years ago.  In 2004, I considered myself a dyed-in-the-wool fiction writer, but I’d sold only five stories in 20 years.  (Granted, I landed my first published short story at The Paris Review in 1992, but I considered that beginner’s luck.)  I had studied the art of storytelling in three of the best schools in the country, including The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, and I’d earned three degrees in the art of penning tales.  I was even working as a fiction writing teacher at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. 

But in 2005, something extraordinary happened.  My husband and I became parents. more...



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