This is a quick reminder that I have two upcoming webinars in the month of December, Writing Irresistible First Pages and Rock Your Writing Goals. In January, I’m launching a Submission Blueprint with Writing Blueprints, so I’ll be doing a webinar to support that. In February, I’m participating in WriteOnCon. So I’m skipping my own webinars those months, until a planned webinar on interiority in March. That means these December webinars are it for the near future. Join me!
Very informative, I learned a LOT about what the first pages should accomplish. – Dena Pawling
Mary is an approachable expert. She turns a daunting task into something I can do with confidence. – Shelley G.
Saturday, December 8th, 11 a.m. CST: Writing Irresistible First Pages WITH CRITIQUE
A paid webinar that includes comprehensive notes on the first two pages of your novel. This webinar is geared to novel writers of all categories, from middle grade to fantasy. Not only will you hear a wealth of information about how to write successful, eye-catching first pages, but your novel opening will be privately critiqued with helpful feedback. The cost of this webinar with the included critique is $99. The webinar will last one hour and thirty minutes.
Mary’s webinar on Writing Irresistible First Pages was incredibly helpful. Mary is very versed in the subject matter and presents lot of terrific useful information at a good pace. Thank you, Mary! – Charlotte Hebert
You have one month to submit your pages after the webinar date. The submission will be up to two double-spaced pages with 12 pt font and standard 1″ margins. Notes will be returned within three weeks of receipt.
I found this webinar extremely helpful and packed with valuable info. Thank you so much! I feel much more confident to proceed with revising my first chapter. – Amy G.
Saturday, December 29th, 11 a.m. CST: Rock Your Writing Goals Webinar
A fun and motivational free webinar just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions. Let’s spend an hour together this last weekend of December and do some creative brainstorming for the year to come. The webinar will last one hour.
This webinar is for all writers, at all skill levels. I’ll discuss creativity, actionable steps for achieving your writing or publishing goals this year, and send you off into 2019 with a bang!
Ladies and gentlemen, start your Scriveners for NaNoWriMo 2018! It’s officially that time of the year again, when thousands upon thousands of scribes spend the month of November pounding out 50,000 words of prose (or more) in the name of writing achievement, damn it!
Your NaNoWriMo 2018 Success Strategies
For all of this year’s National Novel Writing Month participants, here are three success strategies I’d like to plant in your heads on this, the heady first day of unbridled writing creation.
Don’t Sweat Your Novel Beginning
Edit Your Novel Later
Focus on Character
Let’s unpack these tips one by one.
Don’t Sweat Your Novel Beginning
As I mention in my novel first pages webinar, first pages are so tough to write. Starting a novel can be very intimidating because there’s so much pressure on a novel beginning. That’s why I’m able to speak for over an hour about it, and many books have been written on the topic. (If you missed the webinar, I’ll give it again. See my Webinars and Events page!)
For National Novel Writing Month purposes, don’t sweat your beginning. Besides, you won’t know what your novel opening truly needs to be until you reach the end of the manuscript (on approximately the 30th of this month!). So you can–and should–always go back to the start and revise.
So do your best today and lay some groundwork. Remember to start in action, a compelling scene that introduces the character and kicks things off without immediately sliding into an info-dump of backstory. The balance of action and information is crucial in a novel beginning.
Then leave it. Seriously. Leave it be. It’s going to change. You aren’t going to nail it on the first try. Nobody does. Move on. Because otherwise, you risk getting stuck on your opening, or obsessing about it, and then you may lose your NaNoWriMo 2018 momentum right out the gate.
Which brings me to my next point…
Edit Your Novel Later
Some writers go through an entire novel without looking back at their work once. Some writers hammer and edit and refine on a scene or chapter until it’s perfect, only then do they proceed. For National Novel Writing Month, you obviously want do more of the former and less of the latter, just in the interest of finishing your project.
Writing is writing. Revision is revision. Huh? What I mean to say is, they are two completely different skills. They live in the same neighborhood, but opposites sides of the street. Revision’s for December! (And January, February, March … honestly, it could be a while once the initial rush of creation wears off.)
Some participants psych themselves up for their writing day by reading the previous day’s work. Others barrel straight through. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of going back further than that, at least for the time being. The first week of this exercise is the most important in terms of creating good writing habits.
If you start to read what you’ve written, you may be tempted to revise and, again, might stall out and being nitpicking or obsessing. Most of your success with this project will be created in the revision stages, and those are going to come later, using different parts of your brain and different skills.
You have my permission to step on the gas and ignore your blind spots. For November at least, don’t look back!
Focus on Character
The biggest job in front of you (other than, you know, writing 50,000 words in a single month!) is to get your character down on paper. The first chapter will change (weren’t you listening a minute ago?), the plot will change, individual scenes and descriptions will change. But once you’re able to “birth” a character during National Novel Writing Month, this really will be the anchoring element of your manuscript going forward.
Remember, readers read primarily to bond with character. A writer’s most important job is to make readers care. This comes from character. And it’s never too early to start fleshing out a strong and compelling character. As you write, you can forget the nit-picking and first chapter, but remember to add as much emotional substance to your protagonist as possible. This is where the quick work of creation can really pay off for later drafts.
Have you heard of my concept of interiority? If not, read up on it and keep it in mind on your adventures. The more you get down about your character now, the less you’ll have to develop later. If your manuscript reads like a giant character sketch at the end of the month? I wouldn’t be too upset. You can always shape the character and focus and give them stuff to do (plot) during the revision process.
What Happens After NaNoWriMo 2018?
You might laugh, but literary agents cringe at the end of National Novel Writing Month because their inboxes swell with “novels” on December 1st, nary twelve hours after well-meaning writers have finished their masterpieces. Because a novel is done once the word count gets to 50k, right?
As you’ve heard me suggest several times, the real work, unfortunately, of crafting a novel happens in the months after this one. So whatever you do, as tempting as it is, don’t rush to submit just yet.
Over the winter, I might suggest reading some writing resources. I just dove back into The Anatomy of Story by John Truby. It’s a dense read, but I came away from it with some rewarding ideas. National Novel Writing Month is all about passion and fire and speed. It’s a rush.
Revision is a slow burn. Appreciate both for what they are. You have the rest of the year to revise before this whole crazy trip happens again!
If you want personal feedback on your project, or revision proves overwhelming, hire me as your novel editor. I work on manuscripts in all stages of creation, from WIP to if-I-have-to-look-at-it-one-more-time-I’ll-cry.
The query letter webinar is coming up! As I posted a few weeks ago, I’m going to be trying a new webinar platform and running some independent webinars. This first webinar is “Writing an Irresistible Query” and focuses on nailing that oh-so-elusive document, the query letter. Registration is now live!
Join Me for a Query Letter Webinar
My first-ever query letter webinar is a test run of the class, as well as a webinar software that’s new to me. If you join me for this first outing, I invite you to participate for FREE! All I ask is that you fill out a short feedback survey after the webinar to let me know how you enjoyed the experience.
The webinar will be held:
Saturday, September 29th, at 11 a.m. CDT
All you need is a computer with Internet access and the capability to play video and audio content. The webinar will feature me, speaking on camera, as well as a PowerPoint presentation.
Once you register, you will receive email instructions for joining the webinar live, or watching the recording after the event.
Please clink the link to register for my first-ever query letter webinar, or fill out the form embedded below:
If you can’t make that date or time, please register anyway. As a registrant, you will receive a link where you can replay the recorded program. Please note: Only the first 100 registered attendees will get to view the webinar live, so show up a few minutes ahead of time. There are already more than 100 registered listeners, two days after the link went live. If you really want to hear it live, please plan to be early. If you aren’t able to hear it live, you will still receive the recorded event via email later that afternoon.
I love speaking and teaching, so I hope to bring you more webinars on topics like character, voice, interiority, queries, the agent submission process, etc. If I like this webinar platform (and this is where I’m especially looking for your feedback!), I hope to do one or two events per month.
In the future, different webinars will be free and paid. Paid webinars will always include critique of any relevant documents. For example, the query letter webinar will include critique of, of course, your query letter. To clarify, this September query letter webinar will not include query letter critique because my focus is on testing out the platform.
If you’d like personalized help with your query letter without the wait, consider hiring me as your query letter editor today!
I’ve been really getting into virtual conferences lately, like WriteOnCon. They’re a great (and economical) way of hearing some wonderful presentations without, you know, putting on pants and leaving the house. The best of both worlds!
With that in mind, there are two upcoming ways to hear me speak in September! One is run by the awesome Writer’s Digest University program. Another is something I’m launching independently, the very first of many webinars to come.
Writer’s Digest Middle Grade & Young Adult Virtual Conference
Coming up the weekend of September 14th, you can hear me and several other wonderful presenters discussing about topics specific to writing for middle grade and young adult readers!
My specific presentation, all about character development and the topic of interiority, will be on Saturday, September 15th, at 5 p.m. Eastern. You can learn more about it and register for the event here.
I hope you’ll join me there!
Brand New “Writing an Irresistible Query” Webinar
And then, for my next trick, I’m trying something new. I love speaking directly to writers and teaching live. I love it. But since I have a small child, traveling to a conference can get tricky. (Plus, there’s the whole putting-on-pants thing! What a drag it is to leave the house and make oneself presentable!)
So why don’t you stay in your house, and I stay in my house, and I will come to you! A webinar is the perfect venue for doing just that.
In the next few months, I will be ramping up a webinar program that allows me to speak directly to writers via an online video and audio presentation. Some webinars will be free, others will be paid (but include a critique element to really make them worth your investment). I love speaking, and I am so excited about this!
WHAT: My trial run! And there’s seemingly nothing more interesting to aspiring writers than the query letter, so why not talk about that? In the future, my query letter webinar will be paid because I will also provide critique on attendee queries*. For my first outing, I’m really interested in testing the webinar platform and process, so this is a chance to hop on, hear the presentation, give me feedback, and do it all for FREE!
WHEN: Come join me for the first ever “Writing an Irresistible Query” webinar. Pencil me in on your calendar for Saturday, September 29th, at 11 a.m. Central time. The format will be about 40 minutes of presentation about queries, then some time for questions. (If you cannot make this date and time, the recorded webinar will be available to view at your leisure.)
HOW: More info on registering will appear on the blog in the next few weeks. Registration is first come, first served, and attendance is going to be capped to the first 100 people in the room, so keep an eye on this space! (If we reach the limit, all overflow attendees will be sent the recorded version a few hours after the event, but they won’t be able to ask questions or otherwise interact.)
I will be trying out a new webinar platform. The process promises to be seamless, from registration to email instructions to joining the webinar. You will not have to download any software to participate. The only equipment you’ll need is a computer with Internet access. I’m definitely interested in feedback from attendees on the logistics of the webinar. If you could fill out a brief survey after your experience, I would really, really appreciate it.
I look forward to connecting with you at one of these events in September!
* (To clarify, a critique will not be included with this September presentation because I’d really like to focus on creating the best webinar possible.)
I’ve done a little bit of work for the WriteForKids.org MG/YA Writing Blueprint. (Spoiler alert: I’ll be doing some more work with them soon!) It’s a fantastic video on-demand class on writing MG and YA fiction taught by the incomparable Alice Kuipers.
Alice Kuipers and Laura Backes are doing a webinar to launch this online class on September 12th. Reserve your spot and check it out here. There is no sales pitch, it’s just an informational webinar if you’re interested in learning more about writing MG and YA fiction. The actual MG/YA Blueprint class will be available on September 19th! I’ll post a link when it’s up.
If you sign up for the Blueprint, make sure to find an interview with me about the craft of writing MG and YA in the bonus materials!
I’ll be kicking off an action-packed day with an intensive 90-minute workshop on my absolute favorite topic: character interiority. This is a workshop I’ve given only once before, and I’ve pretty much redesigned it based on feedback from the first class (given at the Loft Literary Center here in Minneapolis in July of 2016). Then I’ll be doing critiques and a faculty panel in the afternoon. The organizers for this event are fantastic, and I couldn’t be more excited.
On a personal note, I haven’t been home since 2013, so it’s going to be so wonderful to catch up with old friends and colleagues, and share the gorgeous City by the Bay with Theo. Life is topsy-turvy for us this summer. We are remodeling our home and moving for four months to a temporary rental. A family vacation is the shining beacon keeping me sane and hopeful through it all.
*”Extravaganza” not guaranteed but I will do my best to deliver one! 🙂
If you are in or near Minneapolis, please come see my workshop on Interiority: Exploring a Character’s Inner Life. This topic is always on my mind. I find myself constantly commenting on interiority (thoughts, feelings, emotions) in client manuscripts. There isn’t a protagonist out there, in my humble opinion, that couldn’t stand to be developed more fully from the inside out.
This is an in-depth three-hour workshop where we’ll really dive into my favorite fiction craft topic. I hope to arm you with some inspiration and knowledge so that you can dive into your protagonist more confidently and deepen your own craft as a fiction writer.
The Loft is still taking registrations and you can find more information here. I’d love to see you on July 23rd.
This is less of a craft post and more of an update. Last month, my husband and I signed on to a restaurant project called Parella that will be opening in the vibrant Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis this summer. I’ll be acting as the wine director, as I’m actually a certified sommelier, which is a fun piece of trivia. Not to worry, I’m still editing almost full-time with a robust list of clients. If you’d like me to help you with any manuscript, query, or publishing conundrum, please see my editorial website.
In other news, I’m participating in an auction and donating a 30-minute phone or Skype consultation with the lucky winner about anything manuscript- or publishing-related. NAAlley.com, along with authors and publishing professionals from around the world have come together to raise awareness of violence against women, as well as show support for an amazing and courageous young lady, Queena–the Bloomingdale Library victim. Back in 2008, Queena was a vibrant eighteen-year-old with a full scholarship to her dream college and her whole life ahead of her. She was returning books to the local library when she was beaten, brutally raped, and left for dead in the swamps behind the library. Queena suffered multiple brain injuries and has lost all motor skills, including speech, vision, the ability to walk, talk, or feed herself.
Now, seven years later, she still requires round-the-clock care and is confined to a wheelchair, but she makes strides every year and can communicate with eye movement and various sounds. Medical expenses and therapy cost over $70K every year, and we want to show Queena how proud we are of her for never giving up.
The Quest for Queena is hosted by www.NAAlley.com and will have various reader and writer related items up for bid. 100% of the proceeds will go to Queena and her family for the therapy that helps Queena progress just a little more with each new year.
Some of the items up for bid include:
Critiques from literary agents Sara Megibow & Cassie Hanjian.
Author education courses and consultations from Authors Training Authors, Stand up-Stand Out-Rake It In, Plot Whisperer, Mary Kole, and more.
Top rated publishing and writing software from Save the Cat, Scrivener, & Vellum.
Design & promotional services from Lola’s Blog Tours, Forward Authority, Colbert Creative, BookGraphics, and StoryFinds.
Editorial consultations & services from respected industry pros.
Autographed books from Leigh Talbert Moore, Brenda Novak, Livia Blackburne, Lydia Kang, Lori M. Lee, Therese Walsh, and so many more!
A VIP pass to UtopYA writers conference.
These are just a few of the amazing items and services. Please visit the auction websitestarting April 27 to bid all week long. Now is your chance to get an excellent deal while supporting a worthy cause at the same time.
On Friday, May 1, NAAlley.com will wrap up the event with a Facebook party, in which all final winners will be announced, as well as more prizes and author visits given away.
Finally, if you struggle with adverbs, I just heard about this easy-peasy tool called “Adverbless” where you can copy and paste your document into an online window and it points out all of those pesky adverbs for you. Give it a whirl, and remember that friends don’t let friends use adverbs. 🙂
When I talk about crafting a fiction logline, I mean a quick and effective sales pitch for your story. It is the same as the “elevator pitch” or your snappy “meets” comparison (Harry Potter meets Where the Wild Things Are!). However, not everyone’s book fits the “meets” way of doing this, so they’re left with constructing their own short sentence to encapsulate their work. That’s where things often get hairy.
Most Writers Struggle With the Fiction Logline
If you think queries and synopses are hard, loglines are often a whole new world of pain for writers. Boiling down an entire book into four pages? Doable. Into a few paragraphs? Questionable. Into a sentence or two?! Impossible.
Or not. The first secret to crafting a good logline is that you should probably stop freaking out about it. If you can get it, good. If not, you can still pitch an agent or editor with a query or a one-minute summation of your story at a conference or if you do happen to be stuck with them in an elevator. Nailing it in one sentence is more of an exercise for you than a requirement of getting published.
How to Write a Great Fiction Logline
That said, my surefire way to think about loglines is as follows:
1) Connect your character to your audience
2) Connect your plot to the market
Let’s examine this. First, begin your logline with your character and their main struggle. This is a way of getting your audience on board. For example, with Hunger Games, Katniss would be “A girl hell-bent on survival…” or “A girl who volunteers herself to save those she loves…”
Now let’s bring plot into it. When you pitch your plot, you always want to be thinking about where it fits in the marketplace. At the time that the first Hunger Games was published, dystopian fiction was white hot as a genre. That’s not so much the case anymore, but if I had been pitching this story at that time, I would’ve definitely capitalized on the sinister dystopian world building.
To connect the plot to the market, I would’ve said something like, “…in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” This says to the book or film agent, “Dystopian! Right here! Get your dystopian!”
Putting Your Novel Pitch Together
So to put it together, “A girl volunteers herself to save those she loves in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” That’s a bit long, and not necessarily elegant, but it definitely hits all of the high notes of the market at that time, while also appealing emotionally to the audience. (Volunteering for a “fight to the death” contest is a really ballsy thing to do, so we automatically want to learn more.)
Notice that here, even the character part involves plot (it focuses on Katniss volunteering).
Fiction Loglines in Character-Driven Novels
If I’m working on a contemporary realistic novel, the “plot to market” part is less salient because we’re not exactly within the confines of any buzzy genre. That’s fine, too. You should probably be aware early on whether you’re writing a more character-driven or plot-driven story. The Hunger Games nails some strong character work, but I would argue that it’s primarily plot-driven, or “high concept.”
With character-driven books, the former part of the logline construction becomes more important. Let’s look at Sara Zarr’s excellent Story of a Girl. The title is pretty indicative of the contents. It’s literally the story of a girl, and the girl is more important than necessarily each plot point that happens to her.
With character-driven, I’d spend most of my time connecting character to audience. I’d say, for example, “A girl from a small town struggles with the gossips around her who refuse to forgive her past mistakes…” This is the girl’s situation for most of the book, and part of her biggest “pain point” as a person. Then I’ll need to indicate the rest of the plot with something like “…must step out from the shadows of her reputation and find out who she really is.”
Notice that here, even the plot part involves character (it focuses on the more subtle work of figuring herself out rather than, say, battling to the death).
Both are solid loglines because both communicate the core of the story and the emphasis of the book (plot-driven vs. character-driven, genre-focused vs. realistic). Try this two-step exercise with your own WIP.
Want help with pitches, queries, or your submission package? Hire me as your novel editor.
I’ve done several posts on writing conferences (some are here). If you’re wondering what to bring to a writers conference, the answers may surprise you. What I want to hammer home to writers about to go to their first or their hundredth writer’s conference is that it’s all about what you make out of it, much like writing-related programs and work experience. Many people go to conferences in the wrong mindset, and it can impact their experience in a bad way.
Writing Conferences Are an Emotional Rollercoaster
For example, they put a lot of emphasis on their pitch session, thinking that whether or not they get a request will mean the conference either was or wasn’t worth the money, respectively. Or they enter a conference-sponsored contest and hang all of their hopes on winning. Or they expect to corner a visiting agent or editor and sell them on the book. In their search for what to bring to a writers conference, they print off ten copies of their 300-page novel. It’s very rare that these American Idol moments happen at conferences, and expecting them is setting yourself up to have a bad time should the stars not align.
But before you think I’m trying to talk you into shooting low at writing conferences, remember that it’s very rare indeed for the stars to align. And even if you make a connection with an editor or agent, it’ll most likely be long after the conference when they’ve finally had a chance to read the manuscript they requested from you at the event. Because that’s how it has always worked for me: I request and read later, not at the table, while the writer is nervously staring at me.
What to Bring to a Writers Conference? Realistic Expectations
Your primary job at writing conferences, therefore, isn’t to walk out of there with a book deal (though I can’t swear this has never happened), it’s to be cool, personable, and open to the experience. Most importantly, it’s to be without agenda. I know this sounds lame. You are paying a lot of money to be there, you’ve likely taken time off work or away from your family. You have a manuscript burning a hole in your hard drive. You don’t yet understand that publishing moves slower than molasses unless you’re one of the very few debuts that’s destined to set the world on fire. While it’s important to have a dream and a strong motivation, it’s more important not to only be there in obvious service of it.
This means chatting with your tablemates at lunch about things other than you project (though you can definitely discuss it). Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or learn about another genre. This means introducing yourself to visiting authors, agents, and editors without immediately launching into your pitch. (Most of my most successful writing conferences have yielded writers who chatted me up about something random, had a good sense of humor, and were very casual-yet-professional about getting a card and following up with business later.) This means using your pitch session as a fun practice exercise in distilling your ideas instead of The End All And Be All Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity you might think it is. What to bring to a writers conference? A sense of humor and a casual vibe.
Writing Conferences Are Just a Piece of Your Success Puzzle
Expectations are hard in that they’re always present and always tied to emotion. Writing expectations, especially, because they have to do with something so personal and creative. But everyone has a different path to publication and a different path once published. Any of my clients will tell you that having a book out in the world is great but (and there’s always this but) nothing like they expected or imagined.
The house is late in processing your payment. Your book does unexpectedly well or poorly. You get questions from readers that blow your mind. Your book gets banned because of one word from a school library. Your next book isn’t picked up or you end up scrambling to write a sequel because of demand. Your editor leaves. You switch houses. Your house announces a huge merger with another house. And on and on and on. Everyone is in a long learning curve together in this publishing business, and every time I think I’ve seen or heard it all, a new story emerges that changes my perspective on it.
The best way to go to writing conferences is to temper your expectations, be casual and professional, make a good impression by being friendly and curious, and take as many notes as you can on sessions that interest you. I recommend conferences 100% but I have been to hundreds of them and can tell you now that one isn’t going to change your life. That’s not to say that you won’t get an idea, have an “aha!” moment, or meet someone who is going to be part of your journey. Go into the experience with your head in the right place and be open to anything.