I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Shout-Out to my Followers!!!

What with it being Writer Wednesday and with Rach Writes... reaching such a lovely round number of followers (thanks guys!), I thought it the perfect time to send out a shout-out.

"Who to?" you may ask.

"Ummm, well YOU of course!"

So a big hello to all my new followers (*jumps up and down and waves*), and a big "You guys rock!" to all my peeps who have joined me along the way.

I'm loving sharing my writing journey with you all, and I hope to hear all about your journeys too as we go along!!! :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Writers' Platform-Building Crusade - Rock On Crusaders!!!

For those of you who missed it, check out my original Writers' Platform-Building Crusade post. There's been a fantastic amount of interest from others who, like me, are wanting to build their online platform and support other writers and platform-builders at the same time.

To date we have 20 Crusaders - woot!!! Check them out on the blog roll in my sidebar. This is an ongoing thing peeps! Our aim is to have fun with our blogging, to make connections, and to actively support each other in our journeys toward being published.

The more the merrier - we'd love to have you join in! Just drop me a comment in the original post, follow the directions in the post, and I'll add you to the list.

So, what's next, I hear my fellow Crusaders ask. Here goes:
  1. don't forget to blog about the Crusade and follow along with Rach Writes... if you haven't already. Subscribe by email if you don't want to miss any posts;
  2. check out your fellow Crusaders in my sidebar. Pop by their sites, follow along, drop them a comment to say hi. It's fantastic to see some of you doing this already!
  3. keep in touch with other Crusaders. We all love getting comments, so go nuts! Read and comment on our articles (and share links on your own blogs), join in our competitions, and make up your own Crusader blog rolls on your site so your followers can join in the fun;
  4. take part in the Crusader Challenges (first Challenge coming on Friday, woohoo!!!);
  5. spread the word about the Crusade as we blog along. Tell your followers what you're doing. How's the Crusade working? Are you enjoying the Challenges? Have you made heaps of new connections? Increased your followers? How's your platform-building going?
  6. make sure you include links back to my original post (http://bit.ly/9kMySK) whenever you blog about the Crusade, so your followers can check us out too.
It's so fantastic to have you all on board! I can't wait to share this journey with you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Insider Scoop – Interview with Jody Hedlund (Author of The Preacher's Bride)

Welcome to The Insider Scoop, where I’ll be bringing you interviews, useful tips and tricks, and all sorts of insightful information from those deep within the children's book industry.

Today, I’m pleased to introduce author Jody Hedlund. Jody is a debut historical romance novelist who was a double finalist in the 2009 ACFW Genesis Contest. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Midland, Michigan, with her husband and five busy children.

Jody is represented by agent Rachelle Gardner and her debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, is releasing in Oct. 2010 (it’s available on Amazon.com and will be in most bookstores).

So let’s dive straight into some questions…

How would you describe your own writing style?

It’s always hard to see our reflection in the mirror and describe what we see. But I’ll try! I think that I aim to have a plot-driven story, with deep characters, as well as weaving in authentic historical details (since I write historical romances). I’d also describe myself as a tight-writer, mostly fast-paced, and constantly looking for ways to add tension and conflict to my story-lines.

Rach: What a great way to describe your writing style. And it’s so important to add that tension and conflict, isn’t it, to keep your characters on their toes and your readers turning the page for more…

Are you working on a new WIP at the moment? If so, what are your writing goals?

I’m currently working on completing in-house edits on my second contracted book. That involves several different types of edits over several months span. In between all of the editing, I’ve begun researching my third book. It’s my hope to finish researching and plotting in the next couple of months because I’m happiest when I’m in the middle of the actual writing process.

Rach: Sounds like you’re hugely busy. And with five children as well – wow!!! I’m amazed you find the time, you must be so organized.

What is the best piece of advice you can give aspiring writers as they reach for their writing dreams?

Constantly be looking for ways to grow in the craft of writing. Read books to improve fiction-writing techniques, practice what you’re learning, and write more than one book. We can never go wrong when we seek to grow in our writing abilities. In fact, growth and perseverance are key factors to success in this industry.

Rach: I love this advice – will definitely be taking it on board!

Your debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, is being released on Oct. 1, 2010. How are you feeling about the launch?

I’m excited and nervous at the same time! A debut is such a special time in a writer’s life. For most of us, it’s the accumulation of years and years of hard work. But it’s also very intense realizing that people are beginning to read my book and getting a firsthand look at my writing style and ability. It’s somewhat unnerving to come under intense scrutiny from fellow writers. But so far, the feedback I’m getting from both writers and readers is positive. I’m bracing myself for negatives too, because I know I won’t be able to please everyone.

Rach: Can’t wait to read the book, and congratulations on its release. So exciting!!!

Lastly, the all important question: cupcakes or chocolate???

How about chocolate cupcakes with loads of rich chocolate frosting on top? Last year for my birthday, that’s exactly what my husband bought for me from a gourmet cupcake shop, and they were divine!

Rach: Yum!!! Best of both worlds…


Thank you so much Jody for your time today. Make sure you keep an eye out for Jody’s book when it’s released later this week, and stop by her blog, Author, Jody Hedlund, where she chronicles her journey to publication and dispenses heaps of writing wisdom.

And pop back to The Insider Scoop next Monday for Part 2 of my interview with Caitie Flum, ex-agent intern and proofreader (you can read Part 1 here).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters – The Great Blogging Experiment

So, you’ve decided who your main character is. A girl, 16 years of age. You’ve come up with a cool name; oh, let’s say, “Z”. What then? How do you bring Z to life in the mind of your readers? ‘Cause it sure won’t be enough just to list name, age, rank, and serial number. Nor simply a physical description (and do you even want to give a detailed physical description, or let the readers imagine Z for themselves – though that’s a whole ‘nother topic in itself).

How to bring Z to life? How to make Z so compelling that the reader actually cares about what happens to her? Hmm…

Here are my top tips:
  1. think big, and I mean BIG. Before Z can be a compelling character on paper and in the reader’s mind, she needs to exist in your own. She’s the girl who has just moved in next door, but do you really want to get to know her? Or would you walk right by her in the street without even really noticing her. What, a sixteen-year-old girl just walked by??? Oops, didn’t even see her there.
  2. pretend Z is a real person, with likes and dislikes, wants and needs. Some of these will be readily apparent right from the start, and others might just creep in and surprise you. Z’s phobia about turtles, for example. I mean, really, who’s scared of turtles! As your main character comes to life in your mind, that will influence the way you write about them on paper. Hard to avoid making them compelling, really, when they’re so real to the writer!
  3. why does she insist on being called “Z” anyway? Share enough of her past to make her interesting. She’s named after Great-Aunt Zelda. She thinks the name “Z” fits well with her spunky attitude. “M” was already taken (*waves to James Bond fans*). We won’t know unless you tell us. Or even better, show us!
  4. what motivates Z? What is she after in life? Her first boyfriend. Her first kiss. Her first relationship with a vampire/werewolf/zombie/other paranormal creature. A real friend. Revenge. Acceptance. You name it, the reader will be able to better connect with your main character if they understand what motivates her.
  5. how does Z react to life’s challenges? Well, she certainly doesn’t passively accept the big pie in the face from the man (or woman!) upstairs in the sky. And she’ll have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the altar of social responsibility and upright teenager-ness. Sometimes she just wants to stand there and yell swear-words at the top of her lungs. However Z reacts, react she should. How else do we become invested in her life? How else do we want to know what will happen to her?
See what I mean. In just a few simple sentences here in this blog, Z is already starting to spring to life. Actually, I think I might just make her the main character in my next WIP.

Can’t wait to see how you make your Z compelling!

Join the Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade

In the spirit of the The Great Blogging Experiment, I’m putting out a call to all aspiring writers and start-up bloggers who want to connect with people in a similar position, increase their followers, and further develop their on-line platform. Check out my Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade post for details on how to join in. I’ll be publishing a list of all fellow Crusaders on my blog, so we can network together and have fun with our blogging.

And (*drumroll*) the first Crusader Challenge will be taking place next week!!!

Would love to have you along.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Insider Scoop – Interview with Caitie Flum, ex-agent intern and proofreader (Part 1)

Welcome to The Insider Scoop, where I’ll be bringing you interviews, useful tips and tricks, and all sorts of insightful information from those deep within the children's book industry.

Today, I’m pleased to introduce Caitie Flum, a past agent intern with Hachette Book Group and Writers House, and a proofreader in the medical industry. Caitie has kindly agreed to answer some questions and give us the insider scoop on a day in the life of an agent intern, how to stand out from the slush pile, and the query assessment process. Look out in particular for Caitie’s insights into the specific things that agent interns – often the first line of defense for a literary agent when dealing with unsolicited queries – keep an eye out for in a query or manuscript submission.

I’ll be posting this interview in three parts as follows:

Part 1 – a day in the life of an agent intern (today)

Part 2 –evaluating queries (the inner workings of a literary agency) (Monday 4 October 2010)

Part 3 – the specific things that agent interns report on when assessing queries/manuscript submissions for a literary agent, plus more about queries (Monday 18 October 2010)

Well, without further ado, let’s dive into Part 1 of this interview…

Question 1 - You've interned for Hachette Book Group and Writers House in the past. Are you working at an agency now?

I am actually not at another agency right now, I am working as a proofreader in the medical industry and WOW is it different! I miss books.

Rach – that would be a pretty different world I imagine!

Question 2 - Can you share with us the average day of an agent intern?

At Writers House I was always one of the first people there since I had a far commute and it was easier to come in early than stay later. I would go up to my desk outside of the assistant's office and do what everyone would expect an intern to do -- make the coffee. Sometimes, if no one was at the front desk yet, I would buzz people in. But, most of the time, my day would start with me checking the intern email that my assistant set up to see if she sent me anything the night before (I had to bring my own computer and find the Ethernet cables).

Our emails were connected, so there were a lot of times that she would have instructions attached to the email queries we got (rejection, ask for partial or the elusive ask for exclusive full). After a while, she decided that since people technically shouldn't have been sending queries to the email, I got to make the decision. I think it was also because she trusted my judgment.

After going through the emails, I would go back downstairs and check for mail...and we got a LOT of mail. WH prefers snail mail submissions so that meant a lot of sorting. After that I would take the mail up for my two agents and go through it. Queries would all go in a pile, then I would pass the contracts and statements to the assistant and personal mail to the agent.

Then the query process would start. I would read through all the queries and usually just marked one letter at the top Y, M, or N. A lot of times I put an explanation just so she could see why I was giving opinions, or more likely, when I was trying to get the assistant to request something. In the second half of the internship, she trusted my judgment on these too and started only asking to see the ones I said Y or M to (since in my first 3 months there I had never said N to something she would have said Y to).

Usually I finished in time to go grab a quick lunch. My afternoons were mostly spent reading through partials. The assistant would email me the writers email with the attachment and I would be able to read them on my computer. I would also have their original query so I could remember why we wanted it in the first place, and so I could write my comments on the back. It was the same kind of thing - a Y, M, or N with a much more detailed reasoning. I always put those in her box so she could look and anything that I would start pushing her to read the ones that I loved (which was a HUGE part of my internship. Assistants hate slush.). At this point, if I had said M to the query and it was not absolutely fantastic, I would just reject it.

I would usually do those all afternoon along with other tasks with contracts, royalty statements etc.

Rach – Wow, That’s fantastic insight, Caitie. We always hear about the dreaded slush pile, but it’s fascinating to hear how our query or partial is reviewed. It’s comforting to know that our work at least gets looked at, but more than a little intimidating to see just how the process works!


A final word from Caitie:

I have a book blog where I also discuss the publishing world at caitieflum.wordpress.com. If you look on that blog, you will see I am currently accepting queries/partials from writers who want a critique. I will give you what I gave the assistant.

Thanks so much for your time today, Caitie. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview…

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writers' Platform-Building Crusade

What a fantastic response we've had already to the Rach Writes... Inaugural Writers' Platform-Building Crusade! And we're still only just kicking off, so keep on spreading the word...

It's great to see some of you already checking out the other Crusaders' blogs and commenting along - love those comments!!!

I'll be posting the start of the Crusader list on my blog in the next few days, so make sure you go and follow along with your fellow Crusaders if you haven't already.

And keep checking back here for updates (I think there's a little glitch in my blogger feed so my blog posts aren't showing up on people's dashboards). Subscribe by email if you don't want to miss anything...

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Rach Writes... Inaugural Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade (what fun!!!)


There are so many of us out there. Aspiring writers, beginner bloggers, industry peeps, even published authors, all who want to build their online platforms. We write insightful posts and articles, actively blog within the blogosphere, take part in challenges, competitions, and contests galore.

We have the passion and the drive to make it, but…we could do with a few more followers.

So, I started thinking. What if we link all these people together. What if we create a way to meet people in a similar position, people who genuinely want to help build our online platform while at the same time building theirs. People who want to pay it forward in the spirit of writerly writerness and blogging beautificity (and see it come back to them in turn)!!!

And here it is…

I’m kicking off the Rach Writes… Inaugural Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade.

How cool is that!!!

Let’s work it like this:
  1. Follow along with my site if you don’t already (I want to build my online platform too of course) :)
  2. Become a Crusader by leaving a comment to this post (include your blogging name and a link to your blog)
  3. Write about the Crusade on your blog and link back to this post
  4. Encourage your followers to come to Rach Writes… and join up (it will help them too!)
  5. Tweet about the Crusade, including a link to this post (http://bit.ly/9kMySK) and #WPBC1. Encourage re-tweets. I'm @RachaelHarrie if you want to follow me in the Twitterverse too
  6. Pop it on Facebook
  7. Generally, spread the word…
I’ll publish a list of all the Crusaders on Rach Writes..., and I’ll update the list as people join in on future Crusades.

And there it is. You’ll have a list of bloggers in the same position as you, who genuinely want to help you succeed. You can visit their sites, follow along with their blogs, leave comments galore, and share your highs and lows as you journey through the blogosphere and build your online platform. And they'll be doing the same for you.

Beats poaching any day!!!

I’ve got some Crusade Challenges and Blogfests planned, so let’s see how many people we can get onboard and make this an ongoing thing...

Jump on board the Writers' Platform-Building Crusade. Spread the word. Pay it forward. And have fun with your blogging!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stay Tuned...

Stay tuned, cause there's a busy few weeks to come on Rach Writes...

I'll be interviewing Caitie Flum, ex-agent intern and proofreader, for The Insider Scoop (and let me tell you, some or the dirt she dishes on the role of an agent intern and what literary agents are looking for is incredible stuff!).

I'm taking part in Elana Johnson's The Great Blogging Experiment, and will be posting a piece on "Writing Compelling Characters" on Friday, September 24.

The fantastic Jody Hedlund, author of The Preacher's Bride (due out in October 2010), will be answering some questions for The Insider Scoop.  She'll be giving a debut author's perspective on writing and getting published and I can't wait to hear her thoughts...

AND, in the spirit of my earlier post about a writer's public profile and building a platform, I'm going to kick off my inaugural Writers' Platform-Building Crusade, a way for aspiring writers and start-up industry bloggers to link together and start to build a network amongst themselves (following along with sites, commenting regularly, re-tweeting, linking between sites, etc etc).  I'd love to see you take part and will be posting more about this shortly!

Exciting stuff, and I can't wait to share it all with you!!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Writer's Public Profile

I've been mulling for a while now on the direction I want to take my blog, and I've decided after much hard thinking that it's time to make some changes.  Nothing too serious, but hopefully another small step in the right direction.

So, I'm proud to present "Rach Writes..." with my new blog address at http://rachaelharrie.blogspot.com/.  A big step for me, but one I did feel it would be worthwhile to take sooner rather than later.

That's got me thinking though, just how important is your public persona as a writer within the industry, on the internet, and generally around the traps???

How much effort do you put into building up your name recognition?  Are you taking the time now to promote yourself within the blogosphere, or will you wait until you are published?  If you are already published, do you still think about these issues, or did you sort them out at/before the time of your book launch?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Insider Scoop - Interview with C.A. Marshall, Literary Agency Intern

Welcome to The Insider Scoop, where I will bring you interviews, useful tips and tricks, and all sorts of insightful information from those deep within the children's book industry.

Today, I am pleased to introduce C.A. Marshall, a freelance editor, literary agency intern, and YA writer, who has kindly agreed to answer some questions and give us the insider scoop on writing ability, queries, the slushpile, and how you can distinguish your manuscript from the crowd.

So, let's dive straight in...

Question 1: What do you think is the most important quality a writer can have?

Patience. Don't rush through a draft and rush into queries/publication. Take the time to edit and revise and polish. It'll be worth it, I promise!

Question 2: What insights have you picked up during your time as an agent intern that may help other aspiring writers?

Never ignore standards. Trying to be gimmicky or an exception to the rules is not only annoying, but it's disrespectful sometimes too. Follow submissions guidelines and always be friendly and professional.

Question 3: What are the most common mistakes you see in the query slushpile, and what can queriers learn from these?

The most common mistake is following trends. Stories about boy wizards and vampires/werewolves and angels/demons and greek demigods have been done before. Interns can tell in an instant that you're writing to a trend. We don't want to see the next Rowling, Meyer, Stiefivater, or Riordan. We want to see the next YOU!

Question 4: Is the voice of the main characters, the author's writing ability, or the plotline the most important consideration for agents when reviewing a manuscript submission?

I think it's the writing ability. Those other certainly don't hurt, though. You could have an amazing character and plot, but if your writing is sloppy or boring or flat, you'll fail to capture the attention of the reader.

Follow-on question: In your opinion, how does a writer distinguish himself/herself from the slushpile crowd?

Make your book the best that you can possible make it. Use freelance editors and/or critique partners. It's a harsh publishing world out there and you'll want to give your book the best chances that you can.

Great advice! Thank you so much Cassandra for your insights.

If you haven’t already checked it out, C.A Marshall is giving away a fantastic prize – a free substantial edit (plot, pacing, character development etc) of a 100K word manuscript – to one lucky reader of her blog. The contest is open to English-speaking entrants worldwide, and closes on Monday September 20, 2010. Even better, Cassandra is willing to wait for up to a month after you win for you to finish your manuscript – time for a final polish, perhaps.

C.A. Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agent intern, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She can be found in Emmett, MI and at camarshall.com

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Evaluating Full Manuscripts - Mary Kole

Did everyone see Mary Kole's recent Kidlit post describing how she evaluates a full manuscript? For me, it is such a useful insight into how this mysterious process works. For example, I had no idea that agents have their own readers to help give opinions on manuscripts...

It must be an interesting dilemma for agents - do you wait to take only the strongest manuscripts (which will probably involve competing against other agents for representation of an author), or do you hunt out those with potential and work to make them stronger?

Definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Deal With Contradictory Query Advice

Nathan Bransford has recently written a fantastic blog post on dealing with contradictory query advice. The post gives an agent's perspective into an issue I discussed in an earlier post - Top Tip #1 - Querying (Database for Queries).

His key points:
  • take a deep breath
  • remember that agent blogs are just trying to help
  • not all publishing advice is created equal (some posts might be out of date)
  • try to meet an agent's specifications but don't go crazy trying to do it
  • if you think contradictory query advice is mind-boggling, wait until you reach publication stage
Basically, do your research, but "don't sweat the small stuff!"

Great advice, thanks Nathan.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

When is your Picture Book Manuscript Finished?

We had a fantastic discussion at Picture Books Only #pblitchat the other day about the book writing process ("From Idea to Polished Manuscript: How Do You Get There?"). One of the topics we covered had to do with knowing when your picture book manuscript is finished. In other words, when do you stop editing and send it out to agents and publishers?

Some of the useful tips I picked up were:
  • it can take many, many revisions before a picture book is ready to send out
  • keep copies of your old drafts in case you want to go back to them
  • it is not just a case of writing a 500-word (or however many words) short piece of text and calling that a picture book. There's a particular craft involved in picture book writing that takes time and effort and attention to master
  • you should always have someone else (and preferably more than one person) give a critique on your picture book manuscript. You need someone who can say - "Have you thought about this?" or "I'm not sure this part works"
  • once you have edited your picture book manuscript and sent it out for critiques, take those comments on board and begin the re-editing process again
  • some authors have revised a particular picture book manuscript 60 times before it is "finished"
One particular piece of advice which rang true to me was - read your manuscript through at least ten times, and if you don't change a single word, you'll know it's ready. A useful guideline, particularly if this process takes place after you have finished revisions suggested to you by critique partners AND if your final readings take place over a period of days/weeks, so you can come back to the picture book manuscript with fresh eyes in between.

In the end though, you'll know when it's ready! Trust your instinct, and remember there's nothing to say you can't come back to your picture book manuscript down the track and begin revisions again...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Top Tip - The First 250 Words of Your Manuscript


Enough said, I think.

But seriously, it pays to place a lot of importance on how you write the first page of your book. Obviously, the rest of the manuscript has to hold up as well. But...if you don't capture the agent's/editor's attention right at the start, the rest of the manuscript may not even get read.

Consider your opening scene. Is it gripping? Compelling? Does something happen? Does the first 250 words give a good idea of the voice of your main character?

Will a casual browser in a book store want to turn the page? Even better, will the first page make the casual browser want to keep reading right to the end of the chapter? That's one of the best ways to encourage them to buy your book right off the shelves.

I'm a part of a fabulous critique group, iVoice, where we work together to discuss plot and general writing issues, give and receive critiques on various portions of our manuscripts, and improve our writing skills. One of the particular things we focus on when critiquing manuscripts is the first 250 words.

Here's a useful exercise for you:
  1. open a new word document;
  2. copy the first 250 words (no more, no less) of your manuscript into the new document and save;
  3. let the passage sit unopened for a few days, a week if possible;
  4. open the document and read the passage in complete isolation from the rest of your manuscript. Pretend you're reading it for the first time in a bookstore while you tap your foot and wait for your partner to stop maxing out the credit card;
  5. does the passage grab your interest? Be honest. Be objective. Would you turn the page?
  6. consider the contents of your opening passage. Is the main character (MC) mentioned? Do we hear the MC's voice? Does something happen, or are we just reading about the MC thinking, reading, musing, sitting on the toilet, looking out a window, or any other passive (and possibly boring) action? Is the scene set-up so long that the reader still won't know what is happening by the end of the first page?
  7. now for the big question - have you inadvertently opened with a cliche? There's some great websites out there on first chapter and opening scene cliches (too many to mention), and I would suggest you Google and have a good read of them. Unfortunately, many agents will assume that if your opening scene/page is cliche-ridden (for want of a better phrase), the rest of your manuscript may be built on cliches as well. Why give them a reason to reject your work before they even turn the manuscript page;
  8. once you're completely happy with your opening page, give it to others to read as well;
  9. listen to their comments. Apply;
  10. do a happy dance, then repeat steps 1-10 all over again!
Author Jody Hedlund blogs about potential first chapter problems, and makes some fantastic suggestions about things to avoid. It's definitely worth a read, and I may even do a Top Tip post on the first chapter at a later date. Keep in mind that many of Jody's suggestions will apply to the first 250 words as well.

I can't wait to read your first 250 words! Will I want to keep on reading???

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