Novel Rocket

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Let's Break Some Rules

I’ve always been someone who wants to know the rules and then do my best to follow them. When it comes to writing fiction, however, I honestly don’t think there are any rules. Oh, there are methods of writing that are preferred, and there are guidelines to follow which are especially helpful when you’re starting out. But hard, fast, break-em-and-you-go-to-writer’s-prison rules? Not so much.

You won't end up in writer jail. Really.
Have you ever been writing, moving along at a good clip, and then you hit a wall. You know exactly what you want to do, but it’s against the rules. So you stop, and you backtrack, and you try to figure out another way. Before you know it, nothing feels right, no words will come. You’re stuck.

What if, instead of worrying about the rules, you just break them? Not all the time, and not all the rules (there are rules of grammar and punctuation that really shouldn’t be messed with). If the thought of breaking through those boundaries makes you nervous, consider some of these “rules” and examples of authors who’ve broken them quite successfully.

Write in a Consistent POV/Tense
In his novel, The Martian, Andy Weir starts off in the POV of stranded astronaut Mark Watney. Mark is dictating to his personal log, so it’s first person, present tense. This goes on for about the first quarter of the book. Then, we switch over to the folks on earth, so it’s third person, past tense. There’s even a chapter that’s omniscient, as we learn about the life of a piece of material. It’s all over the place, but it works. It keeps the tension going. I dare you to put this book down. And, by the way, this is Weir’s first novel.

Head Hopping
This has become something of the cardinal sin of fiction writing. Believe it or not, there are authors who do this on a regular basis. For example, in her Parasol Protectorate series, Gail Carriger hops into whichever head makes the most sense. I will admit, I found it jarring at first, but when I realized it was done by choice, not by lack of skill (because she does it quite skillfully) I went along for quite an enjoyable, engaging ride.

Make Your Writing Accessible
A more pejorative way of putting this is “dumb it down.” The idea being, write to the lowest common denominator, and thereby widen your possible readership. I have two words: Michael Crichton. Crichton filled his novels with more factual science than most people absorb in a lifetime, and it didn’t seem to hurt his sales. I believe that people in general, especially people who love to read, want to be challenged. They want to learn and grow. If they can do that while being entertained, then even better.

Rule breaking isn’t for everybody, and it isn’t for every situation. If you write category romances, you won’t please your editor by turning in a manuscript that shifts from present tense to past tense, first person to third. It’s interesting to note that the rule-breakers I cited above all write science fiction, fantasy, and/or steampunk… genres that by their very definitions break rules and push boundaries. But we can still learn something from them, even if our own writing must follow a predetermined structure. Just for fun, pick a rule and break it. Consider it an exercise to stretch your creative muscles. Don’t stop to edit yourself, don’t take time to “fix” it. Just write for at least fifteen minutes. You may be surprised at what you end up with.

What do you think? Ready to break some rules?

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Jennifer AlLee was born in Hollywood, California, and grew up above a mortuary one block away from the famous intersection of Hollywood & Vine. Now she lives in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas, which just goes to prove she’s been blessed with a unique life. When she’s not busy spinning tales, she enjoys playing games with friends, attending live theater and movies, and singing at the top of her lungs to whatever happens to be playing on Pandora. Although she’s thrilled to be living out her lifelong dream of being a novelist, she considers raising her son to be her greatest creative accomplishment. You can visit her on Facebook, Pinterest, or her website.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Who Decides to Publish Your Book?

The following blog post is shared by permission from the Steve Laube Agency blog    

The editor you met with at a writers’ conference liked your proposal and asked you to send it to her after the conference. She was already talking about format and promotion ideas. Or you submitted a proposal and received an enthusiastic response from the acquisitions editor. Four (or maybe six to eight) months later, a rejection letter showed up in your inbox or mailbox.

What happened?

No matter how much editors like potential books, they don’t have final say in sending contracts A lot of other people are involved in the decision of whether to issue a contract or a rejection letter.

Before becoming an agent I worked 11 years as an acquisitions editor and later as an editorial director for Bethany House Publishers. Most publishers have two physical board meetings to help make the decision whether or not to publish a book. This process varies from publisher to publisher and each company has its own name for its board meetings. Thus many authors get confused when hearing different labels.

Some rejections state that “the book did not get past the committee.” This statement can mean a lot of things. It could even mean it didn’t get past stage one below. So take a comment like that with a grain of salt, or at least get clarification if you wish to know how far your book actually went in the process.

Let’s look at the stages your proposal goes through in this process (all of this presupposes that you already have a literary agent who has helped your craft your proposal so that it will get reviewed by the right person at the right publisher):

Stage One: Editor

The first stage is with the editor, one-on-one. This person must decide which book projects he or she wants to sponsor to colleagues. Most rejections happen at this desk. For some reason it didn’t click. Rarely does anyone else in the company see the rejected proposal at this stage. Some junior editors may show it to a senior editor, but not in a formal presentation meeting.

Stage Two: Editorial Board

The second stage is the editorial board. Editors gather together and pitch their discoveries to other editors. The editors create consensus for the project and occasionally brainstorm a different direction for it. If you get approval at this stage, many editors will call the agent or you and tell you the good news. But this is only a mid-level step.

Stage Three: Publishing Board

The third stage is the publishing board meeting (aka pub board). This is the biggie. Again, each company operates differently, so consider this description as a generalization. In this meeting are the company executives, presidents, vice-presidents, sales and marketing folks, and editorial representatives. I’ve heard of these meetings having as many as 20 people in attendance. Likely it is closer to 10 at the most.

Most editors have worked hard prior to this meeting. They have put together pro-formas that show the projected sales and profitability of the project. Likely they have already gone to the sales department and received a sales projection. Some go as far as gathering printing bids for the book prior to the meeting. Each member of the committee receives the pro-forma and a copy of the book proposal. (I can’t emphasize enough the power of a top notch proposal.). The executives receive this information before the meeting but not all are able to read it in advance.

It is this meeting where every objection possible is thrown at the book. Participants come up with reasons why this idea is a failure and why it should never be published. The discussion can be brutal. The editor is the advocate who defends the book against objections. If it survives this gauntlet, it will likely survive the general marketplace. In my time at Bethany House each project took a minimum of 15 minutes to present and receive rejection or approval. But some discussions lasted an hour.

There were times I went into the meeting expecting a slam dunk and got rejected. Other times I thought I’d get shot down but ended up with approval. An editor considers it a good day when 80 percent of what he or she presents in the pub board meeting gets approved.

Reasons for approval can be everything from pure economics to personal agendas by an executive. If that executive loves the topic, he can push the rest of the meeting toward approval. If everyone is tired and cranky, then the proposal may be doomed for publishing success. This is a subjective business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the pub board meeting.

At this stage, the editor has company approval of the book. Some publishers authorize the contractual parameters in this meeting. Others have to have a separate meeting with the finance department.
But now is usually when the editor calls you or your agent with the good news. Negotiations begin on the contract, and you are on your way to your next published book.

Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona.
Originally published Published in The Advanced Christian Writer, September/October 2005. Revised 2009 and 2015.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Writing Romance for Men

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

Generalities below

The knight tethered his horse and pulled the beast’s muzzle against his breast. A final goodbye? The castle rose from the jagged rocks with spires like needles pointing into the roiled sky. He lifted an armored hand and reviewed his quest. One. Spikes. Two. Rickety bridge. Three. Moat. Four. Dragon. Five. Stone doors. He made a fist. Last of all, the witch.

All to save a woman he’d glimpsed once. Her beauty captured his mind, his heart, his soul. His longing had sent him to cross the King’s favor, spite his parent’s wishes for an alliance marriage, and finally, he had forsaken his vows to finish training.

He took a step toward the castle.

His wrists locked. They were forced behind his back. What evil magic is this? He struggled to be free.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do…”

One full year community service for stalking.

I’ve been gorging myself on romance novels as if playing catch-up. As a male, I’ve learned so much my brain is spinning. But I only have time for one tip today.

Romance in novels doesn't reflect real life. If you want to get the girl in the novel, keep up the pressure. Convince her you’ll never give up on her, no matter her mistakes. When she tells you to go away, offer a lopsided grin and come closer so she feels the heat of your skin so she loses her mind. Stalking.

To win the girl in real life, apathy seems to work better. And a lopsided grin. And long eyelashes. Girls dig guys with long eyelashes.

Writing romance for men doesn’t reflect real life perfectly, either.

If you ever find yourself on another planet, like Mars, and have to write romance for men, keep this in mind—

Men want to be adored and respected

They want the hero to be adored and respected. If he's not, make sure at least his character arc is heading there...

The female heroine cannot hesitate in falling for the hero. There is no question he is the one, the only one, forever. Any difficulties within the relationship must come from the outside, giving the hero something to conquer with his sword arm, someone to protect with his shield arm. His flaws, if any, are attractive to her.

During her inner monologue, if she doubts that he is the one, the male reader is turned off to the story. The reader, projected as the hero, is amazing! Why would she doubt?

Fairytales make for great male reading. Lots of action. And the payoff? She falls instantly in love with him and he gets a kiss. Not a lot of undecided people there, wondering if this man's the one. Nope, it's happily ever after. Win. Win. Win. Win. Win.

In real life? Yeah. Lots of convincing he is the one. At first it’s fun for a guy, but then, when the relationship gets serious and the stakes are high, romance can be fulfilling or heartbreaking.

In the end, for men, the fairytale romances tell us to be manly, be ourselves, save the girl (without stalking), and live happily ever after. All the rest is simply details.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Releasing Ourselves from the Writing Comparison Trap

by Vonda Skelton @VondaSkelton

No matter where we are on this writing
journey, we tend to compare.
Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2011, my writing partner, Edie Melson and I led yearly NCompass Writing Retreats. The goal of each retreat was to offer a time of refreshing, refueling, and of course, writing and rewriting. But in our last year of retreats, we realized that year’s focus was on another re: releasing.

Let’s face it, no matter where we are on this writing journey, we tend to compare. We compare our words to other writers and determine our worth. We compare their publications to our rejections. We long for their successes and see ourselves as failures.

Even multi-published mega-authors can succumb to comparison. Why did her book do so well when mine is obviously better? How could the movie producer choose his memoir over mine?

Comparison is a trap
Comparison is trap that can lead to anger, frustration, jealousy, and resentment. It can lead to quitting when God says to keep going.

But the correct response to comparison is simple: release it. Release the responsibility to succeed. Release the motivation to beat out others. Release the drive for big sales, major contracts, and movie deals.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do our best to learn and grow as writers and to seek to get our work out–we should! His Word says to do everything with excellence. But it does mean the motivation must be more than simply money and recognition.

God is ultimately the one who determines our paths.
As followers of Christ, our motivation must be to please Him by developing the gift He’s given us, and then accept the truth that He is in control.

We can work hard and work smart and do everything we’re taught as writers…and still receive rejections.

Because we’re not in control.

We can take classes and rewrite till our fingers bleed…and never see our names on the cover of a book.

Because we’re not in control.

God can choose to bless a less-than-perfect book…while letting a well-written one sit on the shelf. And whether we agree or not, we must release it to Him.

It’s through the release that we truly become successful Christian writers. Because then He can use our words to change hearts for eternity…regardless of how we compare to others.

How do you find release from comparisons? Be sure to leave your tips in the comments section below.

Vonda Skelton is a speaker and the author of four books: Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the 3-book Bitsy Burroughs mysteries for children 8-12 yo. She’s the founder and co-director of Christian Communicators Conference, offering speakers’ training and community for Christian women called to ministry. Vonda is a frequent instructor at writer’s conferences and keynotes at business, women’s, and associational events. You can find out more about Vonda, as well as writing opportunities and instruction at her writer’s blog, The Christian Writer’s Den at