Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best Three Minutes You'll Ever Spend Learning About Writing

Have you floundered your way through a first draft? Shuffled through critiques? Flailed in distress at all the work you had to do? Have you reached such limits of despair your limbs spasmed with fatigue?

It's important for you to know: You are not alone. These people know how you feel.

I think we can agree, the takeaway here is that no matter how sad your skirt, no matter how gender-confusing your haircut, no matter how many surgeries you had to remove the polyester burns -- one day your moment in the spotlight will arrive.

Make sure you don't wish it hadn't.

Your Turn: Do you know the Awkward Turtle? Do you use it? Then join me in 'turtling' that couple who hump across the stage together in the middle of this fiasco. TOMORROW: David Hasselhoff's master class in being... well, you decide:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last Chance to Get Your Query Critiqued and A CELEBRATION!

First things first: You have until midnight tomorrow (Tuesday, May 1st) to get your draft query in for submission to the site. So far I have five that I think are worth putting up for review. I'll take as many as five more.

Just send your draft query to me via email at aimeelsalter (at) Put "Draft Query" and the title of your book in the subject line. Try to remember to leave personal information blank (but I'll take it out for you if you don't).

Now for the fun part:

You guys hit 500 strong over the weekend.

*Throws confetti*

Because I think you're awesome for sticking around, I'm going to give one of those 500 someones a prize. It will be drawn randomly from all the people following So if you aren't a follower, click the "Join this Site" button over on the right hand menu now!

Then tell me: Which prize would you want? (Answer this question to improve your chances of winning the prize you actually want).

That's all for today. Come back later this week to help the first Queryer with their draft letter! (And thanks again for following, guys. Really).


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Your Chance to Have Your Query Letter Critiqued

Readers at Seeking the Write Life are notoriously generous with their advice. So I was thinking, what if we did a little query critiquing? That way, authors with a WIP getting close to submissible standard could get a head-start on their query letters.

To make the game fair, we'll do it anonymously on the site - your query will go up with any personal information redacted. I'll ask submitting authors NOT to promote their own submissions. We'll focus on the blurb portion of the query - does it hook us? Is it clear and easy to understand? Does it make us want to read more?

We'll let contributing authors know what we think works and doesn't, then they can resubmit their edited queries if they so choose.

In a few weeks, the top five revised queries will then go head to head for a prize I'm still in the process of nailing down.

Sound good? Well, if you want your query letter to be considered for posting on the site, read on:

1. Sometime before 11:59pm NEXT TUESDAY, May 1st, send a draft query to me via email at aimeelsalter (at) Put "Draft Query" and the title of your book in the subject line. (First come is NOT first served - take the time to revise and ready your letter).

2. Try to remember to leave personal information blank (but I'll take it out for you if you don't).

3. Remember that submission doesn't guarantee it will be posted on the site. It will depend how many submissions I get, and how brightly they shine.

4. Keep checking back to see if your submission goes up, and to offer feedback to others!

5. Bribes readily accepted. (Just sayin').

NOTE: The better your query is, the more chance it will be posted for feedback. If you're taking your first stab at query writing, check out and also the query tips below before you submit.

Tips for a great query: (These are just a few. For full version of this list, see top literary agent Rachelle Gardner's blog post "How to Write a Query Letter")

It starts with a few sentences designed to make me want to read your book. To figure out how to do this, read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books. The goal is not to give a detailed synopsis, but instead to write something interesting and informative enough that I want to read more.

No longer than the equivalent of one typewritten page, about 3 to 6 paragraphs.

Include the genre and word count. If you don’t know about genres, please do some research and learn prior to querying. Include your final word count, making sure it’s appropriate for your genre.

Author bio (fiction): If you have traditionally published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist. If you like, you can indicate that you’re a blogger and you’are active on Twitter and Facebook (so the agent sees you’re aware of the importance of social networking for authors).

Let me know what’s available if I should request more. Note that unpublished novelists must have a completed manuscript before querying.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Give Yourself Permission

I've been talking with a writer friend recently about fears - fears that we don't know what we're doing. Fears that we'll never get that scene, that character, that BOOK right. Fears that despite all the time and energy, we'll never reach our goals.

After sobbing on each other's shoulders for a while, we've come to the following conclusion: There isn't a lot of point at looking ahead in the process. That's just scary. Wherever we are the journey from WIP to book, what we need to do is give ourselves permission to keep going, even when we're scared.

In light of that, I've written my ten rules for Permission. I'm going to keep these close at hand to remind myself exactly what I have permission to do at each stage:

1. When you're drafting, give yourself permission to get lost on a tangent for a couple thousand words. Who knows where it will end up?

2. When you're reading for the first time, give yourself permission to focus on the story. Only tick the typos when you notice them.

3. When you're revising, give yourself permission to get that scene on paper - even if it isn't perfect. Consider this a skeleton draft. If you get the bones in place, you can make the flesh look pretty later.

4. When you're reading / revising again, give yourself permission to like something.

5. When you're reading critique notes, give yourself permission to hate them - just as long as you don't throw them (or the very generous reader) into the proverbial fire.

6. When you're reading through your critique notes again, give yourself permission to cry and admit they might be right - but it still sucks.

7. When you're revising again, give yourself permission to try out some of the stuff you've been thinking about, but not sure you can pull off.

8. Give yourself permission to repeat steps 4-7 as many times as necessary.

9. When you're re-reading, give yourself permission to take the time it takes to knock out all those favorite words, overused metaphors, misspellings, etc, etc, etc.

10. When you're getting ready to submit, DON'T give yourself permission for anything except perfection. You won't attain it, but you have my permission to try.

Your Turn: Those are my permissions. What are yours?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Are You Two-Faced Online...By Accident?

No matter what kind of publishing we're pursuing, we all hear the
mantra "build your platform!"

Unfortunately, I think a lot of authors new to the idea of building a
business often mistake blog or twitter followers for a "platform". But
the truth is, the numbers on your page aren't necessarily an accurate
gauge of the reach of your brand.

I've had the opportunity to run my own business in the past - after I
worked for a guru in branding and business development. The following
are three simple mistakes I see a lot of authors making:

1. Two-faced Branding

If your blog URL is, your twitter
account is @snazzywriter and your facebook page is Aurora Beguiling,
you make it a lot harder for people to find you.

I think the common misconception is that if another writer finds you
on twitter they automatically look for your links to your blog and
facebook, etc. But the truth is that people's online habits vary
greatly. Most will happen across your blog and twitter separately. And
if they don't go looking for you on facebook directly they may never
get linked to your account. If they follow your blog, they may link to
it via blogger or Google, so unless you make a marked impression right
out of the gate, they probably won't remember that "Aurora Beguiling"
is the same person as "@snazzywriter".

The good news is, the solution is simple: Choose one name and one
picture and use them across the board. Make your URL, your twitter @
and your facebook name the same. When you use a photograph on one, use
the same or a visibly similar shot on others. Make it easy for people
to recognize you when they find you by accident and they'll start
noticing you more and looking for you.

2. Two-faced Audience

A huge misonception in author circles seems to be that having 15,000
followers on Twitter equates to several thousand books sold. This
couldn't be further from the truth IF you make and take a random

See, most people on Twitter are after the same thing : more followers.
You can hit the airwaves and gain hundreds of followers a week if you
get out there enough. But what good does it do you as an author to
have 5,000 business accounts, 3,000 Gleeks, and 4,000 rabid dog
lovers following you? In terms of books sales I can guarantee you that
following will garner you next to zero dollars in the bank. What you
need as an unestablished author is a lot of book lovers following you
- especially those who are solid fans of your genre.

The solution here is simple, but vastly more time consuming: you've
got to get selective about who you follow and who follows you. The
best way to do that is to choose a theme and stick to it. Only follow
writers, readers and publishing professionals. Then make sure the vast
majority of what you put out there applies to that audience. When
you're following back, only follow those with an interest in writing
or books. Don't clog up your own airwaves with motivational speakers
and fitness fanatics. Stay focussed. Get into conversations with
people who might have an interest innbuying your book one day, and
improve your odds by connecting with people who state that in their
twitter account bios.

As a writer your theme is books, writing, reading, etc. Of course
there's room for personal connection and stories too, but beware of
point number three below. Your goal has to be to make your name
synonymous in followers minds with whatever you're going to want them
to buy in the end. Nothing (and I do mean, nothing) else.
3. Me-faced Themes

Okay, here's the biggie. Please don't shoot the messenger.

Very few people are interested in you (or me) as a person. It sucks,
but its true. Accept it and move on.

Most people will only keep coming back to our blog / twitter /
facebook accounts if they get something out of it FOR THEMSELVES.
People are inherently selfish, especially with their time. If they
don't know you or your work, or if you haven't achieved something they
wish they had, they don't care.

If, however, you can find a way to make your own journey benefit
others you've got a much better chance of repeat business in terms of
blog views, retweets, shares and likes, etc.

The solution here, quite frankly, is to stop assuming others are
interested in your life or feelings. That's not to say you should
never get personal - quite the contrary. Only that you need to find a
way to connect that benefits the other person.

For every blog post, tweet or status update,ask yourself one question:
What's in it for the reader? If the answer is consistently only
"getting to know me better" or "nothing" then you have a problem.

So how do you turn your daily life into social media interest from
potential buyers? I can't answer that for you directly, but I can give
you some clues.

First off, remember: humor is a payoff to just about anyone. If you
can break all the rules in a really funny way, you'll go far. But if
you can't, here are some guidelines.

DON'T: Spend a lot of time tweeting / blogging about how cute your cats are.

DO: Spend a lot of time tweeting / blogging about things you learned
about writing while trying to evade the advances of your overly
amorous cat who's currently in heat.

DON'T: Give a lot of airtime to your rejection letters and why they
were or weren't correct.

DO: Give a lot of airtime to analysing which parts of your query
letter worked (or didn't) in Mr. Snarlies Query Boot Camp.

DON'T: Spend all your tweet replies or blog comments telling other
people why they're wrong.

DO: Encourage other writers in whatever endeavors they are pursuing,
then use your own platform (blog or facebook) to express an opinion
and open dialogue on whatever topic is close to your heart. Invite
other people to tell you what they think. Or in other words, be the
kind of tweeter / blogger you wish everyone else was. Someone who's

Okay, I'm sure that's enough food for thought today. Go ahead and
comment with your thoughts. And yes, I do invite debate and dialogue
here at Seeking the Write Life. So if you disagree, go ahead and break
Don't #3 and tell me why. I am actually interested!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Question of Revision - Do You Believe in Nature or Nurture?

The first time I stepped out of my insular writing cocoon and sought
wisdom from traditionally published authors and agents who blog, I ran
into the same piece of advice several times in an hour:

"Revise. Revise. And again I say, revise."

"Don't send me your first draft."

"I don't want to be the first person to see your book that isn't you."

"I don't care if your family and friends loved it. They would. I want
to know you've made it the very best it can be before you sent it to

I knew the people who said these things were right. After all, I've
never played sport without being coached and attending practice. I've
never cooked a meal without following a recipe or using skills I
developed from following recipes in the past. I've never done anything
worthwhile that I can think of without research or rehearsal or

So I revised. Again and again and again. And I'm happier with the
results on each of my books every time I take another pass.

But not everyone feels like me. I'm wondering why. Is it just
different processes? Different personalities? Different vocational

I'd love to hear your opinion / approach to revisions. Do you revise?
If not, why not? And if so, what do you gain?

As I mentioned, I find revisions a really positive investment of my
time. But they're far from easy. If you haven't revised before and
you're considering taking the plunge, here's some things I've
discovered in three years of revising:

1. Sometimes I have made errors in revision that I've had to go back
and fix later (in yet another round of revision) which stinks. But
that doesn't mean the revision wasn't worth it. Sometimes I have to
try something to discover it doesn't work.

2. It takes a certain level of determination and patience to make
revising worthwhile. It can't be done flippantly or hurriedly, because
it will just have to be done again anyway when you rush past problems
that are too hard or too subtle.

3. Revising is a completely different skillset to drafting. Drafting
is an almost unadulterated creative process. Revision is very
analytical - not to mention, technical. I found I didn't become truly
effective at revisions until I'd been close-edited by my former agent.
I learnedly more in that process about "writing tight" and story
structure than in the rest of the three years combined.

Your Turn: Now, clearly I'm a fierce adherent to the revision process.
But I'll admit, it hurts when I have a new, fun story boiling away and
I'm still pecking at the first one. So, I'm interested - how do you
approach revising? When do you choose for or against and why? And how
you balance having more than one inspiration process on the go at a

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Going There" in Fiction (aka What Bradley Cooper Taught Me About Writing)

Research for my latest WIP has taken me deep into the psyche and world of famous actors. It started with uncovering celebrity norms and exploring experiences with fame. But the deeper I got, the more I got sidetracked by actors discussing the breakdown of story, emotion, and character development.

You might be surprised to learn how many famous actors commonly considered garden variety comedians or just "pretty faces" have undertaken years of acting training. And make no mistake, these people take that education very seriously.

The actors I researched all discussed the process of really inhabiting a character. I couldn't get over the correlation between an actor's and a writer's process. Things like:

- Knowing or creating backstory.

- Understanding what a character wants in any given scene.

- Being responsive to the stimulus offered by other characters, rather than just waiting for their turn to speak or move.

Sound familiar?

Regardless of the approach they took, a dozen different actors raised the same issue: Until they stopped judging themselves and gave themselves (and other people) the freedom to see them get it wrong, they weren't capable of their best work.

The thing that really dropped my jaw, though, was when I heard Bradley Cooper talk about how his Basic Techniques professor at The Actor's Studio in New York, created for him "the place I feel safest in the world... In my whole life, I never really felt relaxed until I worked with her." All because she encouraged him to get real and let go - and promised no judgement of the result.

Then I heard Ralph Fiennes talk about being given the freedom to fail.

Edward Norton talked at length about needing to be able to do it wrong, to find out what was right.

The list goes on.

I started to see that all of us creative, story-teller types share this hang up with being seen to fail. But these guys who were at the top of their games had all observed one thing:

Other people can help you learn that you need to fail sometimes in order to win. But no one else is inside your head. Until you stop judging yourself, put your pride aside and let yourself admit to being wrong sometimes, there will always be a part of you holding back. Your work won't completely "Go There" because you're working out of a basis of fear, instead of "What happens if I try this....?"

So today I want to challenge myself (and you) to ask if you're strong enough to get it wrong, then keep going until you get it right. Because I have a hunch the key to being the best writers we can be starts there.

Your Turn: In what ways do you hold back in your writing out of fear? What would help you gain the courage to Go There?