Category Archives: Preambles to Writing

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 31: What’s a Literary Agent?

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty-one:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 31: What’s a Literary Agent?

You’d be surprised how often I hear that question — from audiences at book presentations, from readers, from new writers, and even from a few long-time writers. So as we tackle the challenge of presenting a book to publishers, let’s start with a post about literary agents. I’ll present this information in a question-and-answer format to make the post more user-friendly.

Q: What does a literary agent do?

A: A literary agent presents his/her clients’ work to companies that might be interested in publishing that work.

Q: Can’t I do that myself?

A: Many small publishers and university presses do accept manuscripts submitted directly from the author. Large commercial publishers do not. They know that literary agents take on only the manuscripts they believe they can sell, so in this way the agent acts as a first reader, weeding out books that are not marketable.

Q: What types of manuscripts do literary agents accept?

A: Most literary agents accept only full-length material. In other words, not poetry, not short stories, and usually not magazine articles.

 Q: How do I find a literary agent?

A: The Internet has become a valuable tool for writers who are seeking representation by a literary agent. Simply do a search for “literary agent” and you will find pages (and pages and pages) of agents. Go to their websites and read their requirements and preferences. Then list those who seem to be interested in the type of book you have written.

Q: How do I know the agencies I’ve selected are reputable?

A: One of the best resources out there for authors is a website called Preditors & Editors at http://pred-ed.com/peala.ht. On their home page, click on “Agents & Attorneys,” which will give you a comprehensive list of literary agents, including those who are legitimate and those who are not. The Preditors & Editors website also explains the “rules” of etiquette between agents and clients and potential clients. Just knowing those usually-unwritten rules can tilt the odds in your favor as you try to acquire a literary agent.

 Q: How are literary agents paid?

A: Literary agents take a percentage (usually 15%) of whatever money your work makes once they sell it. If your agent sells rights beyond direct publication — foreign rights, movie rights — they will probably  work with another agency that specializes in these areas. In that case, the usual rate is 10% to each agency, a total of 20%. Do NOT ever pay a literary agent to simply read your work. Most agencies that ask for money up front seldom sell anything. Why would they? They can earn a fine income from writers willing to pay $500 or more to have their work considered.

Q: How does the author get paid?

A: We’ll discuss advances and royalties in the next few months, but just to give you a general idea, most monies are paid directly to the agency. The agency then deducts their percentage and a small amount for expenses (for copies, mailing, long distance phone calls) and sends a check for the remaining funds to the author. Most agencies are very good about forwarding money due their authors within several weeks or less.

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Q: Besides sell my book, what else does an agent do for me?

A: I’ve had the privilege of working with three very fine U.S. literary agents (my home country), and each of them helped me in so many ways, including generating enthusiasm among potential acquiring editors; providing information about the publishing world; opening connections to professional writers, editors, and publicists; walking me through the legal complications of contract negotiation; vetting all contracts; and sometimes just providing a kind and encouraging comment in the face of rejection. I also have worked with numerous agents in other countries. They, too, have positively influenced my career. Their services include translating and negotiating contracts, providing information about income taxes in other countries, and sometimes even arranging publicity tours. Once you have an agent, you are part of a team. You’re not facing that large, sometimes vicious, world of publishing on your own, which can make all the difference between failure and success.

Q: How long did it take you to find your first literary agent?

A: Almost five years! Writing books is not a life for the easily discouraged.

Q: Why so long?

A: In those days, prior to the Internet, the querying process took much longer than it does now. Everything had to go through snail mail, and simultaneous submissions to various agencies were discouraged. (Now they are accepted as a part of the “game.”) However, there was a more important reason. My novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, wasn’t yet good enough for publication. Through the suggestions of agents who rejected my queries but were kind enough to explain why (That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.), I was able to shape Mother Earth Father Sky into the novel that became an international bestseller.

Q: If I decide to self-publish, do I need a literary agent?

A: Not unless you begin to receive offers from other publishing entities: audio, movie, foreign, or large commercial publishers. If you are an experienced contract lawyer, you may not need an agent, but in general a good agent will get you a better contract than you can negotiate for yourself.

Q: If I want to procure an agent to represent my work, what do I do next?

A: It’s all about having a worthy manuscript — no multiple blatant typos, a manuscript formatted according to agency preferences, a strong voice, characters who pull a reader into the story — AND a very good query letter. Next month on Writing The Third Dimension, we’ll discuss query letters.

Do you have other questions about literary agents? I’ll do my best to answer them in the comment section.

Strength to your pen!

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back September 24, 2015, for part 32.

 

Sympathy extended to Sue Harrison

As you know, Sue Harrison is a generous contributor to my blog, sharing her wisdom and experience as an international best-selling novelist. Her “Writing the Third Dimension” posts are informative, helpful, and appreciatively anticipated each month.

Sue has also been a longtime caregiver of her elderly family members. The circle of life brings us all the way around to taking care of the ones who cared for us, and on it goes. Recently she has had more help, which is such a good thing as it is very draining being the main care provider.

With regard to that … This brief post is to inform you that Sue’s precious mother passed away on July 28; therefore, life has been more hectic than usual for Sue the past two weeks. If you wish to leave notes of sympathy and encouragement for Sue, please do so in the comment section for this post where she will read them. You also can visit her blog and leave condolences there. 

Although Sue and her husband are taking a much-needed break from the usual demands of life, a time which I hope will be restorative and healing, there will be a “Writing The Third Dimension” post this month. Sue sent it to me today and it’s now scheduled for August 27. It’s a good one – as usual. In September she will respond to comments and questions regarding the topic.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! :)

 

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 30: Ende, Fin, Mwisho, Loppu, Einde

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month thirty:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 30: Ende, Fin, Mwisho, Loppu, Einde

So here we are, last draft. If you’ve been counting, you know this is Draft  6, but, for me, it’s actually a conglomeration of Drafts 6 and 7. During Draft 6, I add in the corrections, suggestions, and changes from my Beta Readers, those precious folks who read the completed manuscript and give me their input. Draft 7 is my final read-through.

Draft 6: I compile the Beta Readers’ comments, chronologically from the first chapter to the end of the novel. Then I start at page one, making corrections and changes. Usually, I can complete three to five chapters a day. My chapters are about 2,000 words in length, and I have sixty to seventy (or more) chapters per novel. Draft 6 takes me from two to four weeks to complete.

Draft 7: I use a two-prong attack on each chapter. The first time through, I read the chapter aloud, just to be sure the rhythm is what I want and that the words flow. I read from my computer screen, and I make changes as I go. As I finish each chapter, I print out a hard copy. I try to work as quickly as possible through the book so I catch the gaps and glitches in the storyline. Once in a while, I have to stop and rewrite a few pages, but I do it on the spot and continue reading as soon as possible.

When I’ve finished this read-through, printing chapters as I go, I  have a hard copy of the entire manuscript, which I punch and place into a huge ring binder. Then I start again at the beginning with a ruler, a dictionary, and a red pen. This is a slow read, and I generally sit at our kitchen table, which gives me more room for my manuscript (and tea and snacks…).

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By this time in the draft process, I’ve nearly memorized the manuscript, so I have a tendency to read what I think is there rather than what really is there. Therefore, I place the ruler under each line to slow me down and keep my brain from skipping or adding words. I check for typos, spelling problems, and grammar. I also check page numbers, paragraph indents, and I watch for font discrepancies.  It’s a word by word, page by page review, and when I’m done — again this is at least a month of intensive work — I spend the next few days putting the corrections into the manuscript on my computer.

Then — finally — The End, Ende, Fin, Mwisho, Loppu, Einde!

My big, thick, imperfect novel has taken on a life of its own, apart from me, with characters who I hope will live in the hearts of my readers as they have lived in my heart. For that time before the submissions, the critiques, the reviews, the loud voices that praise and those that don’t, I am content with my creation.

Next month and through to the end of the year, we’ll talk about the business side of writing a novel: the agents, the editors, publishers, and your options as a writer. Do you have any questions or particular areas you would like me to address?

Strength to your Pen,

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back August 27, 2015, for part 31.

Hello, I am a writer

I   Am   A   Writer.

I was born to write, it’s all in the way I think and view things.

You know it has been a struggle for me – one of self-doubt, lack of confidence, discouragement. There have been times I felt disillusioned, frustrated, disappointed. And more.

All that is behind me.

Today is a new day!

Life and death are in our words. That includes the things we say about ourselves and the things we think about ourselves. Perhaps you have heard negatives about you since your childhood. You don’t need anyone to say them now, they replay in your mind over and over and over so that they have become your own personal mantra. You believe those ugly words.

STOP IT!

Stop lying about yourself to yourself.

Life and death are in our words. It says so in the Word of God.

Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.  – James 3:10

That also means life and death are in our unspoken words, our thoughts! WOW!

This is something I have been taught and shown over a period of many years … but Wednesday the Lord make it so clear to me in a new way. He set it in my heart and mind that I have to stop speaking (thinking) death into my own life. I have to speak (think) life into my own life. It is time to not just know that fact.

IT IS TIME TO LIVE IT OUT.

Do you have thinking challenges? By that I mean, do you hear yourself thinking negative things about yourself – the challenge being to stop doing that? What do you believe about yourself? Are you hard on yourself as I am on myself? Or as I had been, I should say. It’s time for us to be good to ourselves. It’s time to KNOW who we are and BE who we are.

I AM A WRITER!  That is exciting, and I am eager to see what the Lord has for me to say – be it words of encouragement, stories to captivate the imagination, or whatever it is. And not only to think about writing but to do it.

Proverbs 12:25 says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”

So may my words – and yours – bring blessing and delight into the lives of others.

Question: What do you hear yourself say about you?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  :)

Yesterday I quit

The only place where dreams are impossible is in your own mind.  – Emalie

 

Yesterday I quit. I gave up. I told myself I can’t do this. I’m not a writer. I’m not even good at this.

I looked around me – at the writers I know – and told myself I am not like them. I don’t write, or even think about writing, the way they do.

You won’t find notebooks full of my writing; I keep most of my thoughts and ideas hidden away in my head and heart. That’s not a writer.

You won’t find my stories on your local bookstore shelves; they aren’t even set free for anyone to read. That’s not a writer.

You won’t find a blog with my ideas shared and out there for review; they are secreted away where no one can judge them. That’s not a writer.

You won’t find my drafts being discussed in a critique group; I don’t belong to a group. That’s not a writer.

So, yesterday I quit.

Then a friend told me it’s not that I’m not a writer, it’s that I don’t have opportunity to write. Well, yes and no. A writer would find opportunities regardless of how complicated life gets, or how tired her body is, or how overloaded her brain feels. A writer would not purposely keep her thoughts to herself, make excuses to not let it happen, fail to release some of that overload through setting her words free. No, that’s not a writer.

So, yesterday I gave up.

I told myself I am kidding myself. I am letting myself believe the impossible when the impossible is … IMPOSSIBLE! 

And then …. I wondered … what then will I do?! When I don’t have that dream, what do I have? And what of my binder full of ideas? My few picture book  manuscripts? my (still) almost completed first draft of my first young adult novel?

Then I thought … HMMMMM

I DO have pages and pages of ideas (for PBs), some just scraps of possibilities, some glimmers of hope, some silly shadows of something that could be … something – or not.

I DO have dreams of sharing my words and ideas – although that’s a scary thing to me – and finding someone eager to publish them because they believe in me.

I DO have the experience of being part of an online critique group for awhile where I shared a couple of my stories for suggestions, also scary for me.

In March I learned that I’m a shy writer. (Check out my review of The Shy Writer by C. Hope Clark.) And I sabotage myself by not allowing my words to find a life and be shared. I’m afraid of not being good enough. I’m afraid of maybe being good enough … and what then?

Maybe I am a writer. Yes, I do write. I’ve had to write in some way for most of my life, probably getting a real start as a troubled teenager full of angst, when expression came through the poetry that flowed from my heart. Since then I’ve captured many poems on paper over the years, most coming out of my faith.

Yes, I am a writer. I think it’s more that I was giving up on my dream. Perhaps it’s that I see it as a fruitless endeavour when what I have wanted for a very long time is to be a published author of children’s books – yet I haven’t taken myself there.

It helps to be rested. I don’t get quality sleep at my dad’s, and then when I’m home every other week I find it hard to settle into sleep. Yes, it helps to be rested. Discouragement feeds itself off one’s weariness. Quitting comes easier.

One dream I’ll share with you is this:  My mother (who is no longer with us) wrote a cute maritime story many years ago, one which would be a delightful picture book, and I know my dad would love to see it in print while he is still able to know. I almost paid (big bucks) to have it done, but … how I would love for a traditional publisher to see it and, of course, their wanting to publish it would be the most exciting thing ever. It would be a sweet memorial to my dear mum.

I am a writer. With a dream. A weary writer (weary everything I am) with a hope to improve. The daughter of a writer with a brilliant imagination who didn’t pursue her talent of writing in the way she would have liked. I want to go beyond that.

Yesterday I quit. I gave up.

Today I am trudging on.

Someday I may give up — But today is not that day.   –  anonymous

Any words of advice or anything to share regarding publishing or anything else?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  :)

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension”, part 29: “Are We There Yet?”

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on my drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month twenty-nine:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 29: Are We There Yet?

So I’ve sent my novel out to my beta readers, who are struggling through the manuscript, bless their hearts. While I wait for their opinions, I work on my fifth draft. For this draft, I work from a printed copy, not the computer screen, because during the fifth draft I’m adding in extra research information and checking out every little fact. I have a tendency to trash my office during this time, piling research books, papers, articles, artifacts, and notes on every available surface.

IMG_1878A copy of the Vocedol Dove from the Eneolithic culture that once flourished near present day Vukovar, Croatia. This copy graces one of the bookshelves in my office.

Here’s an example of how I attack my manuscript during the research-revisions phase. The following segment is the current opening paragraph in my novel-in-progress BONE FIRE, which is set in Eastern Europe, 5800 B.C.

The size of an eight-winter child, that old man, smaller even than Awna. Since the earth was frozen less than a hand-length down, Awna used only half a morning to chop away the soil and the tree roots to carve out his grave. With the wide, flat blade of her digging stone, she pried up pads of moss under the oak trees that spread their winter-broken leaves against the sky. Webbed with the night’s meager snowfall, the moss carried the heavy scent of rich, wet earth, a smell the old man had loved, so Awna layered it as a bed at the bottom of his grave. She pulled his body to the hole, her fingers cupped gently over his brittle bones. She let his feet ease in first, and after, the rest of him. Then she crouched on the edge of the grave, as if she might slide down and claim space for herself.

1. The size of an eight-winter child, that old man… The old man in BONE FIRE is a primordial dwarf. I will check out my notes and sources to be sure this size is accurate. Yes, I’ve already checked this, but I will check it again.

2. Since the earth was frozen less than a hand-length down… This period in Eastern Europe was warmer than the current climate. I need to consult temperature charts and find information about how quickly the  the ground freezes in winter. I also will need to double check soil types. All this I’ll find on the Internet, but I’ll also talk to my dad about it. He holds a master’s degree in Soils.

3. …only half a morning to chop away the soil and tree roots… I’ll use a couple of resources for this segment — my husband who has dug a lot of post holes in his life, and our friend who is a mortician and has supervised the digging of graves.

4. …wide, flat blade of her digging stone… I’ll be sorting through artifact photographs my husband and I took at a museum visit during our recent trip to Eastern Europe.

5. …moss under the oak trees… For this, I’ll resort once again to my very handy The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of the World book by Tony Russell, Catherine Cutler, and Martin Walters. I’ll also do a bit more research on moss. Does it grow under oak trees? What types of moss are native to Eastern Europe?

6. …the night’s meager snowfall… Back to Internet resources and climate data.

Even if you aren’t writing historical fiction, you’ll still need to check out some of the facts you present in your novel, because one misstep can make readers –  at least a few of them — close your book and never come back to it. If you’re using some controversial happenings or opinions as fact, don’t be afraid to mention that in your author’s notes. Readers will forgive educated guesses, even if they disagree with your conclusions. However, it’s difficult to overlook those blatantly wrong statements presented as fact.

Remember, readers are a novelist’s life blood. When you complete a book and release it into the world, you are in effect making a contract with your readers. They give up one of their most precious commodities — time — to read your book. In return, you, the writer, should give them your very best effort, which includes accurate research.

Novels which require extensive research will have mistakes. No matter how hard you try to uncover the facts, you’re going to miss something. It’s not the end of the world. If a reader calls you on it, apologize and thank them.

So, that’s my fifth draft. For some writers, a research draft will take no more than a few days. For me, it’s usually a couple of months, but it’s a fun couple of months, the culmination of all the research travel, reading, and gathering I’ve done over the year or two it takes me to write the novel. In the case of BONE FIRE, I’ve invested nearly a decade into the research. The same for my Alaska books. But that’s one of my quirks. I love research.

My question for you: Do you love to do research, or do you consider it just a necessary evil?

Strength to your pen!

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back July 23, 2015, for part 30.

Sue Harrison’s Writing the Third Dimension, Part 28: One More Time – Fourth Draft

Welcome back! For the rest of this year we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison’s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read and learn from all the fabulous segments from 2013-2015 by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month twenty-eight:

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“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 28: One More Time – Fourth Draft

In my growing-up years, our elementary school classrooms each  included a two-shelf “library,” and, during the first ten weeks of every school year, I would work my way through all the library books. Then I would read through to the end of my reading book, and then my social studies book. After that, I would sit at my desk during rainy recesses and be bored. Until I “took up” drawing.

In the third grade, I was fascinated with Disney characters, and I drew my way from Snow White to Cinderella, Mickey and Minnie and on to Dumbo, and all the rest. I kept my drawings in a notebook in my desk, a “family” that I belonged to during my school days. As I became more adept at drawing, I noticed an odd phenomenon. When I completed a drawing, I was delighted with it. It looked perfect to my eyes, but the next day, when I took it out, I would notice that somehow overnight in my desk, that drawing had become far less than perfect, and usually the whole thing had a persistent slant one way or the other.

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One of my imperfect drawings! Ilagix is an Aleut word that means peace in the sense of friendship.

Now as an adult and a novelist, whatever gets “put away” as a perfect scene is never perfect the next day and even becomes worse the next week or the next month. When I’m up-close to my work, I just don’t see the imperfections. I need a little distance. I handle that need in two ways.

First, I let my writing “rest. ” Unfortunately, with deadlines clamoring, that rest period is usually limited to a couple of weeks, a month at most. That’s why my second solution to this problem is so important. I have readers. In the writing world, these readers are called Beta Readers.

These folks are friends who aren’t afraid to tell me about the book’s imperfections. They don’t mind sharing their ideas, and they don’t get their feelings hurt if I choose not to implement their suggestions.

My readers fall into two categories. Some read scenes only, and they read for specific knowledge areas. My father, for example, has degrees in soil sciences and agriculture. He reads my “plant and soil” sections. My husband reads action scenes. Other friends read for animal husbandry and others for topography. Some read the hunting scenes, and others concentrate on the details of my setting.

My second group of readers read the whole manuscript. When my mother was able to edit, she read my manuscripts for typos and grammar. Her gift was languages, and she was particularly good at catching the problems in the writing itself. I have one reader who is an expert at personality disorders, and several who bring the younger-generation focus to the manuscript.

With my current manuscript, I also plan to hire a professional editor. His specialty is reading for flow, market appeal, and vision, but I won’t send him my manuscript until I’ve made the corrections and changes suggested by my Beta Readers.

When I’ve received their suggestions, I do one huge marathon session that lasts about a week, maybe two, and write in their corrections. That’s it for Fourth Draft.  If you guess that it ranks right up there as one of my favorites, you’re right! And I marvel at the ideas and the wisdom of those people so willing to help me for nothing but my gratitude and a paltry mention in the Writer’s Acknowledgements.

How do you feel about letting others read your work? Nervous, anxious to share, shy, reluctant?

Strength to your pen,

Sue

 *Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two bestselling Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy – all of which went digital in May 2013. She also wrote a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you to come back June 25, 2015, for part 29.