On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.
Without interesting characters, there would be no reason to pick up a novel, as humans are all basically voyeurs, and our most favorite pastime is observing each other. With a good read we can get inside an imaginary human’s head, see what makes them tick, understand their flaws and foibles. So beyond what physical descriptions can tell us about our characters, what can we do to make them alive and breathing, especially considering some modern schools of thought decry physical descriptions at all? Let’s take a look at this “Checklist on Creating Characters,” taken from David Starkey’s Creative Writing – Four Genres in Brief (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009), a terrific textbook I’ve used in my Creative Writing classes:
Do you know your main characters and their desires well? You should have a strong sense of who your characters are, where they live, where they’ve been, and the driving forces that make them act. They should know what they want and what they’re prepared to do to get it.
Does your story show us only the essential aspect of your characters? While it’s important that you know your characters thoroughly, you will be revealing only a tiny sliver of that info on the page. Show your characters being themselves, only more so. Whatever conflict they are involved in should bring out a heightened sense of who they really are.
Is your description of each character appropriate to, and necessary for, that character’s function in the story? You, the author, should always have a clear mental picture of your characters, but you should ask yourself if a complete physical, psychological, ethical, etc., description is really necessary for all characters. Unless some physical or emotional aspect of your character is necessary to the storyline, leave it out.
Are the characters’ names appropriate? Do it reflect their personality? Their ethnicity? A physical characteristic? Try not to have too many Sams, Steves, Saras or Susans, as so many of the same letter can be confusing. And if that 1840s character from the remotest region of cloistered China is named O’Brien, you better have a reason why.
Should that character be named at all? He’s a doorman the protagonist breezes past on the way out. Who cares. Unless, of course, later on he comes after him with a shotgun.
Are your main characters different at the end of the story than they were in the beginning? The most convincing fictional characters are both consistent and surprising. Reread the opening and concluding sections of your story. Do you see a difference in how your protagonist began and how he or she ends up? If there’s no growth–or considerable decline–then you have a static character, and your readers will feel cheated.
And at the end, will they leave your readers wanting more? Essential if you want to continue your story in a series. Like breadcrumbs through the woods, leave a trail of intriguing tidbits about the characters you’d like your readers to follow into the next book. And the next, and the next, and beyond.
So you’re getting ready to pitch your book at your first writers conference because you think you’ve finished the ms. But have you? Here’s something few new writers realize: you haven’t. Then how do you know when you have finished? When you send back the publisher’s galleys. Galleys? What are galleys?
Oh boy, do you have some work to do.
So between now and then you need to go over your manuscript with a magnifying glass, looking for plot holes, continuity slips, characters inconsistencies, etc. This is also a good time to use a beta reader, a critique partner (highly recommended), or someone you trust to give it an honest, critical read, and not someone who’ll just say “It was great!” because they don’t want to damage your fledgling writer ego. (Look, I may as well hit you with it now–the World of Writing is a World of Hurt. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can dab off your cryin’ eyes and get back to work.) But here’s a caveat to all that critiquing–DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! If your betas are worth it they’re not criticizing you, they’re critiquing the work. And it’s better hearing it from them first than having it rejected by an editor or agent because of some very fixable flaw. So do the work now and get it over with because you’re going to do it eventually anyway. Your work will need to be as perfect as possible, and that’s the whole work, right to THE END.
One thing that is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE is that you MUST have a FINISHED MANUSCRIPT before you start pitching it. Why? Let me tell you something about agents and editors: they are being bombarded by submissions. My agent alone gets up to 200 queries a week. If you get a submission request and you don’t send your manuscript within a month, trust me, she’ll forget all about you. Strike while the iron is steaming and before you move out of her memory. But again, only after you polish that manuscript until it’s pink and screaming.
The Basics—Genre and Word Count.
You know what your manuscript is about, but how would you categorize it? And what is your word count? A typical fiction novel is 75,000 to 100,000 words, though most check in around 80-85k. Round this number to the nearest thousand. The editor doesn’t have to know it’s 82,437 words. You also need to know your genre. This is key as this is how you’ll not only narrow your search for an agent, but once you’ve found one, it’s how she’ll target it to editors. Common Fiction genres are:
literary commercial mystery romance
women’s fiction humor/satire historical new adult
young adult middle grade children’s picture book
espionage thriller/suspense gay/lesbian military
horror fantasy sci-fi graphic novel
Or any combination of. Some of the popular genres, such as mystery and romance, also have sub-genres, ie, “cozy” mysteries, like Agatha Christie, or historical romance, or spec-sci-fi.
Common Non-Fiction genres are:
history sports biography science
memoirs narrative pop culture cultural/social sci
travel political humor gift books
health/fitness gardening photography self-help
true crime art adventure business
how-to journalism religion cookbooks
celebrity current affairs
You need to be very familiar with your genre and word count, as you’ll need it for your presentation or query. It’ll be one of the first things the editor or agent will want to know.
Finding your Perfect Editor/Agent
The majority of publishers no longer accept unagented submissions. Some epublishers do, and so do some genre pubs, like romance and sci-fi but if you want to target one of the major houses without an agent, really the only way you’re going to get to them is through pitch sessions at writers conferences or the direct recommendation of one of their clients. Unless you’re lucky enough to know the latter, you’re going to have to do some legwork for the former. Because there’s nothing worse than meeting with an editor or agent face-to-face and having them say, “Sorry, I don’t represent that genre.” From which the luminescent glow of your crimson face will no doubt show the world what a minor league player you are. So do your homework.
Read other authors in the genre of what you write, and target those editors or agents. Look in the acknowledgement page and see who the author thanks. Look through the books you have already bought, or go haunt your local bookstore. Then when you’re querying the agent, or sitting down for a face-to-face, you can say your book is a cross between “this writer and that writer with a touch of another writer thrown in.”
Literary Marketplace(LMP). If you don’t know what it is, time to find out. Available in hard copy and database at most local libraries.
Manuscript Wish List , the websiteMSWL or the hashtag, #MSWL. Find editors and agents, and see what they’re looking for.
Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity. Love love love this blog. Too much publishing info to put down on this entry, so go there and see for yourself.
Go directly to the agent’s website, and see what authors they represent, and what books they’ve sold. This is even more important for an editor. Go directly to the publisher’s website. An editor or agent may say they LIKE something but if they’ve never SOLD it, they may not be a good fit. A SALE is always a more reliable indicator.
Targeting your Editor or Agent
Now that you know your genre, and how to research an agent, or an editor, you need to target which one will fit your style. Compare the list of visiting editors and agents to what you write and see if there’s a fit. If an editor only publishes literary fiction and you write sci-fi, chances are, no matter how well you write, they will not accept your submission. Same goes with agents. If an agent’s specialty is romance, and you write essays, you’re going to strike out. Too many times writers will submit to agents that don’t represent their type of writing, and then can’t understand why they get rejected. I can’t stress this enough:It’s better NOT to submit than to submit to the wrong editor and/or agent. Don’t think they’re just going to fall in love with your western and grab it anyway, when all they’ve previously sold is cookbooks. That happens VERY rarely in the real world. Save yourself a lot of needless rejection angst and just do your homework.
Jones-ing for some editors and agents and a little literary elbow-rubbing? Then how about taking a trip to Red Bank for the LitPow Author-Preneur Workshop by the River on September 16, 2017. This event is an amazing multilayered interactive full day workshop with presentations by Literary Agent Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq., and other key industry professional guests dedicated to authors’ success. The workshop is presented at a beautiful location by the Navesink River in Red Bank, NJ, where the setting is relaxing and inspiring. Light breakfast, lunch, and social mixer will be provided.
During this retreat like full day workshop authors have the opportunity to attend various Presentations, pitch Literary Agents and Editors (Optional), get a book signed by NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Heidi McLaughlin during our Mixer, get work critiqued by Agents and Editors (Optional), attend the Gong Show: First Page Critique Literary Agent and Editor Panel, and Network with authors and industry professionals all day long and during a Networking Mixer after hours.
For more info and registration about the Author-Preneur Workshop visit their website here.
I read an article today in the New York Times by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed about a woman who had a powerful dream one night about writing a book. The dream was so intense she awoke in tears, almost ready to quit her job and become a barista so she could pursue it. (Riiiight. Because that’s the path bestsellerdom, certainly more practical than getting an MFA and adjuncting yourself out as an English professor. But I digress.) Cheryl Strayed, who knows a thing or two about dropping out, acknowledged that dream may have been a kind of wake-up call, but also issued a few cautions. “Writing a book is drudgery,” she said. “It requires an apprenticeship. I suggest that you begin by doing it. Sign up for a workshop or take a vacation and spend it writing. See where that leads you. You don’t have to immediately quit your job to become a writer. You need only to start writing.”
Words never more true. You can’t call yourself a writer if you never write because writers write. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “I’d write a book if I only had the time,” or “When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Yeah, because writers are really people with these friendless, vacant lives, and they only write to give themselves something to do besides watching The Bachelorette. (And no I didn’t.) Now, when I retire I’m going to preform brain surgery because you know, it’s the same kind of simple skill set. In my opinion, this type of thinking boils down to what many outside the profession believe: that writing is either something anyone can do if one could afford the leisure, or it’s this ephemeral kind of vocation that awards stardom upon completion of the inevitable masterwork. In reality, I hate to tell you, it’s usually neither.
But one thing I can say with absolute certainty is the writing life is just that. It’s like being being pregnant: you either are or you’re not. You can’t be kinda. When you’re in the life, it’s all-consuming. A work-in-progress is a cruel, unrelenting succubus (or incubus) that forgoes your loins for your every creative thought. It demands all of your time, whether working or driving or eating or sleeping–it takes hold of both rational and irrational thought and doesn’t let go. It demands you set every word and impulse down by forcing you to confront the blank page, administering pain no opiate could numb, but rewarding you with a pleasure beyond sublime in the process. But to be good at it, to be a success, it entails hours upon tens of hours of trial and error, the ability to withstand heaps and heaps of criticism, the tenacity to write the same passage a dozen times over, and the capacity to understand failure as a fact of any writer’s life.
In the end, if you have a hardened enough hide to spend hours in a chair, days without family, weekends forgoing anything social, and months and months of hurrying up to meet a deadline, only to spend an equal amount of time hearing nothing back, then maybe–just maybe you’re ready to wake up from that dream into a new reality. And take that job as a barista.
Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects brings back into light the skeletons hidden in our cultural closets. The free online journal welcomes writing and other creative productions about lost objects and images of material culture: sculptures and paintings in the back rooms of museums or in hidden corners of public spaces; murals forgotten in plain view; lost photographic archives and restored films; newly discovered letters or manuscripts; knickknacks in attics; oddities and curiosities in misbegotten sideshows; forgotten stories that remind us of pasts that we cannot afford to forget.
Poor Yorick invites submissions in any and every literary genre and any electronically reproducible visual or audio medium. In addition to open submissions, the journal’s editorial staff will occasionally identify a particular historical object, collection, exhibit, etc., and call for submissions inspired by the selected artifact or collection.
I know I’ve dealt with the subject of rejections before and although it’s hardly a happy topic, it is one of transition. Reality is a cruel mistress, and you can’t spin in the real world of writers if you’ve never been kicked to your ass a few times (or over a hundred like I’ve been, probably more, as I trust my agent to only give me the good news.) And you may as well face it now, snowflake, it’ll probably get a lot worse before it gets better. True, there’s always the case of the author whose first manuscript lands with the first agent they contact who sells it to the first editor. This happens. I know of a couple of cases myself. But the bald fact is the road to publication is pocked with a shit-ton of potholes. The trick is to learn how to veer around them and keep on going.
A fellow writer of mine got her very first rejection yesterday from an industry professional. She said although getting one made her sad, the agent gave her such detailed comments, she considered it good advice rather than criticism. It made her reconsider her characterization, as well as where the protagonist’s actions were leading the plot. And that in turn made her see her protagonist in a new light. I cautioned her that you don’t have to always agree with what an editor or an agent says as ultimately, you have the final say on what you write. But sometimes you can come so close to a work, especially after many revisions, you lose sight of the overall story arc. And I hate to say it but sometimes, unless that advice comes from an industry professional, you may not take those suggestions to heart. Often we will already have heard the same thing from a friend or beta-reader, but who listens to those? Unless, of course it’s effusive praise. The other thing is–and you’ll often hear an agent or editor echoing this–all writing, as well as reading, is subjective. As what may seem phenomenal to you may just seem meh to an industry professional. As in the–REJECTION I JUST RECEIVED WHILE WRITING THIS!! My agent’s text:
Just got a decline from XXXXX <publisher>. <Editor> said you are very talented, but she didn’t fall in love with the story as much as she wanted to. Sorry.
Fuck. Fuckity-fuck fuck. But I’m not going to get upset. I’M NOT. Really and truly. <goes to retrieve big piece of 72% Belgian chocolate to salve wounded ego. Drinks big sip of water. Feels much better. Though has been known to lie on occasion.>
A-hem! Where was I? Oh yes, my self-fulfilling prophecy. Call me a duck, because you do have to let it slide off your back. At this moment I’m channeling James Lee Burke and his book The Lost Get Back Boogie that was rejected 111 times before it was eventually published, and even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hey, you got to find your inspiration somewhere.
Liberty States Fiction Writers, a multi-genre fiction writing group meeting in New Jersey (and for whom yours truly is the Vice-President) has sent out a call for proposals for our annual Writers Conference. Have a workshop about the craft or business of writing? Maybe you have a fun filled idea for a readers track panel? Perhaps you have both? Then we want to hear from you!
The Liberty States Fiction Writers welcomes pre-published writers at all levels as well as e-published, indie press and traditionally published authors.
Yearly dues for new members are $50 and include attendance at monthly workshops, reduced conference rate, access to Members Only section with videos/podcasts of past workshops, monthly newsletters, promotional opportunities and more.
Our annual conference will take place at the The Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel in South Iselin, NJ March 24 – 25, 2018. Conference includes workshops, panels, editor and agent appointments, select meals, networking, book fair and more. Conference registration opens in September, though for more information about LSFW and on submitting your proposal now, go here. Looking forward to hearing from you!
I must have asked myself that question a million times, and I keep asking it without getting any real answers. How many unanswered texts will I tolerate? When is one email too many? Should I call or shouldn’t I? Is ‘no news’ really ‘good news?’ How long is too long? When do I stop soliciting advice and just fly on my intuition? Is it true I simply have to be patient? If that’s true then how long should I wait? Because when is enough actually enough?
To be a writer is to question your resolve over and over again. It goes along with questioning your ability, your stamina, your judgment, your self-esteem. You’re told you really can’t call yourself a writer until you start racking up the rejections, fill your inbox with humiliation, papering your wall with talent assessments from strangers. I once had an award-winning writer dress me down during a manuscript evaluation at a nationally renowned writers conference, literally screaming at me for wasting his time. “Who told you you could write!” he yelled at me, while I stared at him aghast and cowering, too flabbergasted to respond. At least my mind had the good sense to conjure up ASSHOLE! ASSHOLE! over and over again, but that didn’t stop me from fleeing to my room to collapse in teary self-doubt. Little did I know at the time that pre-published incident simply set the stage for more disappointment to come, more rejections, crappy sales, proposals that went nowhere, savage reader reviews. (A word of advice to newly published authors: stay away from Goodreads. The first glowing reader reviews will have you dancing on the ceiling. The first terrible ones will have you wanting to hang from it. Reviews are always subjective. If you want to read any, stick to the movies coming out this week.) Getting published doesn’t wash all the self-doubt away. It just ascends it to a professional level.
You wonder again and again why you do it. Why anyone would put themselves through such a wringer of scrutiny only to fall flat on their face 99% of the time. You wonder as you work through the dark of the night, or amid the first shards of light before waking the kids, as you slip in your flash drive to write at your desk during lunch, or as you tap that perfect passage into your phone on the train ride home. You wonder through the first chapters, through the call to adventure, the sagging middle, the dark moment, finding the elixir. Through that brief moment of absolute serendipity when you type THE END. As you hit SEND to sail your query through to an agent’s website, as you approach an editor at your first pitch session, or tweet only the most essential 140 characters into #MSWL. As you wade through the rejections, as you forget the last to go forward, as the law of averages and the law of even a blind chicken gets a piece of corn now and then, somehow you hear a click and there’s a request for more, then a proposal, then the whole manuscript, then–the unthinkable. Then all the planets line up and the sun finally comes out, and you find out that maybe, just maybe. Maybe you’ll get it right this time.
Then again, maybe you won’t. Maybe all the doom in the world will descend on you, you talentless guttersnipe, your presumptuous amateur, you hopeless fool. After all, who told you you could write?!
Then again, maybe you’re the only one in the world who doesn’t know you can. And then you do it anyway.
And get to a Writers’ Conference for pity’s sake. It doesn’t matter your level of writing proficiency. Like a health care professional–and for your own mental health–you need to get out there and update those skills. So take a look below for the conferences coming up around the country in May, and remember–the best networking is done in the hotel bar!
ASJA Writers Conference. May 5 – 6, 2017. Concurrent morning & afternoon panels rated from beginning to advances, some for all levels. Luncheon, keynote speaker, networking. 100+ authors, editors, literary agents, publicists.
13th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. May 1 – May 7, 2017 at various locations in New York City. readings, performances, and panel discussions for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. “The thirteenth annual PEN World Voices Festival will take on some of the vital issues of the Trump-era, with a special focus on today’s restive relationship between gender and power. Taking place in New York City, May 1-7, 2017, the weeklong festival will use the lens of literature and the arts to confront new challenges to free expression and human rights—issues that have been core to PEN America’s mission since its founding. At this historic moment of both unprecedented attacks on core freedoms and the emergence of new forms of resistance, the Festival will offer a platform for a global community of writers, artists and thinkers to connect with concerned citizens and the broader public to fight back against bigotry, hatred and isolationism.”
Northern Colorado Writers Conference. May 5 – 6, 2017, Fort Collins CO. The 2017 Northern Colorado Writers Conference will bring back some local favorites such as Laura Pritchett, Trai Cartwright, and Kerrie Flanagan, as well as welcome several new-to-NCW presenters such as Bob Mayer, Jessica Strawser, and Whitney Davis, and several new agents.
Idaho Writers Guild Conference. May 5 – 6, 2017, Boise, Idaho. Meet with agents, editors, and authors. Panel discussions, workshops, and a keynote speaker. Your registration – $195 for IWG members, $225 for non-members.
Gold Rush Writers Conference. May 5 – 7, 2017, Mokelumne Hill, CA. “Writing professionals will guide you to a publishing bonanza through a series of panels, specialty talks, workshops and celebrity lectures. Go one-on-one with successful poets, novelists, biographers, memoirists and short story writers.” Writing workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Children’s, Fiction, Marketing, Non-fiction, Poetry, Publishing, Romance, Travel, Young Adult.
The Massachusetts Poetry Festival. May 5 – May 7, 2017, Salem, Massachusetts. The Mass Poetry Festival offers nearly 100 poetry readings and workshops, a small press and literary fair, panels, poetry slams, and open-air readings. More than 150 poets will engage with thousands of New Englanders.
Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace Conference. May 5 – May 7, 2017. Boston, Massachusetts. The Muse and the Marketplace is a three-day literary conference designed to give aspiring writers a better understanding about the craft of writing fiction and non-fiction, to prepare them for the changing world of publishing and promotion, and to create opportunities for meaningful networking. On all three days, prominent and nationally-recognized established and emerging authors lead sessions on the craft of writing—the “muse” side of things—while editors, literary agents, publicists and other industry professionals lead sessions on the business side—the “marketplace.”
Hedgebrook VORTEXT Salon. May 5 – 7, 2017: Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, about 35 miles northwest of Seattle. Workshops, panel discussions, lectures, open mics, and time to write in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for women writers.
Columbus State Community College Writers Conference. May 6, 2017, Columbus, Ohio. Workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Business/Technical, Fiction, Journalism, Marketing, Non-fiction, Playwriting, Poetry, Publishing, Screenwriting. This one-day conference is free of charge.
DFW Writers Conference. May 6 – 7, 2017, Fort Worth TX. Featuring pitch sessions with literary agents, advanced classes, engaging panels, interactive workshops.
Writers Retreat Workshop. May 6 – 13, 2017, San Antonio, TX. Featuring Author and Instructor Lisa Cron (Wired for Story, Story Genuis), Thriller novelist Daniel Palmer (Delirious, Forgive Me, Mercy (with his late father Michael Palmer) ), Mystery and thriller author Reavis Wortham (Red River Mystery Series, and in 2017 Sonny Hawke series), Author and Instructor Les Edgerton (Bomb, Hooked (WD), The Bitch), Author, Instructor and Editor Carol Dougherty, Author, Instructor, Editor, and Program Director Jason Sitzes, and more agents, editors, and authors. Mokulē‘ia Writers Retreat. May 7 – 12, 2017 in Waialua, Hawaii at Camp Mokulē‘ia, Oahu. Offers workshops in fiction and nonfiction, readings, one-on-one consultations, publishing panels, yoga sessions. The retreat is led by North Shore native Constance Hale, the author of Sin and Syntax, the editor of more than two dozen books, and a journalist whose stories about Hawai‘i appear on CD liner notes, as well as in publications like The Los Angeles Times and Smithsonian magazine. Hale invites a mix of writers, editors, and agents from both the islands and the mainland to lead various workshops and appear on panels.
Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp. May 7- 13, 2017: West Bend WI. 6-day, residential workshop-retreat for writers in all genres working on a novel or creative nonfiction book. Workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Non-fiction, Publishing, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Young Adult. Registration is limited to 30 people.
Lakefly Writers Conference. May 12 – 13, 2017: Premier Waterfront Hotel & Convention Center in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Workshops, talks, and a bookfair for poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Keynote speaker is Nickolas Butler. Many speakers and presenters.
Seaside Writers Conference. May 14 – 20, 2017: Seaside Assembly Hall in Seaside, Florida. “The Seaside Writers Conference is an annual gathering of creative writers from all over the nation, and features award-winning writers in poetry and fiction and screenwriting who will offer a full week of intensive writing workshops, one day seminars, school outreach programs, and social events.” Many authors, agents, editors.
Writing By Writers Methow Valley Workshop: May 17 – 21, 2017, Winthrop, WA. Faculty: faculty includes Ron Carlson, Ross Gay, Pam Houston and Lidia Yuknavitch. Tuition: $1,650 (before November 1) $1,750 (after November 1) includes one four-day workshop, admittance to all panels and readings, and all meals (dinner on Wednesday; three meals Thursday through Saturday; breakfast and lunch on Sunday) and lodging for four nights. Alumni of the first Methow Valley Workshop in May 2016 will receive a $100 discount.
Pennwriters Conference, May 19 – 21, 2017, Pittsburgh, PA. Friday evening keynote Jonathan Maberry; Saturday afternoon keynote Chuck Sambuchino; and 20+ authors, literary agents & editors, writing industry pros. Costs: $375 for 3-day registration. One-day registration available $185.
Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference. May 26 – 27, 2017: Wyndham University Center in Pittsburgh. Master classes, craft discussions, publishing talks, pitch sessions, and readings for creative nonfiction writers. In just three days you can meet one-on-one with a literary agent or publishing consultant, get concrete advice from professional writers, hear what different kinds of editors are looking for, and hone your skills in an inspiring small-group session. You’ll also meet and mingle with writers from across the country who share your excitement about the writing process.