Fiction Friday Meets Write On,Wednesday

By Leslie Lindsay 41a64-screenshot2012-05-19at11-48-14am

If you’ve been toiling away on a manuscript and getting no where with agents, then what are you doing wrong? I know, I know…I ask this at least once a day. Bet you do, too.

The thing is this: so many writers are too concerned with the end result [a published book] than they are with the act of writing. Sure, we all want to ‘have written,’ but it’s the ‘writing’ that gets us there. In the meantime, do your very best writing each and every day. Sure, it takes dogged determination and a thick skin, but it’s what gets you from point A to point B. [Hint: Butt in chair].

I’ve been doing some research on literary agents, reading interviews, scouring their websites and here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Agents want writing [a story/book] that is: effortless, authentic, surprising, engaging, balanced, and unique. Sounds like a lot of criteria, huh? Can you honestly say that your manuscript includes some element of those qualities? If not, maybe it’s time to re-energize it. If you want, go ahead and jot those word down and post them near your work area to keep you focused.
  • Some signs you’re getting closer to publication: 1) You start receiving perosnalized and “encouraging” rejections.
  • 2) Agents/editors reject your submitted manuscript, but ask you to send your next work. They see you are on to something…good things are around the corner.
  • 3) Your mentor (or published author friend) tells you to contact her agent without you asking for a referral.
  • 4) An agent or editor proactively contacts you because she spotted your work somewhere on-line or in print.
  • 5) You’ve outgrown your critique group and need to find more sophisticated critque partners.
  • 6) Looking back, you see why your earlier work was rejected–and probably deserved to be. You might even feel embarrassed by it.  [points 1-6 from Writer’s Digest July/August 2011]

The question is this: Can you identify with any of those points? Are you nodding your head at the good, the bad, the ugly? If so, you may be getting closer to publication.

The recipe for success: Not that I have all of the answers, heck–I’m still slogging through myself. BUT here are a few tips I’ve gleaned along the way:

  • Put your butt in the chair. Committ to writing for a designated amount of time. Fortuantely, inspiration happens for me at 9am every day. Not really. But my butt goes to the chair then. I stare at the blinking cursor for at least four hours. Some days, I write better than others.
  • If four hours is too much for you, start small. 15 minutes?  I bet you’ll end up doing more.
  • Read great books. Really great books. Don’t mess around with writing that doesn’t challenge or enthrall you. It’s teaching you nothing.
  • But don’t slog off a bad book. The author makes it look easy–but could you do it?  Then identify why you felt it was a ‘bad’ book. Too much this? Too little that? Think about how you would have done it differently?
  • If you don’t write that day, do something else literary-related. Go to book discussion group. Critique group. Browse the library. Talk to a bookseller. Really talk to a bookseller (they are the ones that keep us writers in business). Purchase a book you’re excited about (what draws you to it?). Reserach possible agents (hint: only if you have a completed manuscript–if you don’t have one yet, you’re wasting time). Read a book about writing. Dash off a scene idea. Do a character sketch. Plot out your main story points.

So, what are you waiting for?!  Write On, Wednesday Friday!

Coming up:

  • March 5th interview with best selling author Holly Peterson about success, early morning writing, and her new book, THE IDEA OF HIM (William Morrow, April 1)
  • March 12th (or possibly 19th) interview with debut crime/thriller author Elizabeth Heiter and HUNTED
  • Leslie’s storyboard ideas

Write On, Wednesday: Interview with Author Deb Caletti

By Leslie Lindsay

I am thrilled to feature National Book Award Finalist Deb Caletti to Write On, Wednesday!  When I came across her latest book, HE’S GONE (Bantam, 2013) it was quite honesty by accident.  Not the kind of accident that occurs between the covers of the book, but one in which you find yourself pleasantly surprised. 

Having a long-standing career writing YA, this is Caletti’s first book intended for an adult audience.  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

And now, I’d love to introduce Ms. Caletti and her world of fiction:1-80c6806cdf

Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for agreeing to be with us today, Deb.  HE’S GONE totally ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite books.  I fell in love the gritty manner you crafted sentences, the idea that things aren’t always what they seem, the interplay of memory versus reality and the mystery of what really happened.  Can you tell us how you came up with the premise for this book?

Deb Caletti: “The idea for the book came much the same way the book itself begins. I woke up one morning, and my husband wasn’t there. I did that listening you do, where you try to see if the TV is on in the other room, or if there’s the sound of the toaster lever being pushed down. And suddenly there was the What If that often begins a novel. What if you woke up one day to find that your husband had vanished? And while my own was merely out walking the dog, the situation was much more complex for Dani and Ian in He’s Gone.”

“After I had the original premise, I decided to explore the subjects of guilt and wrongdoing, marriage and remarriage, and the way those old, treacherous voices from childhood can continue to haunt us.  During that time, I was doing a lot of thinking about regrets and mistakes.  The thematic question became this: what do us generally well meaning but all-too-human folks do with the wrongdoings we accumulate in a life?  How much guilt should we carry, and why-oh-why do some of us carry so much of it? ”

Leslie Lindsay:  You’ve jumped genres from YA to fiction.  How is that change treating you?  What would you say are the main differences between writing for young adults versus adults?  Why is it important to remember your audience?

Deb Caletti: “I haven’t made a permanent jump – my next book is a YA novel called THE LAST FOREVER, which I think is one of my best – a great book for teens and adults alike.  After that, I’ll be back to another adult novel.  The change in genres just made sense.  My previous nine young adult novels are complex and character driven, which meant my readers are already a mixed bag of ages, with a large percentage college-aged and over.  The crossover has been great for me creatively and professionally.  I think it’s important to shake things up every now and then, to stay fresh and interested in the work you do.”

“The writing process wasn’t all that different from my other books, given their thematic weight. As I writer, what I basically do is put myself in a characters shoes (and mind and heart and bathrobe) and then tell the truth from there.  I believe we are more similar than different – the thrill of new love, the crush of loss, the frustration of your car breaking down on an already bad day – the feeling is the same at eighteen or forty-eight. Love is love at any age, and so is joy and so is sadness. The surrounding elements might alter – a teen might be living in her parents’ home, versus Dani, for example, who lives in that gorgeous houseboat in He’s Gone; the loss might be a boyfriend versus a husband; that car might be Dad’s Honda versus Dani’s own old Audi. But the heart, I believe, is age-neutral – knowable, relatable, and understandable always, and heart is what creates a story a reader connects with.  As a writer, I use the same tools for both age groups – empathy and honesty.”

“That said, I was aware that my target age range was elevated with He’s Gone, and it allowed me to play with more complex sentence structures and deeper themes. There were no fences for me to stay in or out of. It was very freeing. I could just write.  No holding back.  For me, writing within those boundaries is actually in many ways more challenging.”

Leslie Lindsay: Speaking of genres, how do you feel about the term ‘women’s fiction?’   Would you consider HE’S GONE women’s fiction? 

Deb Caletti: “I’m not fond of any of the genre labels that might keep readers away from a book.  “Women’s fiction” puts a fence around the work, which tells a male reader that the book isn’t meant for him.  While He’s Gone has a female protagonist and while the story is told from her viewpoint, some of the strongest responses to the book have been from male readers who’ve really related to the corners of marriage and remarriage that are explored in it. The labels feel a little demeaning to readers.  I trust they can figure out whether a book is for them or not without instructions.”

Leslie Lindsay: Can you tell us a little about your earlier writing days?  Do you have dusty manuscripts under the bed?  How long did it take to get your first book accepted/published?

Deb Caletti: “I studied journalism in college, thinking it was a more “practical” form of writing, and because I understood the odds of making it in this profession. But, of course, I was a creative writer, not a journalist, and the lifelong dream kept following me even when I didn’t follow it.  I started writing seriously when my children were in preschool.  I finally had a hard talk with myself one day and made a vow to “do it,” whatever it took. I actually wrote four unpublished adult novels before my fifth book, THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING, was published.  I had the unusual good fortune of acquiring an agent after the first book I wrote, someone who believed in me so greatly that he stuck with me through those unsold books.  We actually thought THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING was an adult novel.  It’s about a young girl who watches her father spiral down to commit a crime of passion, and the content is pretty heavy.  When it got bought as a YA novel, my life in YA began.  I always call it the luckiest accident.  I’ve loved my YA life.  But writing adult novels is a coming-full-circle for me.  And, yes, my agent and I are STILL together.”

5x7_to_useLeslie Lindsay: Do you have any specific writing routines?  Things you have to have “in order” before you start?  (For me, it’s often a clean house.  But if you were to look at my office, you may question my housekeeping skills). 

Deb Caletti: “Given that I usually publish a book a year, there are three jobs going on at any one time – writing the newest book, working with the publisher to prepare the one I’ve just finished for publication, and doing the PR for the book that’s just been released.  So, generally, I’ve got to get right to it.  Step one: fill the coffee cup!  Strong, please!  I check my mail in the morning for any urgent business from my agent, publishers or publicists, and then I write.”

Leslie Lindsay: Would you consider yourself a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter?’  A little of both?  How do you typically go about the process of writing from idea to finished book? 

Deb Caletti: “I know where I’m starting and where I’m ending up, but not necessarily what’s going to happen along the way.  My process is, begin at the beginning and keep going until the end.  It’s a lot like life that way, and also in the way that you figure out quite a bit of it as you go.  You change your mind, you make discoveries.  I start with my basic plot, and then I decide on the themes I want to explore.  I decide which characters are going to make the trip.  For me, writing a book is a therapeutic act, an attempt to understand both myself and all of us poor old souls doing our best to ride the joys and sorrows of life.”

Leslie Lindsay: What advice might you give to an aspiring author with a completed manuscript?

Deb Caletti:This business requires boldness, determination, and passion.  Make that manuscript the best it can be, and I mean THE BEST.  Send out the queries to agents in the way they request, and then send out some more.  If the feedback isn’t what you’ve been longing to hear, fix the book and/or move on to the next one, and the next.  If that book doesn’t do it, don’t get stuck there.  Write an even better book and try again.  This is a craft.  Some successful writers have written five, eight, thirteen books before writing the one that will finally be published.  Too, know what this business really is and isn’t about (key word: business).  Know what it can give and what it won’t likely give.  With that knowledge, guard your heart and GO.  Have the persistence of a dog with a knotted sock.” 

Thank you so very much for sharing your insights and musings with us…and most of all, the gift of your literary work. 

For more information about Deb Caletti and her books, check out these sites & social media:

About the book:
Where to follow:

[All images provided courtesy of Deb Caletti and used with permission.  Special thanks to Deb for collaborating!]

Write On, Wednesday: Preparing for an Agent

By Leslie Lindsay

Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

About a week ago, I received an email from an acquaintance.  This Writerly person was picking my brain about literary agents.  Now, don’t get me wrong–I am no expert on agents.  Quite the contrary.  I am an agent virgin.  Sure, I’ve published a book, but I did that directly through the publisher via an old-fashioned query letter and then proposal package (it’s a non-fiction book, and that’s how these things are handled in the professional writing world).  Ahhh…yes…but what if that book is fiction?  Do the rules somehow change? 

You bet they do.  (nothing is ever easy, is it?). 

My response went something of the way of you need an agent.  you need an agent. you need an agent. you need an agent.  But, the person asked, “Don’t I need an editor?”  Well, yes.  And that, my friend is you.   


Wait.  Back the writing train up.  “The editor is me?  Little ol me?”  Yes. 

To write is human, to edit is devine.” 

That would be the great Stephen King.  And there’s a lot of truth to that statement.  Anyone can write.  It’s a pretty basic act.  String some letters togehter.  Make them into words, sentences, paragraphs, a whole darn book if you want.  But knowing what works and what doesn’t…what needs to be cut, or expanded upon….well, that is a skill all to itself. 

Here’s the thing:  if you are working on a manuscript (mss) you hope to submit for possible publication, you’d better be darn sure the thing is in good shape.  What this usually means is you toil away for hours on your craft.  You look at it all day, you think about it when you aren’t looking at it.  You read books.  Lots of them.  You jot down notes about things that strike your fancy when you are at the grocery store, or sitting at that stoplight.  Because, gosh darn it–you’ve been inspired! 

And when you think all of your inspiration has been squeezed outta you like a sponge and onto your computer screen, you look at it and think, “Well, this just sucks.  I’ll never get published.”  But you know you want to.  And then you get a writing partner or a critique group.  They like it.  You have more confidence again. 

Now you are ready to sell that manuscript.  Because, after all a six-figure book deal looks more sunny than say, your Grandmother’s 90th Birthday celebration in podunk-ville, USA where  you are bound to get more story ideas and character description for your next project.  But I digress.

Selling your manuscript is like selling a house.  You get an agent to sell your house, right?  A real estate agent.  They know the ins & outs of putting a house on the market, negotiating contracts, making that house look the best it can look.  You, probably do not.  So, you sign up with someone over at Coldwell Banker or John Greene and hope it sells quickly. 

And if you have poured your heart and soul into that house with upgrades, repairs, decorating, and a little TLC (read: conferences, diligent editing, timing, talent, luck, connections blood, sweat, and tears), then maybe you’ll get an agent.  (Remember, you wouldn’t put a house on the market that has glaring issues, a leaky roof for example). 

The agent sells your concept (yep–its a concept to sell now) to a publishing house (see, that house metaphor–well, it’s there for a reason).  Someone at that pub house will be assigned to be your editor.  You listen to them.  They know this business way better than you.  They tell you to cut the part of the book in which aliens attack the human population by way of flying basset hounds.  You do it.  They want you to beef up the section on why the character hates calculus.  You do that, too. 

Here’s how the “traditional” process goes:

1st draft–>feedback–>2nd draft–>feedback–>Polish–>Query Letter–>1-3page synopsis of the whole stinkin’ book–>Agent search–>Send query letters–>wait impatiently for an agent to request a partial mss (usually 3 chapters)–>get rejected–>Try again–>Finally score–an agent!–>wait for agent to sell to a buyer (i.e. pub house)–>negotiate contract (first time authors have little leaway)–>get an editor–>more revisions–>Blood–>Sweat–>Tears–>Get in the bookstore. 

I know, I know…the process is a little daunting.  But if  you want it bad enough, well…you make it happen.

Write on, Wednesday!

Write on, Wednesday! Writing (and editing) a Book

By Leslie Lindsay

“Hey, I’m busy over here–I’m writing a book, ya know?!”  Here’s the thing with writing a book:  It’s a BIG job.  Most folks don’t realize how big it is till they really get into it.  And the bottom line is most people don’t get into it.

In fact, I read somewhere that out of 100 people who want to write, only 10 actually do.  Of that 10, 9 will get rejected or give up.  One person is left with a manuscript and a contract and a finally a book.  One out of 100 want-to-be-writers actually end up with a book in hand?  Yikes.  Why bother?  Well…it has to be something you are completely 100% passionate about.  One has to have drive, ambition, good skills (and I’m not just talking writing skills here…but also negotiating skills, creativity skills, professionalism, etc.), persistence (but politely so), the desire to continue learning, the innate ability to obeserve the world (and the people in it), and to have a thick skin.  There’s probably more, too but this is all I can think of off-the-cuff.

In any case, I have written a book.  It’s about childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), something I am passionate about since my oldest daughter was diagnosed with it when she was 2.5 years old.  So, when I couldn’t find that book when she was diagnosed, I started my own little research project which turned into a book.

But you don’t really care about all of that, do you?  You want to know what it is like to edit the sucker.

First, my publisher didn’t even offer a contract to me until I verbally agreed to to recruit an advisory panel.  I got 6 qualifed folks to review portions of my tex…SLPs, early education specialists, and a mother of a child with CAS.  I douled out copies of my work for them to review, make notes, and otherwise criticize   advise.  They did a fantastic job; but it was still stressful.  Afterall, I had already written the darn thing based on lots of research and experience, but well…they were the experts.

After I did all of that, the publisher was ready to offer a contract! 

I submitted  a complete manuscript–which I thought was pretty polished. 

It wasn’t.  Enter “the editor.”  She’s been great.  She knows her stuff.  She has worked with this company since 1986.  She double-checks things like web addresses to see if they are still current (some aren’t).  She tells me when something is “too wordy” or “redundant.”  She moves sections so they flow better.  Then she sends it all back to me for my review.

I review and usually like her changes.  If I don’t, I don’t change them (that rarely happens).  Sometimes she wants more clarification on something, “What exactly does a music therapist do for kid with CAS?”  I go back to the expert source by sending an email  and get an answer.  I pop into the manuscript.  Sometimes she says, “Exactly how do you play Zingo?”  Then I suggest to my kids, “Hey, let’s play Zingo!”  so I can write about it.  Other times, she wants a better citation…or sometimes I leave something out like the author’s name.  Duh!

Sometimes, I just say, “Huh?!  What was I thinking when I wrote that?”  I delete. 

And yet other times, I just run across something that will fit so nicely in chapter ___ and think, “Oh, I have got to summarize that article about brain mapping so I can pop that into the chapter on where-does-speech-come-from in-the-first-place!”  That’s when I create extra work for myself…but you know, I sort of kind of like in my own nerdy way.

The process will take us up to about Thanksgiving.  In the meantime, the art department will contact me and ask for my ideas on cover art and typeset.  They are only ideas, mind you…the publisher makes the final call.

Then the book goes into what is called galleys: actual how-the-book-and-pages-will-look.  I will get a chance to review that sometime in December, I am guessing.  By then, I think I will have a more definitive idea as to when it will hit the shelves (the pub date).  Much anticipated…I’ll start planning a launch party and invite all I know to attend.

The winter catalog will come out around that time, too with my book featured among many others.  People will rush to place their orders (I hope).

Yay–the book is out!  Let’s help some kids and parents struggling with CAS.