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Incremental Effort

My kindergarten-age son would like to tell you a joke. "Why can't you trust atoms? Because they make up everything."

It turns out on further questioning that he has no idea what atoms are, but that's okay: he remembers the joke and it makes people laugh, and as long as he stops right there people think he's insanely intelligent. (Which he might be -- he just doesn't know what atoms are.)

You're predicting I'm going to start talking about how words make up everything and writers aren't to be trusted except that fiction is far truer than life, and…well, no. I'm going to take a sharp left to last Monday when I brought my kids to the park (even the joke-telling one) in an effort to get them out of my hair for a little while. I brought the sock I was knitting.

While I sat knitting, a father was throwing a football to one of his sons. The kid would run like a mile away and the father would send the football sailing out over the field and it would land in the kid's arms.

I said, "You have great aim." I can't hit the back yard tree from my porch.

He said, "I wish I was a pro football player. They haul in the money!" and then, maybe in an effort to get his toddler daughter out of his hair while he turned his sons into pro football players, he said, "Hey, look, honey! She's knitting!"

The little girl toddled over to me, so I did my best to infect her with the knitting bug, showing her how you pull loops through loops to make stitches and how different kinds of stitches make different patterns in the sock. She kept saying, "Why do you do that?" and I admitted that yes, it's faster to drive to WalMart to buy socks.

I said, "It takes 34,000 stitches to make a pair of socks."

(I'm not insanely intelligent -- I'd happened to read that the day before, a number calculated by The Yarn Harlot, who I believe is insanely intelligent.)

The father stopped mid-throw. "Thirty-four thousand?"

His other son came and sat near me. "Show me."

This time I used a friend's technique for teaching knitting to boys. "See, you stab the stitch through the heart, strangle it, pull out your sword, and pop its head off."

He said, "You were a lot nicer when you taught it to the little girls." Then he said, "Thirty-four thousand?"

I said, "Well, if you're going to become a pro football player, you probably do throw that football thirty-four thousand times."

He thought about it. "Maybe."

So he could get a career worth millions every year, and I'll have warm feet. Fair enough.

The kids went away to do something interesting, and I wondered about the thirty-four thousand number, if it's accurate, and then I thought: a novel is maybe three times that. If you turn in a hundred-thousand word book, you've made (in effect) three pairs of socks.

And you write a word faster than you knit a stitch, or at least I do.

It sounds like a lot, but it's actually all about the incremental effort: one word at a time; one stitch at a time. One short story at a time. One submission at a time, one publication at a time. That's how you'll make a career. This week, QueryTracker was named one of 2014's 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writers Digest Magazine. We've been named six times in the last seven years, and how did Patrick build up this website? One entry at a time. 1300 agent listings, 198 publishers, over 79,000 members, and now 1300 success stories among those members: it's incremental effort.

So on days when it looks impossible to achieve your dream, think about a pair of socks knit down to the ankle, and how are you ever going to turn the heel and work down to the toes?  Well, one stitch at a time. You're going to tell your story one word at a time. Take your next breath and write your next word, because words turn into sentences turn into chapters turn into books turn into realized dreams.

Incremental effort. The winners just keep making the efforts, even tiny-seeming ones: tens of thousands of them.

 Jane Lebak is the author of The Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or shoveling snow. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 
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Why You and Me (Make That "I") Need a Copy Editor

As my bio indicates, I am an English teacher in my day job. I also advise our school newspaper, which requires me to read thousands of words of copy each week. Essentially, I edit for a living, which gives me a strong command of grammar and usage, as well as a sharp eye for the typo. But guess what? I still need a copy editor for my own work. The examples below from my original MS of Murder and Marinara should give you some idea why:

Reason One-"An" sounds a lot like "in."

You have exactly five days before Nina LaGuardia pounces for in interview.


Reason Two-Some common words are actually proper names:

He led me to the dumpster Dumpster at the corner of the lot.

Who knew?

Reason Three-What makes sense in your head won't always do so on the page:

I stopped at the laundry to pick up all the linens Tim and I had dirtied in the pantry, hoping to drop them off before my grandmother noticed. 

The wise copy editor suggested "return them to the restaurant" for better clarity. Good call.

Reason Four-Continuity. In a scene between Victoria and her sister-in-law Sofia, the women are surfing the internet for information about the case they are working on. However, in the margin was this comment from the copy editor:

They are at Vic’s cottage. She told Josh earlier that she has no Internet there. 

Ah, so she did. (Get the cable guy here, stat!)

Reason Five-Every publisher has its own house style:

We have to find out how he spent his day up to the minute he walked into the restaurant at three thirty.

My original had "3:30" which is the way I normally indicate the time in anything I write. I also don't use a capital letter after a colon (NAL does). I hyphenate two-word modifiers, such as the one in this sentence (NAL does not). Happily, however, we both use Oxford commas.

Copy editors are the usually young, often anonymous, and always unsung heroes of the production process. They exist to make your work shine. So don't dismiss them--embrace them! (After they put down their red pens, of course.)

A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, was named a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean  in central New Jersey, with her husband and two of her three sons.
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What FROZEN Teaches Us About Storytelling & Publishing

Last November, Disney released what proved to be one of its biggest Princess movies to date. As I watched it for the fourth time with my kids, I noticed the many lessons it teaches us about storytelling and the publishing industry. There are quite a few plot spoilers in this post, so if you’re planning to watch the movie, do so first.

1. Do what you do best. Disney produces a variety of movies, but the ones that are the most memorable are the animated movies, and especially the musicals.

3. Go beyond what has been overdone. Disney decided to explore the lesser known Hans Christian Anderson story, The Snow Queen, this time. In the past, they’ve stuck to the better known stories like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Rapzunzel.

4. Explore new settings. Instead of writing your story in locations frequently used in books (e.g. New York City), pick a setting that is unusual. FROZEN’s Scandinavian-like setting proved to be popular with young girls. It was unique, as were the snowman and reindeer as sidekicks. 

5. Let It Go! This popular, award winning song teaches many things when it comes to the publishing industry. For example, don’t dwell on rejections and negative reviews. Let them go and move on. Of course, if you are getting a lot of them with the same underlying theme, you will want to check into that and see if it’s something you need to work on craft-wise.

6. Listen to the critics. Mothers were getting tired of their daughters being told that you just have to marry a guy you barely know and you’ll live happily ever after. Disney listened and the outcome is a movie that has delighted parents (and meant more money for Disney) and taught girls a valuable lesson. The great guy that Anna thought she had fallen in love with (thanks to the concept of love at first sight), turned out to be one of the villains. Had she married him like they had planned, it would have been the downfall of the sisters (Anna and Elsa) and the kingdom. There would have been no happily-ever-after for them.

7. We can’t always know what the other character is thinking based on body language and facial expression. For example in FROZEN, as Princess Anna walks away, after meeting Prince Hans for the first time and after experiencing insta-attraction, Prince Hans has a happy, love-at-first-sight expression on his face. The audience buys this. What the audience doesn’t realize is that he is happy because with Anna he now has a chance of gaining the throne. In his own kingdom, he’s thirteenth in line for the throne. This is a great example of how everything isn’t what it seems when it comes to body language and facial expression.

8. No one is perfect. When we first meet Prince Hans, he’s perfect. Too perfect. I didn’t like him and my kids didn’t like him. He said and did everything right. Now, if he really had been perfect throughout the movie, it would have spoiled it. We later learn that it is all an act. He’s far from perfect.

9. Give your characters flaws. As the singing trolls so eloquently put it, everyone is a fixer upper. It was Kristoff’s flawed character that made him adorable, especially in contrast to the so-called perfect Prince Hans. His flaws made him multi-dimensional.

10. Juxtapositions help emphasis your point. Juxtaposition is two opposites put together. An example is flawed Kristoff verses prefect Prince Hans. Everything about them is different, including their goals and what they love.

11. Subtext. Olaf is a quirky, talking snowman. At one point he sings about how he can’t wait for summer. However, Olaf is na├»ve to the danger heat poses to him (foreshadowing). He sings, “Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle. But put me in summer and I’ll be a…” He looks down at a puddle on the ground. The subtext is clear to all the kids watching the movie. Even the young ones now know Olaf will turn into a puddle in the summer. But he doesn’t realize this and continues the song with “…happy snowman.” For the kids, this is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie because of the subtext and the humor.

12. The power of emotion. Elsa’s powers grow worse when she gets emotional (e.g. scared or angry). There are consequences when this happens, just like there are consequences when emotions become too big for your characters. The consequences are dependent on who your characters are and how they respond to these emotions. In Elsa’s case, her powers could accidentally injure or kill someone she loves.

13. Prologues do sometimes work. Often prologues don’t work because writers use them for info dumps and it distracts from the story. A clever writer will weave the backstory throughout the book and build the suspense that way. However, the prologue in FROZEN (when Anna and Elsa were little girls) works because it goes beyond showing the dangers of Elsa’s powers. It foreshadowed something that happens later in the movie. When Elsa accidentally hits Anna’s heart with ice, we already know how dangerous this is for Anna because it was cleverly revealed in the prologue.

14. Misleads build suspense. After Elsa’s blast of ice hits Anna in the heart, Kristoff takes her to visit his troll family. When he was a kid, he witnessed the troll king heal Anna’s head after Elsa accidently hit it with a blast of ice (in the prologue). He knows the troll king can help Anna. The troll tells them that only an act of true love will heal her heart and save her. So naturally the first suggestion thrown out is love’s first kiss (because this is a Disney movie after all). And who will kiss her? Prince Hans. Anna and Kristoff race back to her kingdom so her “love” can kiss her. They return, Kristoff leaves, and we learn the truth about Prince Hans. And now there is no love’s first kiss. The audience eagerly waits to see if Kristoff, who obviously loves Anna, will come charging back to save her. And he does. But that’s not the act of true love that will heal Anna’s heart….

15. Mirroring subplots strengthen the story. One of the themes in FROZEN is sacrifice. Olaf (the snowman) is willing to sacrifice himself when Anna is locked in a freezing room after her sister hits her heart with ice. Olaf finds her and realizes he needs to warm her up. He starts a fire and stays with her, even though he’s at risk of melting. Kristoff risks his own life when he races back to save Anna. Anna manages to get outside (with Olaf’s help) and tries to find her sister in the storm. She hears Kristoff call her name. At this point she knows she loves him and he loves with her. The audience sighs with relief. Kristoff will save her. But then Anna see Prince Hans is about to kill Elsa. Anna has to make a choice: rush to Kristoff so he can save her, or throw herself in front of Prince Hans’s blade and save her sister.

Anna saves her sister, but because Kristoff couldn’t kiss Anna in time, she is dead. Or is she? Anna’s sacrifice for her sister was an act of true love. The one we weren’t expecting because the trolls “accidently” misled us into believing love’s true kiss would save Anna. Both the misled and the mirroring subplots created a powerful climax.

16. Theme guides the story. In addition to sacrifice, one of the themes of FROZEN is love. Anna is looking for love after being alone for so long. She loves her sister even though she doesn’t understand why Elsa has locked (literally) Anna out of her life. Prince Hans loves money and power. The greedy merchant loves money. Elsa loves Anna and would do anything to protect her. Kristoff loves Anna. Even the trolls sing about love. As Kristoff explains at one point, they are the love experts. Everyone’s actions are guided by the theme. Their emotions and reactions are guided by the theme.

I could keep going on with this list, but this is post is already long. I do recommend that you watch the movie, or another movie that has gained well-deserved recognition, and spend time analyzing it. The time and effort spent will benefit your stories.

Is there anything you would add? Have you ever analyzed a favorite movie?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and can be found at her blog/website.  She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN (Carina Press, HQN) is now available. LET ME KNOW (Carina Press) will be available Sept 1st, 2014.

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Think Before You Write

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a story in my head.

All my life, while I was busy with grade school and high school and university and work and family there has always been a stream of consciousness separate from my daily life, an alternate universe with denizens and motives and intentions of their own. Usually, it all stayed in the back of my mind while I was concentrating on my daily activities. But in moments of downtime—when I was driving, or doing housework, or before I fell asleep—I would slip over to that other world and just pick up where I left off, as easily as flipping to a bookmarked page.

I have never outgrown it.

I starting serious writing in 2004, when I actively sat down at a key board and starting putting words down and sentences together. Ten years ago, I wrote my first CHAPTER ONE.

But I realized that I had been a writer long before that. I’ve been a writer just about my entire life, even though I’ve only been typing it out for the last ten years of it.

And that’s the true nature of writing: it’s 10% typing and 90% thinking.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I could hook an electrode-strapped harness to my head to capture all my brain stories, all that 90% that streams along through the back of my head when I can’t stop to write it down. So much of what happens in my brain stories is a once and done thing—a quick and perfect and devastating exchange of dialog, an emotionally-loaded look, an action sequence that would knock your socks right off—so much of it, executed perfectly, then lost.

That kills me. Even if I were to sit down as soon as I can and start banging out the scene, it never feels quite the same as it did during its inception. I feel like I lose little parts of myself every time that happens.

I bought a voice recorder last month so that when I’m driving to work, I can just let it roll and capture all the little story bits as they pop up. Talking it out is a lot different than thinking it out, so the process isn’t perfect—but it helps.

If only I had a brain-harness. An output jack in my frontal lobe, a USB port that I can plug into my computer and just hit DOWNLOAD. It would make for awkward sleeping, probably, and would definitely itch like a bugger but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about that wonderful 90% slipping away before it can be captured in black and white.

Or…and I’m just thinking out loud here…wifi. No wires. Just thinking and watching it type itself on the screen. Like Dragon Naturally Thinking. HOW COOL would that be?

At least for a hot minute. Because if there was tech for that, then there would be a hack, and people could go around wifi’ing your brain and stealing your thoughts and the next thing you know, you’ve wearing a tin foil hat and cowering in a bomb shelter.

Tin foil hats are NOT cool. So, wifi is out. (Haven’t ruled out the USB thing yet, though.)

Until the tech is available, I guess I settle for more analog solutions. Good old pen and paper, stuffed into every purse and pocket and even the pillow case. I'd hate to miss a single word of that 90%.

What about you? When it comes to your writing process, how do you capture your own 90%?

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Don't let 90% of your story slip away! 

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press) or stop by the Demimonde Blog at . WOLF’S BANE (Demimonde #3) is forthcoming mid-2014.
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Publishing Pulse for April 11, 2014

New At QueryTracker:

This week we've updated two agent profiles in our database.
Please make sure you double-check every agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page before sending your query.

If you're a QueryTracker premium member, then you can be notified whenever an agent or publisher profile is added or updated. If you're not a premium member, you can just check for yourself.

Publishing News:

Because they didn't own enough already, Amazon has acquired ComiXology.

Also in comics news, Archie (of Archie Comics) is going to die. For real.

Around the Blogosphere:

Some tips for pitching your manuscript in person.

Nathan Bransford gives you eight ways to know you have a good agent.

Five things you can do to improve your query letter.

Pour your tea into an awesome literary mug.

Literary Quote of the Week:

"You start by writing to live. You end by writing so as not to die." Carlos Fuentes

Thanks for stopping by, and keep sending those queries!

 Jane Lebak is the author ofThe Wrong Enemy. She has four kids, three cats, two books in print, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and spends her time either writing books or shoveling snow. At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four kids. If you want to make her rich and famous, please contact the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. 
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Books We Can't Live Without: The Business Version

Because we're great fans of books in general, the Query Tracker Blog is kicking off a Writer's Bookshelf series! Readers of the QT blog are encouraged to contribute, by the way. We'd love to hear your favorites.

My discussions with the QT bloggesses about fabulous writing books got me thinking. While writing advice can be life-changing, I have several nerdy favorites dealing with the business of authorship. Some of these titles have sustained me over the years, when there was nobody to ask. So here are our favorite practical titles.

And we'd love to know, what are yours?

The Writer's Legal Companion is a great tool for understanding exactly what a book contract is all about. Even if you have a lawyer look over your contract, it's still cool to actually know what your own Grant of Rights clause really says!

Making the Perfect Pitch is a paperback now available only from used book dealers, but it was incredibly valuable to me. It is a collection of essays written by agents who read queries all day long. Good stuff in there.

I have written before about the wonder that is The Naked Truth about Self Publishing. Even if you are traditionally published, there are tips and tricks in here that I haven't found anywhere else.

And if you find yourself doing a lot of your own PR, The Authors Guide to Working With Book Bloggers is invaluable. Like many of the other favorites here, it was written by someone who knows. In this case, the book blogger author surveyed over a hundred other book bloggers to better understand their needs.

What to do Before Your Book Launch is the work of two experienced fiction writers, M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyers. Get Known Before the Book Deal is meant to assist with platform building even earlier on in the process. Chuck Sambuchino's Create Your Writer Platform is another one in the same vein.

What are your favorites?
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Writers Etiquette: Lesson Three

Dear Miss Rosie:
A gentleman in my life has done me an egregious wrong, for which I am unable to find proper redress. As a result, I am resolved upon featuring said gentleman (a misnomer of there ever was one) as a character in my next work in order to reveal him as the cad that he is. May I?

Dear Not-So-Gentle Reader:
Miss Rosie sympathizes with your position and finds herself indignant on your behalf and on that of ladies everywhere who suffer at the hands of Loutish Gentlemen. However, she cautions against taking such hasty action. First, she suggests you peruse what Dear Janet Reid has to say on the subject of libel. Even the Faintest Suggestion of such will bring about a hasty end to your career—is that what you want? Is taking revenge upon the Gentleman in Question worth losing everything for which you have worked? 

Further, think about the ways in which the internet may be utilized as a means of Nefarious Retaliation. What if Said Gentleman embarks upon a Smear Campaign through the offices of Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, or Goodreads? Miss Rosie shudders to think what might happen to that pretty line of review stars should this gentleman decide to respond in kind.

Miss Rosie herself, as a Writer of Mysteries, has had to strongly resist the Alluring Temptation to, ahem, “knock off” in print a certain Shameless Lady of Her Acquaintance (she uses the term loosely) on more than one occasion. To paraphrase Dear Mr. Clinton, she feels your pain.

The best Miss Rosie can advise is to comport yourself as the Esteemed Professional you undoubtedly are. Resist the urge to immortalize the scoundrel in print, as he is undeserving of that honor. Bear in mind that the truth will out. Cads eventually get their comeuppance. And while revenge may be a dish served cold, karma’s a bitch that always bites. It's just a matter of when.

A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries, from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, was selected as a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. The second book in her series, The Wedding Soup Murder, will release September 2. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives fifty miles from the nearest ocean  in central New Jersey, with her husband and two of her three sons.
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