QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Writing Process

Courtesy of piovasco
One of the things that interests me the most in writing, is how different and individual each writer's process is. Talk to enough people, and similar groupings and patters emerge, but I haven't yet met any writers that write a novel exactly the same way.

Some of the different approaches include:

  • plotting vs pantsing (or free writing or writing from the hip)
  • writing linearly vs writing scenes out of order and patching them together
  • writing by word count vs a certain amount of time
  • using a word processor vs writing software
  • writing on a set schedule vs writing whenever lightning strikes
  • needing music or sound vs needing silence
And a whole host of other things, most of them small, and many unique to that particular writer.

But one of the most fascinating things, to me, is the difference in the "What comes first--the character or the plot?"

While most of my writing process happens in my sub-conscious (meaning I have no idea how things happen--only that they do), I have learned certain things. Immutable laws (for me), if you will.

1) I am not a plotter. I believe there is much good in trying out different ways of writing. One of the greatest benefits to experimenting is discovering something that clicks perfectly with how your brain processes Story. I've tried a lot of things, and it's been very educational--whether or not they work for me--because doing so allows me to peel back another layer to see Story from a slightly different perspective. 

I have learned that I can loosely plot a series, but if I try to plot a novel, my sub-conscious can, and will, lie to me. That's right. I can come up with some pretty awesome stuff that invariably ends up not working with the story or the characters. At all.

2) No character, no story.

It's the second one that I've been thinking a lot about right now. I've found that, for me personally, I can't sit down and write a story without having a character tackle me first. Because, for me, there is no Story without the characters.

Does that mean I write character-driven novels?

Not necessarily.

For me, character and plot aren't completely separate entities. Rather, they are two points on a continuum. Some stories will lean closer to the character side, while others will lean nearer to the plot end.

But they all start out the same way: a character looks at me from the back of my brain. Most of the time I get a sense of what the character looks like, but not always. Some are also a lot more talkative and easier to work with than others.

But they all have a problem. Sometimes that problem is on a bigger scale, driven by outside forces. And sometimes the Story happens *because* of something the character did. Or said. Or stole. And they want me to help them fix it. (Or, at the very least, escape. :p)

So, for me, the plot rises out of the characters every single time.

But I know there are people for whom this works, only in the reverse. They come up with an interesting premise that might have been sparked by a question or an idea. Only after they have the foundation laid out, are they able to people the plot.

Does that mean they write plot-driven novels?

Not necessarily.

In fact, there have been a number times I've been surprised to learn that a character-driven story had not only been plotted out, but that the plot came first.

Which opens up all kinds of delicious things to speculate both about characters and plot and how they ultimately (in the finished product) connect to the Story and each other.

How do they connect for you? Are you a character first type of writer, or can you only find the Story if you have a plot laid out. Or are you somewhere in between?

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. From March 12th-31st, she will be donating royalties from both paper and digital copies of THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA: CATSPELL to purchase Kindle Fires for a pediatric unit in a local hospital. Click here if you'd like to learn more.

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Winners Are . . . .

We would like to thank everyone who entered our January agent-judge contest with the wonderful Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. And we would especially like to thank Natalie for taking the time to judge the entries and for the generous prizes. There were so many amazing entries, but alas, she couldn’t pick them all.

And the winners are:

Third place: 15 pg. request & critique

Genre: Young Adult
Word count: 57,000

Pitch: When high school student Taylor Anderson is struck by a car, instead of an afterlife filled with puffy clouds and hard-playing angels, she is forced to climb an endless staircase; a journey that uncovers surprising truths about her life and what happens when we die.
Anyone who saw me get hit by the car will call it an accident, and by definition I suppose it was.  She didn't see me.  I didn't see her.  Splat.  But in the deepest pit of my stomach, the part that flutters awake when I get caught doing something wrong or I see Justin Cobb walking down my high school's corridors, I know that I wished for it. 

 "Look who woke up on the right side of the bed for a change," my mother chirps when she sees me bound into the kitchen with a Cheshire grin plastered on my face. 

Second Place: 30 page request & critique

Genre: Historical Romance
Word count: 92,000

Pitch: Bored with the binding feminine dress code of polite society, Lady Ainsely Archibold designs her own daring new clothing line but when the object of her infatuation mistakes her for much less than a lady, Ainsely must choose between the laws of love and linen.

It was love at first gasp.

Lady Ainsely Archibold breathlessly watched the magnificent creature as he stood on the west balcony overlooking the garden below.  She was absolutely woozy at the mere sight of him.

Of course, the unsteadiness of her breathing could also be contributed to the unbelievably cramped binding of her lungs courtesy of her world-class, tightlacing proficient maidservant. 

Consequently, if it weren't for this blamed corset, she'd be able to achieve this moment of simple adoration without concern.  As it were, she was trussed up like the feathered fowl for the fall feast on which they'd just dined.

First place: 50 page request & critique

A PLACE TO CALL HOME by Linda Jackson
Genre: Middle Grade
Word count: 40,000

Pitch: Twelve-year-old Stacey Graham is not happy when she finds out that the only person willing to take her and her younger siblings in after the deaths of their mother and beloved "Granny" is their uncle Percy, who lives in the back of his funeral home.

It really bugged me when it rained on the day Granny was buried. Rain just came pouring down first thing that morning and kept on falling all through the funeral. The cemetery had been all muddy and messy. And it just wasn't right for a lady who kept things as neat as Granny to have to be put in the ground on such a nasty day. Her trailer might have been old and beat-up on the outside, but the inside was always good and clean. Granny's was the only trailer in town where the vinyl floor was so shiny that folks always thought it was wet.

Congratulations to all the winners! You will receive instructions via email today as to how to submit the requested material.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Publishing Pulse: February 24, 2012

The Results ARE IN!

It's the moment so many of you have been anxiously anticipating—the announcement regarding the end of the Agent-Judged Contest.

But first, a celebration for all of us at Query Tracker: we've hit a major milestone.

QT just passed the 50,000 member point!

Congrats to each and every writer who joined QT in the hopes of getting their dream agent. Whether you sign with an agent or choose an indie path, you are all part of an amazing group who has taken steps to learn about the querying process, to practice and improve your writing craft, and to find courage to put your words out there for all the world to see. Be proud and take a moment for a well-deserved pat on the back.

Thank you for making Query Tracker a part of your journey to publication.

To the Blogs!

An easy way for a writer to begin building an audience is through blogging—but it won't do you any good if your blog remains the equivalent of a private journal. Robert Lee Brewer talks about the success his blog enjoys and offers 25 ways to increase your blog's traffic. If SEO isn't part of your vocabulary yet, now is the time to remedy that.

Indelibles author Susan Kaye Quinn discussed the sweat equity of book publishing with a comparison between traditional vs. indie published authors. You may be surprised to see the difference between the two routes.

Check out Ciara Ballintyne's cheeky look at the Don't List for authors who want to maintain healthy relationships with their agents and editors. (Some things just can't be stressed enough.) Bonus is the list of things that shouldn't be in your writing, assuming you want an agent or editor to take your book on in the first place. And millions of readers will rejoice to learn there is life after Harry Potter for J. K. Rowling.

The Winners of the Agent-Judged Contest

…will be announced Monday. Are you one of the lucky winners? You'll have to wait and see!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writing by the Seat of Your Pants

Writer's block can be like trying to force rusty wheels to turn!
I’ve been struggling a bit with writer’s block, so I’ve been reading books on how to get unstuck. I’m noticing a pattern with them – most encourage you to outline as you brainstorm. I love the idea of outlining, of having a rough (or not so rough) roadmap for where you’re going, and for my last novel, I used notecards to create one (a process I talked about with KM Weiland for her book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success). The notecards were glorious, like stepping stones along the way.

Having had a good experience with outlining, and having read all these wonderful, encouraging books that talk about outlining, I’d love to be able to outline to get myself unstuck on the two WIPs I’ve got going.

Unfortunately, it’s just…not…happening.

As much as I’d like to be a consistent outliner, the reality is that I’ve been a pantser most of my life. What’s a pantser, you may ask? Why, it’s someone who flies by the seat of their pants. If the outliners are Planners, the people who make it up as they go are Pantsers.

I’m starting to wonder if my problem is that I'm trying to force myself to be an outliner when that isn't really my nature. After all, being a pantser has worked for me for a lot of years. And I’m kind of a pantser in life, too. I don’t like things to be too scheduled, because what if I change my mind? And when it comes to other forms of creativity, like graphic design, I like to try different visual elements together and see what inspires me most, and go from there. I probably hit more dead ends than a lot of other creative people this way, but I also have some pretty unexpected turns in my stories. 

Although forcing myself to open up that document and put words on the page when I feel stuck and directionless is like trying to force rusty wheels to turn, I’ve discovered that if I’m persistent about it, I can get them to turn. And when I write, I discover things about my characters, about the story, that I’m just not sure I’d get if I were outlining. In other words, it’s the nuances I notice along the way that propel me from one plot point to another.

In an example some of you have probably seen me use before, in one of my novels the villain spontaneously shoots one of the heroes. I never had any intention of killing off the character who was shot (after all, she was one of my heroes!), but after she went down, I couldn’t for the life of me get her back up. I threw medical professionals at her, and I wished along with my other characters that she’d be okay, but in the end, she died. Another hero developed PTSD as a result, and that PTSD not only drove the second half of that novel, but most of the sequel. If I’d outlined, I’d never have killed her off. Yet somehow the actual writing is different, and I realized that it was the right thing for the story.

Of course, you can always make changes as you work from an outline, but I think I might have trouble flying off into these tangents that seem to bear the most fruit if I did. It’s while I’m floundering around in the darkness, writing anything I can think of just to get words on the page that I often seem to stumble upon the best material. I have a wild “what if?” moment, and I go with it because I don’t have anything better planned. And because I don’t have anything better planned, I also feel free to just go with whatever crazy repercussions I see as a result of that wild “what if?” moment.

So if you’re a pantser and you find yourself getting stuck, like I have, what can you do about it? Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful.

  • Get away from the manuscript to think about what happens next. I like to sit down to my computer with some inkling of an idea for where things are going next, but I don’t always come up with those inklings while I’m at the computer. In fact, I find that going for a long walk is one of the best ways for me to find my inklings. (Of course, I have been known to talk to myself while I’m plotting, which can be a little weird for the people walking the same place I am!)
  • If you normally type, try writing by hand, and vice versa. For some reason, when that blinking cursor on the screen is making me feel hopeless, I do much better on some notebook paper. For more information about why writing by hand can help us be more creative, check out my post, Thinking Outside the Computer.
  • Give yourself permission to write whatever it is, even if you think it might be awful. If I had a bunch of thoughts I knew were brilliant, I’d get them down into an outline! But sometimes I get these ideas, and like I said, I don’t have anything better planned, so down they go. And sometimes they end up being the best parts of the story.

If you’re a pantser, what are your tips? What helps you sit down at the computer, even when you have absolutely no idea where you’re going? 

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Editorial Process - My Experience vs. My Misconceptions

Well, a lot has happened in my career since I blogged here last, which is why I haven't been around (Thanks QT blog author buddies for hanging in and waiting for me to resurface).

Since I last posted, I sold my debut novel, Shattered Souls, to Penguin, went through four editorial rounds plus copy edits, sold another book to my publisher, freaked out when I saw my amazing cover, celebrated when the Shattered Souls ARCs came in, was blown away when I got to hold my hardcover for the first time, and have had a fantastic and fun first publishing experience. I'm jumping up and down! I'm dancing in circles! I'm... I'm...

I'm exhausted. 

I'm also wiser.

Since this is a blog dedicated to "helping writers become authors," I've decided it would be fun to write a couple of posts about my actual experiences compared to my pre-published expectations in the hopes it will make things easier for someone else. 

I'll start with a disclaimer: Everyone's experience is different. Authors are different--as are publishers, editors, agents, and projects. Nobody's path will be the same. I can only speak to mine. 

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from aspiring writers is "How much revising did you have to do on Shattered Souls?"

My first reaction is to shout, "So many extensive revisions I was sure my head would explode and I thought about quitting every freaking day!" Then, I push that response back in favor of a more civilized answer: "I had major revisions. It was a lot of work, but they made my book much stronger. The process also made me a better writer." 

My agent specifically chose to submit my book to my editor because she knew I wanted someone who would work closely with me and was willing to invest a great deal of time and energy in the editorial process. 

I have a sick secret: I love to revise. I prefer it to original creation of the story. My agent knows this. She told my editor this. My editor took it to heart and proceeded to kick my butt. 

My Reality vs. Myth/Rumor

If you've spent any time in writers' forums or real life writing groups, you've probably heard lots of great information. Chances are, you've also heard some stuff that is just plain wrong--or maybe only half wrong. Below are some of my misconceptions going into the editorial process along with what it was really like for me. 

Myth/rumor: Editors only have time to fix minor grammar and punctuation errors and look for continuity errors. 
My reality: Sometimes editors will spend a great deal of time studying your manuscript and analyzing ways to make it stronger. Sometimes, they will ask you to take your story apart, delete 40%, reorder it, and write new scenes to replace the deleted ones. .
My reality: Copyeditors look at punctuation, grammar and sometimes continuity.  

Myth/rumor: Editors will rewrite your book or tell you what to write or say. 
My reality: Editors will make suggestions and if you agree, you might opt to make changes or even rewrite scenes. My editor never rewrote anything, though she did make suggestions. All changes were made by me. 

Myth/rumor: You have to do what they tell you to do.
My reality: You only have to make changes that resonate. In cases where I did not agree (and these were rare), I simply wrote an explanation of why the suggestion didn't work for me, and my editor was cool with it every time. It was always MY book. 

Nuts and bolts:

Some editors do everything electronically. Some prefer hardcopy notes, like my editor. My revision notes and comments were handwritten on a printed copy of the manuscript and sent to me by FedEx. I then made the changes in a Word doc and sent the corrected manuscript electronically. My copyedits, however, were done electronically. 

If you would like to read the editor's side of the process, my editor, Jill Santopolo, did post about the Shattered Souls revision process over on Books Complete Me. She even included screen shots of the actual revision notes on the manuscript (And her handwriting was hard to read--just saying'). 

Summing it up:

Every experience is different. Some editorial rounds are light and consist primarily of copy edits. Some are extensive and involve multiple rounds of revisions including new scenes, new characters, new settings...anything. 

Just like authors are different, editors are as well. Their preferences and styles are as distinct as those of the authors with whom they work. Notes and suggestions can be conveyed electronically, by hardcopy, and even over the phone (I received all three). 

The thing I learned to keep in mind through the editorial process (even when freaking out over yet another letter requesting more changes) was that my publisher and I have the exact same goal: to turn out the best product possible. 

It's great to be back on the QueryTracker Blog and I'd love to get your thoughts or questions in the comments. 

Have a fabulous week!


Friday, February 17, 2012

Publishing Pulse: 2/17/2012

Congratulations to the Latest QT Success Stories

Ian Thomas Healy
Gail Shepherd
Taryn Albright
Amy Wolf

Around the Web

The Author's Guild expresses its concern over Amazon and Predatory Pricing (via GalleyCat) and how it will hurt the market.

R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series, tweeted a short horror story yesterday. You can read it here.

The fallout from Penguin's decision to leave OverDrive and stop e-book lending via The Bookseller.

Author Zoe Winters on e-book pricing, and how different price ranges attract different types of readers.

As the legal battle over e-rights to JULIE OF THE WOLVES continues, the author has joined forces with the digital publisher.

Have a great weekend!

Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Querying your unlikeable character

The common advice for query-writing is to have character, crisis and conflict. All well and good, but what if your main character is a jerk?

Worse, what if your main character is unappealing on gut-level?

Literature is full of unappealing characters, but I'm not talking about main characters some readers personally can't stand. I'm talking about the ones whom human beings in general categorically don't like, such as rapists. Murderers. You get my drift. Sure, once we start reading the book we may like these characters -- may like them a lot -- but in terms of a query, you don't get very much space to introduce these questionable people. Yet with edgy fiction, you may have a character on the fringes of what most people will tolerate.

In about 250 words, you need to convince an agent or editor to read about someone she probably would step out of an elevator to avoid.

So, how to introduce (and make someone root for) a bully, a demon, a kidnapper, a racist...? Or in the case of my first novel, someone who murdered a child? I think you do it by adding more to the package.

The very first thing I would suggest is working out for yourself exactly why you love this character. After all, you must have loved this character a lot in order to spend hundreds of hours writing and editing him (or her). Why do you find him appealing? (If it's just, "Well, assassins are cool!" then you're going to need to skip this step. If it's "Well, I wanted to raise everyone's consciousness that human traffickers are evil," then you might want to rethink the whole book.)

Maybe it's the character's intelligence. Maybe he was abused as a child and wanted to break out of the cycle but couldn't figure out how. Present those characteristics. Let us know the character is multidimensional.

Maybe it's how he justifies himself to himself. Show us the labyrinthine thought that allows this person to think well of himself despite what he's doing. 

Second: is he at rock bottom? Right now? Give it to us, raw and bloody, there in the first paragraph of the query, everything this person has already lost by being this unappealing. He's in jail awaiting the guillotine after assassinating the crown prince. Or maybe his wife went into hiding with their kids when she discovered the horrible thing he'd done last week.

Third: the voice. It might be that this character is as outrageously funny as he is outrageously appealing. If that's the case, pull out all the stops to showcase that character's voice in your query. If the character's just so gripping to listen to, we'll be willing to listen to some unsavory stuff.

Fourth: humor. According to Blake Snyder in Save The Cat, the movie Natural Born Killers works because the two guys are so funny that you want to keep listening to them. It's an extension of voice, but if your main character is funny, try to showcase that in the query. 

Fifth: the character's dreams -- and what stands in his way. If the character aspires to something other than what he is now, let us know. Maybe he wishes he could quit pimping and go to college, but first he needs to learn to read.

What not to include? Why the main character had no choice about what he is. Most of us have been in awful situations without becoming murderers or kidnappers, and therefore no matter what the circumstances, we're not going to find it convincing that this person had no other choice. It will just make the character sound weak and the plot contrived. But if the character chose this way of life, then we can believe that by the end of the book, the character can choose something better.

Obviously it's easier to make someone care about an orphan tween being raised by his cruel aunt and uncle, but querying an unappealing character is as possible as it is to write about one.


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Making Your Dreams Your Reality Part II

By Kristy Lahoda | @KristyLahoda

So, I left off in the last post encouraging you to find your dreams and to incorporate them into your reality. Now the question becomes, How is this done realistically when it’s not part of your nine-to-five job? 

Despite only having forty pages of my novel written before my twins were born, I was proud of what I had accomplished. It seemed like a good start, but when I would tell people that I was writing a novel and how much I had written, very few people seemed impressed. I want to encourage you to not become disheartened by the lack of support by other people—often it will just serve to discourage and distract you. So how do you write with an extremely busy schedule, despite lack of understanding and encouragement—against the odds?

Be deliberate. After my twins were born, they were in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for six and a half weeks. I was on maternity leave with no obligations at home. It was the perfect time to write, but I was emotionally drained. A phrase familiar to NICU families is “two steps forward, one step back” and we lived that for a month and a half. During that time I reflected on my novel and how I was going to use my maternity leave to accomplish as much as possible while taking care of and enjoying the twins. I set a goal. I decided that once the babies were home, I would take advantage of my maternity leave and write because I might not ever have that much time off of work again. And I did. They came home at the beginning of October and while they slept 18 hours a day, I wrote. I had to be very conscientious about not getting distracted with other things that weren’t as important, but I was moving along quickly enough that my husband challenged me to get to 100 pages by New Year’s Day. I accepted his challenge and suddenly I had a third of my novel written. 

Once I went back to work it took eleven months to finish my novel. The only time I had available to write was in the evening hours after the twins were in bed and during naptime on the weekends. However, I still thought about the novel while I wasn’t writing. When busy doing something that didn’t take a lot of concentration, I would use that time to plan scenes in my novel. I usually knew what I wanted to have happen in the next scene, so I would dwell upon certain questions: How could the characters accomplish what I needed them to do? What did I need to research for the next scene? And so on. This time was invaluable. I highly recommend planning while you are busy doing anything that doesn’t involve much of your mental faculties.

Writing involves sacrifice, as does any other worthwhile endeavor. I wrote not only because I wanted to accomplish an important goal in my life, but also with the hope that there would be a day when I could write professionally at least part-time. I still don’t know if that is going to happen, but I chose to sacrifice the time then for a potentially better future for my family. Was it worth it? I believe it was, but balance is the key. Even though my writing took away quality time from my husband, not to mention cuddle time with my twin babies, my husband was very supportive because he saw that spark in me that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He knew that while I was writing, I was fulfilling an innate desire. Without his encouragement and support, it would not have been worth it. 

Decide whether your writing goals will be detrimental—especially to your family. Do the pros outweigh the cons of your sacrifice? If you have personal time available and you feel a drive to write, then spend some of your free time writing each week. It doesn’t have to be a lot. The important thing is to be consistent, but not militant. Keeping a word or page count per day, even if you don’t write every day, works for many writers. If you feel that you are not spending enough time with your family or doing other things, take the day off from writing and spend your day doing something else. Chances are, it will refresh you and it might give you the inspiration that you need to continue pursuing your dream.

Kristy Lahoda, Ph.D.is an explosives analyst contractor in a crime lab as well as a science content editor for a major educational publishing company.  She writes Christian forensic suspense and discusses forensics on her blog called Explosive Faith.  You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a forensics question for Dr. Lahoda that you'd like to see answered on the QueryTracker Blog, send your question via Carolyn Kaufman using the email link under Contact Us in the right-hand column of the main QTB page.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Publishing Pulse: 2/10/2012

 Around the Internet

It’s been a busy week for controversy. A chapter of the Romance Writers of America decided to cancel a contest after their decision to ban entries with gay relationships was met with anger among authors and writers.


There were controversies abound for Amazon this week. Not only did Indigo (a major bookstore chain in Canada) and Books A Million join the growing list of booksellers who are boycotting the sale of Amazon books in their stores, the American Booksellers Association Indie Commerce removed Amazon-published books from its database. 

In other news, Amazon maybe opening a store in Seattle.

The Publishing World

If you’re not sure what various publishing terms (e.g. advances, auction, BEA) mean, then check out this dictionary. It will make your life slightly easier.

If you’re trying to navigate the changing publishing industry, this post might give you the answers you need.


When is it a good time to call YOUR agent? Agent Rachelle Gardner has the answer.

Social Networking

If you’re using Google +, check out this advice to ensure your profile is strong. 

Indie Publishing

Here’s the answer to the age old question: what is the right price for an ebook?

If you’re indie published or are considering that route, check out the four big reasons why indie authors aren’t taken seriously. Make sure you aren’t making the same mistakes.

Have a great weekend!

Stina Lindenblatt writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Does Your Grasp Exceed Your Reach? Triberr Can Help

As a writer who is only just beginning to break into publishing, I face the same problem that most ordinary mortals do: I don't actually know that many people.

I'm not a hermit or anything. I have a day job that puts me in contact with hundreds of people each week. I know my neighbors, my kids' friends' parents, and I have a decently-sized family. But when I stop and think about potential book sales, I realize that I don't really know a lot of people and, even if I sold a book to every person I knew, it wouldn't really be an impressive number.

Now, if each of my friends told another person to buy a copy, that number might double. And if they told two people? Do the math. The Tell A Friend system would really increase the size of my potential audience.

Writers depend on extended networks to sell books. Why else would we spend so much time building our networks with online communities and writing organizations? We watch our Twitter Follower counts and our Facebook Friend numbers almost as much as we stare at our email inboxes. I'm not Jedi enough to mind-trick myself instantaneous success, though, and so I continue to look for ways to build my network and increase the size of my audience.

Then, a few weeks ago, my friend and fellow author Tricia Schneider (@triciaschneider) introduced me to Triberr.

Triberr: The Reach Multiplier

"Have you ever heard of Triberr?" she wrote. "It's basically groups of people that help each other promote our blog posts on Twitter. I have nearly a 100% increase of hits on my blog. I belong to 2 tribes and have 58 members who promote my blog posts--which means I have roughly a 56,000 reach. That's more readers, more chances for my books to be purchased."

She had my full attention. Like a lot of start-up bloggers, I've been scraping together my readership any way I could: by commenting on other blogs, by participating in blog hops, and by cross-posting my entries to my other online accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Red Room.) I set up as many automatically posting cross-links as possible so I can spend more time writing and less time cutting-and-pasting my blog entry's URL.

So when Tricia said she has a "reach" of 56,000 people…shoot. I needed some of that. Off to Triberr.com I went.

A Way to Share and be Shared

Tribes are groups of bloggers with similar interests who band together and combine their resources: in this case, Twitter followers and blog posts. This pool of Tweeps is calculated and called the Tribe's reach.

The Tribal Stream shows a list of your tribemates' blog posts. You simply go down the list, clicking the approve button next to the articles you want to distribute. Triberr then sends them out through your Twitter account at a rate of one post every twenty minutes.

How does this help writers? The author of the post gets his work Tweeted out to the followers of everyone in the Tribe. If the Tribe has a reach of 30,000, that's potentially 30,000 people who are going to see the Tweet of your blog's link. (I say potentially because that many people will share a number of the same people as followers.)

The person approving the posts benefits, too, by having regularly-scheduled content going out via Twitter posts. Since everyone in my Twitter Follower list isn't in my tribe, any retweets of my Tweets will expand the reach of the Tribe as well as get me extra Twitter mentions, thereby increasing my name recognition.

Content. Distribution. Twitter. What a wonderful mix for writers seeking to distribute their work.

Ease of Use

Signing up was free and easy. It did take a while to figure out that my name wasn't showing up because I'd missed a hard-to-see link (extra thank you to the oh-so-patient Laurie (@lauriej170) for her tutelage) but, once that was fixed, my account ran quite smoothly.

I also read one of the moderator's blog posts on creating a branded Twitter app and had to give it a try. In a very easy-to-follow set of instructions, Dino Dogan (@Dino_Dogan) shows you how to rig your Triberr/Twitter interface so that the Tweets appear to come from you rather than the Triberr website. This provides two benefits: it gets your name out there even more and makes the links look more original, instead of just passed along posts.

There have been drawbacks to using it, though; I've had to re-do the app twice since I started, as it likes to suddenly stop working. It's a glitchy thing but not big enough of one to make me forsake the program. Thankfully, the Triberr gods are very attentive to their website and they work tirelessly to smooth out the kinks as they come up.

Bonfires are various topics on the community message board, which range from requests for tech support to open calls for new members. Most of my questions were answered by other Triberr folk (and I found new Twitter friends, too.) Each Tribe has its own message board, too, where members can greet and chat with each other. The Tribal member page displays the names of your tribemates and makes it easy to follow them on Twitter--which is a requirement for the entire Triberr program to work.

The nicest thing is that Triberr isn't just a web program, it's a community of people who all want the same thing I do: to promote our work, to network with other bloggers, and to share the load. It's a healthy symbiotic relationship, one that definitely makes it easier to get the job done.

Does it Work?

Apart from the tiny hiccups, I have to say that, after only ten days of Triberring (my unofficial verb), I've gained a ten percent increase in Twitter followers. That's amazing for me. They are prime followers, too, since they most likely found me through my Tribes—and therefore sharing my interests.

I added a new post to my blog and saw it Tweeted out more than 25 times in six days. Guess how many Tweets my posts regularly got before I started using Triberr? Answer: only as many as I churned out myself.

While a week may not be a very long time to form an educated opinion, I'd have to say: Yeah. It looks like it's working pretty well.

I joined two established Tribes and even started my own. After a week of being on Triber, my reach has climbed to nearly 140,000. All I have to do is post to my blog and away it goes, with a little help from my friends.

Think about the potential size of that audience. Don't you need some of that?

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region, where she keeps the book jacket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in a frame over her desk. Visit the Spec Fic Chick website at www.ashkrafton.com for updates on the release of her debut novel, Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde, forthcoming in March 2012 through Pink Narcissus Press.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writer Unblocked

Courtesy of ledomira
Writers Block.

Some people fear it. Some don't believe in it. And some are just getting to know it.

For the purpose of this blog, writers block is not a mysterious ailment that strikes writers, rendering them mute so far as the story is concerned.

In my experience, only three things cause writers block.

Exhaustion: physical or mental. Your creative muscles are like any other muscle in your body. They need to be exercised regularly, and well, but they also need to rest. Or maybe you need to rest.

The cure? Get adequate sleep, maintain a balanced diet, and exercise. Taking care of your physical self will help you take care of your mental and emotional self as well. On the creative side, do something that relaxes your mind. I like to listen to music, cruise through my tumblr blog, and play with my kids. Anything that allows your creative mind to rest for a while.

Taking a wrong turn in the story. This is generally the culprit when it comes to my writers block. When I find myself slogging through words, where it feels like each sentence is stuck in a quagmire of sludge, I know there's a good chance that I took a wrong turn somewhere. I made something happen that shouldn't have or I had a character do something they never would have done.

The cure, go back through the manuscript and figure out where you diverged from the story. Pay attention to events, character development, and listen to your gut.

Procrastination: a writer's best frenemy. Writing a full length work requires diligence and discipline. To be completely honest, there are times when I sit down to work on a story, and I'm just not feeling like writing. I'd rather be checking my email, surfing the internet in the name of research, watching a movie, reading, or even cleaning.

The cure? For me, it's been very helpful to have a specific time set aside for writing. I've had to work at it, but I've trained my brain that during my writing time, I've got to be writing. If my mental restlessness is severe, I bring up my word count widget and set mini goals. For example, for every 300 words I type, I get a two minute break. This only works if I follow through on it, but I've managed to be fairly productive even though my mind is off chasing balls of string.

One last technique in battling writers block is something I learned from Holly Lisle's Create A Plot Clinic. Ask questions. As many as you need to get rolling again. The only two rules are that they have to be open-ended questions that can't be answered with a single word and you go with your muse (your subconscious mind). Before I learned to ask questions, I would just quiet myself and try to listen for the story. But asking the right kinds of questions is a lot faster, and it's amazing how many new details emerge.

What do you do to get rid of your writer's block?

Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Publishing Pulse: 2/3/2012


Thank you again to everyone who entered our latest contest with Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency! Winners and prizes will be announced later in February!

Around the Internet

Just for fun: A classic psychology illusion provides you with a quick creativity test!

Our own Stina Lindenblatt asks if you've checked out writing books for screenwriters...even if you only write novels and short stories. You might find some worthwhile tips by reading outside of your genre!

Should You Hire a Writing Coach or Mentor?  Here are some tips on when you should...and when you shouldn't.

Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing teaches you to use selective details to power your story.

Barnes & Noble announces that they will not stock books published by Amazon.com. :-(

Mashable offers 10 Pro Tips for Writers Using Social Media to help you you successfully raise your profile and gain a following. And while you're at it, learn how to Lower Your Website's Bounce Rate (how many people leave your site immediately, without looking at it).

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD's book, THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior helps writers avoid common misconceptions and inaccuracies and "get the psych right" in their stories. You can learn more about The Writer's Guide to Psychology, check out Dr. K's blog on Psychology Today, or follow her on Facebook or Google+