QueryTracker Blog

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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Publishing Pulse: August 30, 2014

Around the Web

Last week I posted on conducting giveaways and mentioned Facebook’s strict rules (which most people didn’t know existed or have ignored). They announced this week amendments to the promotion guidelines for giveaways. They will make a lot of people happy.

Now that summer is coming to a close, agents are re-opening the doors to their beloved slush piles. Before you send your query, make sure you aren’t making those mistakes commonly seen by The Query Shark (aka agent Janet Reid). For example, if you can’t say the first sentence in one breath, you’re in trouble.

Speaking of queries, Rachelle Gardner explained why comparisons are good and necessary (even if you self publish).

Can you handle the truth? Agent Suzie Townsend is doing her annual query contest. This is your chance to see if your query is good enough to land requests. And if not, what made her reject it. Check the post for the rules and genres she’s looking for.

Author Jody Hedlund shares two pieces of writing advice. This applies no matter where you are on the writing continuum.

Janice Hardy walked writers through the different promotional tools they can use to help generate book sales. Or at least to generate awareness of their book.

Jane Friedman talked about the key book marketing principle that authors must learn (or at least not forget).

Marketing guru Dan Blank told writers to stop trying to go viral with author platforms.

Have a great weekend everyone. 

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes Young Adult and New Adult novels. She is represented by Marisa Corvisiero, and finds it weird talking about herself in third person. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance, WIDE AWAKE, will be released Jan, 2014 (Carina Press).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Which a Duck Ruins My First Radio Tour

I was fresh out of college.

The year before, as a senior, I’d had the pleasure to edit an edition of a college guide. With the book coming out, I was asked by the publisher to do a radio tour for the book.

(Hang on. I'm dating myself by describing the publicity that this book received. This happened during the early '90s.  It now seems stunning that a publisher would book a radio tour for an annually published college guide. Right? Those were the days.)

Of course, I’d never heard the term “radio tour” until the week before it happened. The publisher sent me for a couple hours of media training with a nice woman in a very tony apartment on Central Park West in the 60s. In the bathroom I spotted a photo of the publicist and her husband shaking hands with Ronald Regan. She nice lady tried, in 120 minutes, to cure me of ending every sentence with a rising lilt, as if I were asking a question. She told me it made me sound unsure of myself. (But I was unsure of myself.)

Anywho, on the morning of the radio tour, I reported to a midtown office tower, where I was parked alone in a conference room with a telephone. The interviews were scheduled at ten minute interviews, and I’m pretty sure I was there for the entire morning. (Again… can you believe the publicity? That’s like… 18 radio hits in a single day. Pinch me.) Each interview connection was dialed for me by an assistant in another room, and then I’d hear the station’s broadcast through the phone until the DJ picked up my call.

"Hello Sarah!  You're on Merv-in-the-Morning!  Tell us about this college guide!  Are my boys at Michigan State in there?  Go Spartans!"

Yet each interview quickly became two or so minutes of sheer terror--because the DJs would ask me the most peculiar trivia questions. As in: “which college has a duck for its mascot?”

I began to sweat. Beats me, dude.

This was an 800 page college guide written by 75 different people. I edited every one of those pages… but I didn’t memorize them.  It was embarrassing, and I flailed.
But the questions kept coming. “Which college has its own bowling alley underneath the dining hall?”

How the hell should I know?

And then the questions began to repeat themselves.

Finally it dawned on me—the DJ’s had received a press release about the book, complete with oddball trivia questions. But nobody had told me that the press release existed. And they sure hadn’t given me a copy.  I was 21 years old. I’d never read a press release before. I didn’t know to ask.

Then, each time a DJ asked me one of those awful questions, I’d write down his answer. Then it got easier.  And eventually I was given a ten minute break, during which I found a human being to ask about the press release. By the end of my stint, I finally had my hands on it.

There's a lesson here somewhere.  I think that lesson is: don't do any radio when you're 21 and very, very naive.

Just for the record: Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey has a duck for its mascot.  I can finally say that without flinching.

Sarah Pinneo
is a novelist, food writer and book publicity specialist. This post originally appeared on the book publicity blog www.blurbisaverb.com. Follow her on twitter at @SarahPinneo.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Writers' Etiquette: Lesson One

Dear Miss Rosie:
As an author of still unpublished literary works, I am appalled by the number of inferior books that are published and consumed by mass audiences. I would love to publish a long, angry blog post decrying the taste of contemporary readers and wondering aloud how a talent such as mine is unappreciated. May I?

Dear Not So Gentle Reader:

Only if you have a publishing Death Wish, my friend. While you are neither alone in your feelings nor in your observations about the reading market, they do not become you. And you are sadly misguided if you think to bolster your own work by denigrating the work of others. Particularly in a Public Forum.

But let us look more closely at your complaint. You see yourself as a Serious Writer, a person of Literary Tastes whose work is sadly hidden from public view. You look at other writers, perhaps those who work in Genre Fiction. You watch their works climb the venerated lists of the New York Times and you sniff and harrumph about the silliness of glittery vampires and rakish dukes and magical cats. Yet those same vampires, dukes, and cats are making their creators pots and pots of money, and that sticks in your craw like a bone from last night’s halibut.

For an example, let us consider Miss E.L. James. Miss James had an idea for a story that resonated with millions of women (and more than a few men). Miss James has sold millions of books and earned millions of dollars. And while this story is not to everyone’s taste, Miss James found Her Audience. Now, while Miss Rosie has her own opinions about Miss James’ stories, she keeps them to herself. And when Unscrupulous Gossips attempt to draw her into an E. L. James snark fest, she merely smiles and says, "But I so admire what she's achieved." Which, by the way, is quite true.

For if Miss Rosie were to mock Miss James, or turn up her splendid Sicilian nose at her books, what would it gain her? Would she garner more readers for her own Modest Efforts? Would she be any closer to the Venerated List? Would she see even one copper penny of Miss James’ prodigious pile of money?

She would not. She would instead be perceived as a writer of Resentful Temperament, one with whom agents, editors, and publishers would be loath to work, and one for whom other writers would hesitate to provide those lovely words of advance praise that decorate her covers.  (Miss Rosie bears in mind the lesson of another writer named James—Mr. Henry, who grumbled publicly about the fact that Miss Edith Wharton’s “popular fiction” earned much more money than his Ponderous Tomes. Mr. James, a writer of Serious Fiction, failed to see that his work, while brilliant, was not nearly as readable as dear Miss Wharton’s.)

So instead of feeling yourself ill-used and shouting it to the rafters, Miss Rosie suggests more productive pursuits. Read widely. Accept praise modestly. Be gracious about others’ success. Write the best book you are able, and perhaps you, too, will one day find Your Audience.

In the meantime, Not So Gentle Reader, behave yourself. Or Miss Rosie will find you.

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, will be released October 1. 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, two of her three sons, and an ill-behaved fox terrier.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Publishing Pulse for August 23, 2013

New At QueryTracker:

Congratulations to a new QueryTracker success story, Mike Grosso! Go read about how he found an agent for his contemporary midgrade novel.

This week we've updated six agent profiles. Because things change so quickly in this industry, 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:

Writer Elmore Leonard died this week at age 87 after publishing more than forty books.

Barnes and Noble's financial troubles continue, with the bookseller abandoning plans to split up the company and founder Leonard Riggio deciding not to buy the bookstores. Although in some good news, Simon and Schuster has reportedly settled their issues with B&N.

Neil Gaiman will have a road named after one of his novels.

Rust Consulting estimates that 23 million people will receive money back in the ebooks pricing settlement, an average of $7.

Around the Blogosphere:

Some interesting survey results on marketing, how readers find books, and what matters most to them.

Fun ensues when Google Play updates while a traveler is in Singapore, subsequently locking him out of all his books. (I have a soft spot in my heart for this kind of situation: last month my daughter's ereader updated itself while she was on vacation and locked her out of all her books as well, even though the books were DRM-free and she was still in the same country.)

Forgotten Bookmarks found a heartbreaking letter from a little girl named Emma, est 1880-1910.

The New York Review of Books publishes mostly men, and it responds to criticism with a form letter.

Agent Jenny Bent offers tips on schmoozing with agents at conferences.

Literary Quote of the Week:

"Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion." -Barry Lopez

Thanks for stopping by, and keep sending those queries!

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 swatting mosquitos. 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. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Giveaway ABC’s

When done well, giveaways are a great tool for building your platform. They can help draw attention to your website, your blog, your Facebook page, your book.

When conducting a giveaway, you have several options:

1. Ask participants to indicate in the blog comments if they are interested in the prize. It’s simple to do, but it comes with many downsides. For example, you might be giving away a book, and the person said it sounds great. Except, they might have said that to be nice and don’t actually want the prize. Or they might forget to leave their contact information, which isn’t ideal if they actually win.

Most individuals conduct giveaways because they want something in return. It could be more blog followers, more Twitter followers, more Facebook page ‘likes’. This giveaway format spells more work for you, since you have to manually check if the individual actually preformed the action (e.g. followed you on Twitter). It’s better suited for your current followers, as a way of saying thank you for following me. All they have to do is say yes they want to win the prize.

2. Have participants fill in a survey imbedded in your blog post. This one is fairly easy to do, but you still have to manually ensure the winner preformed the tasks she said she did in order to win the prize. Believe it or not, there are some people who lie about these kinds of things.

3. You can use Twitter and tweet something like this: The first person who favors this Tweet wins ALL OF YOU by @Christina_Lee04. The advantage of doing this, when you’re giving away another author’s book, is the author might retweet it to her followers. And you might end up with another follower or two. This type of giveaway is a great way of supporting friends and authors you admire.

4. Use the Rafflecopter and imbed it in your blog post. This is the best option for numerous reasons. One, Rafflecopter does all the checking (for the most part). You don’t have to double check if the person really is following you on Twitter or ‘liked’ your Facebook page. The all powerful Rafflecopter knows. It just can’t tell you if the person tweeted about your giveaway as often as she claimed she did. The Rafflecopter is easy to use, and will even add itself to your Facebook page. In case you didn’t know, unlike Twitter, Facebook has rules against advertising contests on your pages. You. Cannot. Do. It. BUT, you can have Rafflecopter add the Giveaway widget to your page. You just need to promote it through other means.

Tips for Giveaways

1. Establish a goal. Why are you doing the giveaway? Is it to gain ‘likes’ on your Facebook page? Is it to increase target audience awareness of your books? By establishing your goal(s), it will help you shape your giveaway so that you can benefit the most from it.

2. Based on your goals, determine the prize. If the goal is to increase your book sales, giving away a $50 Amazon gift card or Kindle Fire HD won’t do that. If your goal is to increase Facebook page ‘likes’, then that prize will help. BUT that doesn’t mean those individuals will buy your books, especially if they don’t read your genre. You’ll just accumulate meaningless ‘likes’. If your goal is to achieve ‘likes’ so that it appears as though you have an incredible fan base, then this prize will get you there.

If the goal is to increase book sales, giving away copies of your book will help. If the reader likes the book, she will hopefully review it on her blog, Goodreads, Amazon. This could translate into sales. The best form of promotion is word of mouth.

3. Make it simple. The more work the person has to do to enter, the less likely they will follow through with it. You will get more Facebook ‘likes’ if all the person has to do is click on that part of the Rafflecopter. You’ll get fewer ‘likes’ if they have to do some complex scavenger hunt that is a time suck. In that case, the prize had better be sweet.

4. Make it simple when it comes to prizes. If you’re giving away books (e-books or physical copies), don’t list 50 books (especially of various genres) and randomly hand them out to the winners. They might end up winning a book they’ve already read or are not interested in reading. Let the winners select which book they want to read from the list. This will make for a happier winner.

5. Promote the giveaway. But please don’t tweet about it every five minutes. This is spamming. The idea is to increase the number of people who are following you. The idea is to NOT annoy your followers with spam so that they UNFOLLOW you. A great ratio is nine non-promotional tweets for every promotional one. And only tweet about the giveaway two or three times a day. Also, give the individual who is entering the contest extra points for tweeting or blogging about it. Even better, make things easy for them. Using Click to Tweet, write a tweet promoting the giveaway at the end of your post. They just have to click on it and your giveaway is shared with their Twitter followers.

6. Share the Rafflecopter with friends. Instead of doing the giveaway on your own, enlist a few friends who would like to participate. This will help promote the giveaway to people who don’t follow your blog or don’t follow you on Twitter.

7. Do a test run. If you haven’t used Rafflecopter before, I suggest doing a small giveaway first. I did this recently. My goal was to see how it worked, and I’m glad I did. I discovered that for the option to have people follow you on Twitter, you just add your handle (e.g. @StinaLL). I used the entire url address and messed up that part of the form. I only realized this after the Rafflecopter went live. Fortunately I was able to fix it.

8. Have fun and be creative! Unless you’ve been living in the ocean with Ariel and her friends, you will have no doubt noticed how many giveaways are going on each week. Don’t stress out about yours. It’s just one small branch in your marketing plan. Learn from the experience and make your next giveaway even better.

Do you participate in giveaways (either in running them or trying to win things)? What is your favorite kind of giveaway? Do you have any other advice you would like to share?

Click the link to Tweet it! Share what you read today:

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes Young Adult and 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, WIDE AWAKE, available Jan. 20, 2014 (Carina Press).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Protecting Yourself From Plagiarism

Parody image of movie piracy commercial.
For a college professor like me, plagiarism is always a concern. But problems aren’t limited to the classroom. Every writer needs to be wary—both so you don’t accidentally plagiarize someone else or violate their copyright, and to guard your own work against plagiarism.

The internet has made it so easy to copy and paste material into one’s notes—or even right into one’s manuscript—that many people do exactly that, either forgetting that they lifted the material or assuming no one will ever figure out they didn’t do the writing themselves. Others assume that if they change a few words here and there that they’ll never be caught. And sadly, the fact that it’s so easy to copy leads some people to assume that it must be okay.

There are so many examples of literary and journalistic plagiarism that it's hard to choose a couple to focus on, so let's look at two famous (and disastrous) examples in fiction.

Take former Harvard student and William Morris Agency client Kaavya Viswanathan, for example, who signed a two-book contract with Little, Brown and Company for an alleged $500,000 advance. Within a few weeks of the book’s release, readers were finding passages that had clearly been lifted from Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret?, Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused, and even Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Wikipedia compares dozens of passages from these books with Viswanathan’s novel, but here’s one sample to give you an idea:
McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts: Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope's house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other's existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh (b) say something (c) ignore him and keep on walking ... 'Uh, yeah. Ha. Ha. Ha.' ... I turned around and saw that Marcus was smiling at me.
Viswanathan’s novel: Though I had been to school with him for the last three years, Sean Whalen and I had never acknowledged each other's existence before. I froze, unsure of (a) what he was talking about and (b) what I was supposed to do about it ... 'Ha, yeah. Uh, ha. Ha.' ... I looked up and saw that Sean was grinning at me.
As soon as the first accusations were made, Little, Brown released a statement from Viswanathan saying
I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.
The publisher of McCafferty’s novels shot back,
We find both the responses of Little, Brown and their author Kaavya Viswanathan deeply troubling and disingenuous. Ms. Viswanathan's claim that similarities in her phrasing were 'unconscious' or 'unintentional' is suspect. We have documented more than forty passages … that contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure from Megan McCafferty's first two books. This … is nothing less than an act of literary identity theft ... it is inconceivable that this was…youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.
And Viswanathan isn’t the only one who’s plagiarized and been caught.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books called out bestselling author Cassie Edwards, who has written over 100 romance novels, when she lifted material directly from nonfiction resources for her 2007 book, Shadow Bear.

For example, Edwards’ novel says,
It is said that their [black-footed ferrets'] closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population.
The passage is almost indistinguishable from the one Paul Tolme wrote in the summer of 2005 for Defenders Magazine: 
Their [black-footed ferrets'] closest relatives are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska to establish the New World population.
Signet, who published Edwards’ book, argued first that many of the sources were so old that they were fair use, but later decided to review each of Edwards’ books in search of plagiarism. According to the Wikipedia entry on Edwards, “In April 2008, Signet stopped publishing Edwards' books ‘due to irreconcilable editorial differences.’ In an interview, Edwards said that she did not know she was supposed to credit sources, and her husband stated that Edwards gained ideas from her reference works but did not ‘lift passages’.”

(For an extensive, ongoing, and incredibly damning comparison of Edwards’ books with plagiarized resources, download Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ massive Cassie Edwards PDF.)

If these sorts of things are a concern for published authors, imagine how often this must happen among unpublished writers. That means you need to be extra vigilant as an unpublished writer.

First, you must know exactly what plagiarism is so you never do it yourself. According to plagiarism.org:
All of the following are considered plagiarism:
  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)
Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.
Second, you must choose your critiquing partners carefully. If someone takes your work and puts it in front of an agent or publisher first, what will that do to your chances of ever getting published yourself? We’ve heard stories about people trusting a critique partner with their material—from queries to nonfiction proposals to novels—only to hear from a third party that they’ve been plagiarized. In other words, a reader who sees both your work and your crit partner’s “work” realizes that your crit partner is stealing your material! And in some mind-blowing situations, plagiarists have even sent their plagiarized material to the person they stole from for critique!

Something else to look out for: It's not plagiarism, but it can be just as devastating: the "beta reader" who releases your story to the world when it was not their place to do so. Stephenie Meyer was working on a novel called Midnight Sun, intended to be the Twilight story from the hero's point of view. One of Meyer's trusted readers leaked the story on the internet, and quickly made the possibility of Meyer publishing the book moot.

Like Viswanathan and Edwards, many if not most plagiarists swear they’ve done nothing wrong. Because they changed some words here and there or integrated your materials into their own work, they may argue that it’s all original. In fact, little may be original — plagiarists often steal from multiple sources.

In the book Man for Himself, psychologist Erich Fromm calls people like this “exploitative characters.”
Such people will tend not to produce ideas but to steal them. This may be done directly in the form of plagiarism or more subtly by repeating in different phraseology the ideas voiced by others and insisting that they are new and their own… Things which they can take away from others always seem better to them than anything they can produce themselves… Because they want to use and exploit people, they ‘love’ those who, explicitly or implicitly, are promising objects of exploitation, and get ‘fed up’ with persons whom they have squeezed out.
We’re not suggesting you become paranoid and avoid critique partners. Crit partners are invaluable, both to help you improve your manuscript and to help you improve as a writer. But it’s a good idea to pay attention to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or violated.

A few clues that you’re dealing with an exploitative character:

  • Fromm says, “They often make ‘biting’ remarks about others…[and they display] suspicion and cynicism, envy and jealousy. Since they are satisfied only with things they can take away from others, they tend to overrate what others have and underrate what is theirs.” In other words, look out for people who often gossip about others in a negative way, or who rave about how they’re going to write something “as good as [your story]” or whatever this week’s Big Novel is.
  • Be wary of someone who’s absolutely paranoid that someone else is going to plagiarize them. People often fear others doing to them what they’re doing to others.
  • This is a big one: Beware of people who are copycats in other areas of their lives. If they’re constantly regurgitating other people’s opinions as if they’re original thoughts, or if they jump on the bandwagon to try to get a little glory from other people’s new and fabulous ideas, beware.
  • So is this: Exploitative characters will often come right out and say they’re using people, groups, or ideas, or plan to use them. They may boast that they’re only doing something because of what they can get from it. If you hear these things on a regular basis, run for your life (and your manuscript’s!).

Some other ideas to help you stay safe:

  • Get referrals to critique partners from writers you trust.
  • Ask other people in your writing community about a potential critique partner to see if anyone has caveats
  • Try sharing a few chapters at a time with someone rather than sending them your full manuscript. Then wait for a while before sending more and listen for anything that makes you uneasy
  • And always, always trust your gut.

* Full disclosure: This is a repost of an earlier blog entry.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chaptering: Those Magical Last Lines

As a novelist, it has never occurred to me to write a book that wasn’t broken into chapters.

I seem to read more articles on writing than actually writing, it seems. For instance, I’ve read many articles on writing that first chapter. I’ve even read articles on the art of writing the second chapter, and the third and fourth. I’ve even read essays on writing the last chapter. However, I’ve read hardly a paragraph advocating the writing of a novel without a single chapter break.

We need chapter breaks. Sometimes we need a moment to pause and reflect on the previous scene, to absorb the impact. Sometimes, we need to switch to a different character’s point of view.

Sometimes, we just want a place to put a bookmark so we can close the book.

There is a specific science that goes into the design of a chapter: the alchemy of the first line, the balance of scene-and-sequence, the length of the chapter itself. We can spend weeks discussing the anatomy of a chapter but, truthfully, there is one part that, to me, is far more important than all the rest put together: the very last line.

While novels, on average, contain thirty to forty chapters and are usually eighty to ninety-five thousand words long, it is not enough to do a little math and come up with the proper number of words that should be in each chapter. Why? Because it’s a story, not a list that you can simply hack off at the proper line. A chapter can only be ended at one, single spot—and that is the absolute perfect spot.

That’s where the tricky part comes in—finding that perfect spot.

For me, the perfect spot to end a chapter is the perfect place to compel a reader to keep reading. I have a flashing neon light in my head when I write, and it blinks the words PAGE TURNER. That’s my goal when I write: to create a page turner that a reader has a hard time putting down.

The “page turner” mantra was instilled deep into my psyche long before I began professional writing—as a reader, I developed a fondness for the way certain authors (Laurell K. Hamilton immediately comes to mind) had a way of keeping me reading long past my bedtime.

“One more chapter,” I’d mutter. “I have to see what happens next.” And the next thing I knew, I was hugging the handrail on the bus the next morning, struggling to remain upright and feeling like a zombie (not the fun kind) on three hours of sleep.

When I started writing novel-length fiction, it was something that I knew I had to do, just as sure as having chapters. It was a given. The chapter had to end as well as—if not better than—it started. That was part of a book's magic.

How can you do that? Here are some tricks I picked up along the way.

At times, we may be tempted to end a chapter simply because it has gone on too long. (On the contrary, you cannot fault a chapter for being too short as long as it does its fair share of work.) I’ve split up long scenes into chapters for the sake of chapter flow but, when I do, I try to end it in the middle of action. That way, no one is tempted to put a bookmark down.

Sometimes we’re tempted to look at chapters as mini-novels, with beginnings and middles and ends. I’ve found it doesn’t always work like that for me. In fact, I distinctly remember one chapter that I wrote as such—beginning, middle, end—and the chapter ended with the heroine saying good-bye and leaving the room.

Even I’d stick a book mark in there.

If only I’d somehow continued the action…it would have felt less like a place to stop and more like a place to catch a breath before flipping the page.

Bill Henderson writes about ending chapters on the “Write A Better Novel” blog. He tells us that readers need some sort of closure at the end of a chapter, and that closure can be achieved with the use of a closing beat.

A closing beat, according to Henderson, is “…almost anything–a thought, an event, a perception, a discovery. It can be as simple as your main character’s musings about tomorrow, as he goes to sleep, exhausted by the day’s events. Or it can a new and provocative piece of information, signaling to the reader that somewhere, somehow, a confrontation is looming.”

That closing beat would give the reader a sense of closure without giving a reason to close the book entirely.

Cliffhangers are more dramatic than closing beats. As a reader, I know I’m a sucker for conflict. I want loads of it—nail-biting, bookmark-shredding conflict just so I can root for resolution. The last line is the perfect place for a little conflict: a surprising reaction, an unexpected arrival, a gnawing sense of foreshadowing. Even the slightest hint that things are going to take a turn for the worse is enough to make me turn the page. (As much as I love conflict, I desperately need to see things work out. I can be such a nervous reader.)

If you can’t end it in the middle of action or with tension and suspense, you have to end it with a fantastic last line. But what constitutes “fantastic”?
This is a time to let your writer’s voice shine through. You, as a writer, have a particular style of prose and, whether or not you want to admit it, you have a certain way with words of which you’re particularly proud. Use the skills of your craft to hone that last line as only you could—whether you write from a deep POV or tend to make poetic observations.

People have short attention spans. Use your last line to backload the chapter and leave readers with a relevant and articulate memory, one that will color their overall impression of the chapter. (Of course, you still have to make sure it’s a brilliant chapter. As the folks around here are fond of saying, you can’t put a shine on—well, you know.)

The single greatest compliment an editor ever handed me was when one said I really knew how to end a chapter. I didn’t realize I “knew” how to do it—it was just something I picked up from being a reader who’d been spoiled by the masters themselves. As a reader today, it’s something to which I pay careful attention, because it tells me whether or not I want to keep reading or put a book down to do something else.

It used to be a subconscious thing. Now it’s like watching a magician, knowing what sleight-of-hand is, and focusing on the concealment instead of the distraction. It’s still magic, but it feels a bit more mechanical when you know what to look for.

But that’s part of the craft—knowing the tricks behind the act. Ending a chapter well makes for great reading…and great reading feels like magic.


"Chaptering: Those Magical Last Lines" #writingtips

"Four ways to end a fiction chapter: #writingtips on chaptering"

"Don't let the end of your chapter ask for a bookmark..."

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's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press), which has continued with the release of Blood Rush (Demimonde #2). Wolf's Bane (Demimonde #3) is expected mid-2014.