Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ditch the Follow-up Phobia

Querying agents is a humbling and pride-sucking process, but it’s also just plain weird.

You slave over your manuscript (sometimes for years), then craft a 300-word letter that perfectly encapsulates everything about your book, and it’s sent out to a multitude of strangers with the hope that one of them might want to take a closer look. If you aren’t used to tooting your own horn, the process can feel a bit…icky at first, like arriving for a first date in your wedding dress. Or showing up for your first day of work, resume in hand, without benefit of having been offered a job. Or sending your kids to college without admittance. Or…you get the picture.

Many people send their query letters and then hide under the bed sit back and hope for The Call. That’s what I used to do. Now I know better.

Beckie is the person who encouraged me to follow up with agents. She is relentless as well as restless in her pursuit of writing, and she shows no fear in gently reminding agents that they have her manuscript. Half of me was worried about bothering the agents and the other half just wanted to forget I was even querying. In my twisted logic, not thinking about it would make it happen (see also: a watched pot), but that wasn’t working out so well for me and I decided to do some following up.

And guess what? Ten sent e-mails led to three requests for more pages! It also led to seven “thanks but no thanks” responses, but at least it gave me some closure. And one of those rejections was the nicest “no” anyone has ever received. Ever. It actually made my day.

Rather than appearing desperate, sending a brief follow up simply demonstrates professional courtesy, and often encourages positive reciprocity. Worst case scenario? I get another “no” for my pimped-out, colour-coded, agent-tracking spreadsheet.

Best case scenario? I get an agent.

What’s your follow up strategy? Do you have one?


Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations

The Fascination of a Name

rolodexIt’s a shame that we don’t get to choose our own names. At different points in my life I wanted to change my name to something that had meaning for me. (Thank the stars I didn’t—I can’t imagine going through life now as “Morgana” just because I read The Mists of Avalon one too many times.)

But when it comes to writing, I get to name people whatever I want. I’m at the point in my WIP where I am thinking hard about whether or not the working names I have been using as placeholders are my characters’ real names. I’m working on a contemporary re-telling of an epic poem, so I’m pretty much stuck with some names—but others I get to have fun with.

Sometimes the working name I choose turns out to be just right. But sometimes a name in my literary Rolodex ends up feeling off for some reason. Here are some things that I’m considering as I narrow down my choices:

Personal history: I could take the name of my tyrannical elementary-school French teacher and apply it to the mythical hag in my WIP. Or I could name my protagonist after that cool barista who always remembers how I take my coffee. A word to the wise: read up on libel law before you go naming your villain after an evil boss or a malicious ex-boyfriend.

Sound and emotion: The sound of a name can sometimes evoke a feeling. Try reading your characters’ names out loud—do the s sounds make you suspicious of your character? Do the big, broad o’s make him seem gregarious and wise? Do first-name, last-name combinations of single syllables, like Jane Doe, make your character seem anonymous or ineffectual?

Alliteration or assonance: This can be a fun, although potentially fatally distracting trick. You may like the sound of Suzie Schwartzman, Angelina Alomar, or Peter Pumpkineater, but, by golly, you better have a reason for it. Some duplication of sounds can be pleasing and realistic, but too much can be hard for a reader to get past.

Connotation: There are some names that carry the weight of historical, literary, religious or mythological meaning. Not just the biggies—like Moses, Adolf or Osama—but also seemingly benign names like Adam, Dorothy, Diana, Russell, Carrie, Percival, Harry, or Kate can mean different things to different readers, depending on geography, age, or even level of media savvy. The well-read writer will recognize this and either combat the connotations or use them to her advantage.

Trends: I’m sure at some point, names like Gertrude, Matilda, Eunice and Harold were considered the baby names of the year. In the future, we’ll look back and wonder why there were so many children named Justin or Emma, or why someone chose to inflict their offspring with something like Apple or Moroccan. You probably have a sense of what names are fads and which are classics, so go with your gut—and turn on E! once in a while.

Hidden messages: I’m reminded of my third-year seminar in American literature, and a particular class in which we were studying Henry James’s The Bostonians. When the class was asked about James’s choice of naming one his characters Olive, one classmate said, “Maybe James is telling his character, who is pretty repressed, to “O, live!” The rest of the class laughed, but I thought he was on to something.

Whether your goal is to find a name that is contemporary, classic and connotation-free, or to give your reader insight into your story by choosing a name with many layers of meaning, don’t take naming lightly.

How have you had fun with names in your work?



Filed under Writing ideas

The Last Post

Blogging is a funny thing. Most people (okay, me) start as a means to get their writing out to the masses, even if “the masses” consists of five family members. It is an opportunity for creative expression, professional promotion, archiving family memories and good old-fashioned venting. It can also act as an obituary.

Today I read the about a blogger named Derek K. Miller, who lost his battle with cancer in Burnaby, B.C. at 41. His final request to his family and friends was for them to publish  ‘The Last Post’ and allow him to be the one to notify his readers of his passing.

Miller’s final post went viral the same day it was posted on May 4th,  drawing three million visitors to his website. The message was prepared weeks in advance of his passing, as he and his family both knew his battle with colorectal cancer was not going to have a happy ending.

I’ve been struggling to get my new blog design up and in the process had to move to self-hosting. Long story short, I had a very frustrating weekend that left me wondering why I’m doing any of this in the first place. Was it worth it? Would anyone even notice if I pulled the plug on my site?

I still don’t know the answers to these questions, but here I am, blogging away on two different sites. Reading about Derek obviously put my petty challenges in perspective while offering inspiration: “Pursue what (you) enjoy, and what stimulates (your) mind, as much as possible—so you can be ready for opportunities…”

Like Derek Miller (and every writer I know), not writing is not an option. The reason we write doesn’t really matter, provided that we keep doing it until we no longer can.



Filed under Uncategorized

Just Duet. Tips for working with a writing partner

For two weeks now I have been in La-La land…really, truly. I have been writing my pants off with a writing partner, and let me tell you—it’s scrupulous and painstaking, yet incredibly rewarding.

Writing is generally considered to be a solitary occupation, but not always. Collaboration can be an intimate creative relationship, a lot like love, friendship, or even film in its experiential nature. And you never really know if it will work with someone until you try it.

First, you will need a partner with similar sensibilities and a complementary strength. This is what gives the collaboration a unique richness and a range of talent. This person should be a writer you respect (and vice versa). It should also be someone who “plays well with others,” recognizing that disagreement is an invaluable part of the collaborative process.

There are many reasons why a partnership can be beneficial. Inspiration for one—there is a certain rush from bouncing creative ideas around with others. Perspective as well. Often a second opinion can help clarify plot inconsistencies or typos and keep the story on track. 

The most important factor in a writing collaboration is the ability to trust your partner. You are trusting them with your creative vision and that they will carry their share of the workload. You need to be able to compromise and settle disagreements. And you need to trust that they will handle the story with a style and creative flair that complements yours. 

One of the best places to look for a writing partner is online, perhaps a writer’s group or a workshop. This type of forum gives you a chance to get to know other writers and evaluate their style of writing before jumping into a partnership. Or you can always tap the blogging community, Twitter, or perhaps duet with say, a spouse, a friend, or an ex-boyfriend (gah!). Choose the most promising partner and see if it clicks. The journey of collaboration begins with one story. Here’s more on how to find your perfect writing partner.

Before your efforts begin, be sure to set a few simple ground rules; this will leave little room for miscommunication that could cause hard feelings and ruin not only the friendship but the writing partnership as well.


1) Ego: Leave your ego at the door. Writing is deeply personal for a lot of writers and inviting another person in on that creative process isn’t easy. You have to be able to communicate your interests for the shared work. This isn’t a time for egos, but a time to share equally.

2) Responsibility: Who will be responsible for writing each portion of the work? Will you write together? How? (in person, by phone, online chat)? Will each person write a chapter at a time? Will one partner do most of the writing and the other partner most of the rewrites?

3) Deadlines: Set a deadline for each portion of the work. This should be a team effort, and you should be working to a schedule that mutually suits you and your partner.

4) Revisions: Any editing or alteration of the manuscript or characters should be agreed upon (where possible) by all authors.

5) Payment: Have a written agreement for how payment will be divided. Decide up front and before any writing has begun. If this can’t be agreed upon then there is no point to writing together.

6) Next steps: Decide who gets control of the finished work, who will be responsible for marketing and where. Who will find an agent or publisher?

A collaboration can teach you much about your own writing and can be a very rewarding experience—both for you and for your writing career. Just be sure you select your accomplice carefully!



Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, Writing ideas, Writing resources