Category: Writing advice (Page 2 of 2)

Guest Post from Jen DeLuca – Three Things I Learned While Writing “Hunted and Haunted” for Rough Edges

Three Things I Learned While Writing “Hunted and Haunted” for Rough Edges

  1. You Can’t Deny Your Muse. I saw the submission call for Rough Edges here and there on Twitter, and my initial reaction was “Huh, cool.” Cowboys have never really been my thing—I tend to go for regular contemporary romance, maybe some paranormal here and there. So I went back to editing my novel and didn’t think much about it. But when I wasn’t looking, my brain started wondering “what if…?” If I were to write a cowboy story (WHICH I’M NOT), what kind of cowboy story would it be? I thought about a recent trip out West, all that wide open space. I like ghost stories, what if I wrote something with a ghost in it? (No, brain, we’re not writing a story right now.) A week before the submission deadline, the story that had been simmering in the back of my mind suddenly bubbled over, fully formed, demanding my attention.  No, I told it. I don’t have time for you. Turns out, though, that when you have an idea take hold like that, you can’t tell it no. Which leads me to…
  2. There’s No Minute Like the Last Minute! Did I mention that it was a week before the submission deadline, and I hadn’t written a word? I’m a notoriously slow writer, so I spent a precious few days trying to talk myself out of it. I don’t have time, I don’t write fast enough, etc. But as I said above, you can’t deny the muse. So I took a deep breath and dove in. I wrote before work. I wrote through my lunch break. I slipped a legal pad under the work on my desk, scribbling down dialogue and other phrases. I wrote at home after dinner and before bed. And a little more than 36 hours later, I had a story. I let it sit overnight, emailed it to my CP to make sure it wasn’t terrible (I was so bleary-eyed from writing so fast that I couldn’t tell!), made a few small tweaks, and that was that!
  3. Breaks Are Important. The last writing session for “Hunted and Haunted” during those 36 hours started around 7 p.m. on a Friday night at a downtown coffeehouse. A couple hours, a couple lattes, and an apple crumble a la mode later, I went home, made some more coffee, and kept on writing. I finished around 2 a.m. and collapsed in bed. And that’s when I realized that I couldn’t feel my legs. They felt kind of weird and tingly. I spent a few panicked seconds wondering if I should go to the emergency room before doing the math and realizing that I hadn’t moved from my chair in roughly 5 hours.

Don’t do that, y’all. Get up and walk around every so often while you’re writing. Don’t be like Jen.

A key witness in her ex’s corruption trial, Anna needs to lay low for her own safety. While she’s stashed in a remote hunting cabin in Montana, her nightly erotic dreams make her wish that sheriff’s deputy Gabe McKenna’s protective custody was a little more hands-on. Then she learns about the ghost who shares the cabin with them and discovers it’ll take both men to keep her safe… and satisfied.


Twitter: @jaydee_ell


Rough Edges Cover

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Query Tips

I have some tips, that will hopefully give you some ideas on what to look for in your own queries!

Going through all of these queries at once let me see a trend in errors. So, if you’re looking to polish your query up, here are some of the things I noticed:

We need the age of your MC
If you’re writing YA, or MG, we need the age of your MC in the query. There’s no reason to leave it out. Add it in, preferably in the first paragraph.

Your query should be about your book
Your query should be more about your book, than about you. While some agents like to see a short paragraph about the writer, that paragraph should not be longer than the rest of the query.

Show, don’t tell
Don’t give a one sentence overview of your book and expect that to cut it. Show us what your book is about in your query. Try to give at least three paragraphs that are a general overview of your plot.

Too much backstory
Save backstory for your manuscript. Your query doesn’t need 2 full paragraphs of backstory.

Too many character names
Limit yourself to mentioning two character names in your query. If you list more characters than that, the query can become confusing.

A query is not a list of events
Make sure that your query tells me a few things: Who your character is, what they’re up against, and what the stakes are. A bulleted list of events won’t cut it for an agent.

Limit your comps
If you’re going to use comps (which is optional) limit yourself to two or three.

A common tip if you’re stuck with your query, is to look at the jacket copy from other novels. I also have some other query tips here.

Have questions about your query, or any of the tips I mentioned in my post? Feel free to ask them below!

Sending Email Campaigns and Newsletters for your Blog

I’m cross posting this to my email marketing blog, as I know many of the writers who frequent my writing blog, have blogs of their own. If you’re looking for a guide to get started sending email campaigns or newsletters for your blog, I’ve written one, and you can check it out here!

Querying Part 2: Building a Query – The Formula

While doing query critiques, I’ve noticed a bit of a theme — backstory. Because you’re so limited on space in a query, it’s important that every word you use is absolutely essential. If you’re including that your character broke their arm last summer, it needs to be clear why. Why is that important to the story? Why do I need to know that NOW, and not in the first chapter?

Your pages are for backstory

Your pages should cover all the backstory necessary for your character. Your query’s job is to explain your plot, and give the Agent or Publisher a hint at who your character is. If you have backstory in your query, chances are, you can cut it out, and no one will miss it.

So, what do I put in my query?

There’s an easy formula for deciding what belongs in your query.

Character + Conflict + Stakes.

That’s it. Character. Conflict. Stakes. That should give the agent a pretty good idea of what your story is about. Need more to go on than that?

Be sure that you answer these questions:

Who is your character? If you’re writing YA or MG, be sure to put in the age of the character.

What or who is your character up against? Why are they up against that person/thing? Why is it only they who can solve/fix it?

And finally, what happens if they don’t succeed? Does the world end? Do they die? Do they lose someone they love? The final sentence should sum up the stakes. Tell the reader why they should care.

If you can, include a great hook.

Additional information for your query

Be sure to include the word count of the MS. The genre(s) that your book fits in. (Be sure these are real existing genres, and not a genre you’re making up). And audience. Is your book YA, MG, Adult? The Agent will need to know the market.

About you

You don’t need to include that this is your first novel. DON’T say that you ‘completed your MS recently’, as it looks like you may not have edited it. You don’t need to include publishing history, if you don’t have one. And, more importantly, you don’t have to include any information about yourself if you don’t want to.

Need more query tips? My CP has some great tips on her blog!

When to Give Up

Today, I’m going to talk about something difficult. Giving up. Not giving up on writing all together mind you. But giving up on a story, or a character.

Last year, I started seven projects. Three of those, I competed. Those three completed projects, I outlined, researched, interviewed experts, wrote, edited. And they’re going on the shelf — the shelf of projects that will likely never see the light of day.

That’s right. I wrote over 150,000 words for those projects, and I’m putting them on the shelf.

Why? Because I don’t love them. I don’t even like them.

Are the stories okay? Probably.

Are the characters fine? Yeah.

So why am I giving up on them? Because I don’t feel connected to them. I don’t feel like they’re stories that currently need to be told. They’re fodder, filler. They helped me grow in some areas that I need to, namely romance. But would I want to stamp my name on these and put them out in the world for all to see? Nope.

There might be a time I’ll change my mind, in six months, a year, five years. But for now, I’m giving up. And that’s okay.

I’ve realized that I’m happier, and better off writing fantasy and horror. The other projects don’t have a single speculative word in them. And that’s just not me, not right now anyway.

If you ever feel like you’re being dragged down by your story, if you feel like you aren’t doing it justice — put it away. Write something else. Read something else. When you’re ready, that story will still be there. And maybe that will be the right time to make it perfect. But if today isn’t that day, there are many other stories you can write.

Querying Part One – Writing a Good Hook

Querying: Part One – The Hook

I was going to do a single post on querying, then realized that would end up being a novella. Instead, I’m going to write several posts on querying, focusing on what I consider to be the most important parts. I will be using examples from an old shelved project of mine.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the hook. What is the hook? The hook should be the opener of your query, a very short, snappy line or two that draw an agent in.

Here’s what a bad hook looks like (this was from the VERY FIRST draft of one of my old projects):

You would think that being deemed the Anti-Christ by a rogue cult would be as bad as your life could get. But after Daisy fell in love with a boy who only has a month to live, and then is arrested for her mother’s murder, she realized her life was about to get a whole lot worse.

I cringe now when I read this.

At the time,  I thought this was genius. I didn’t understand what a hook was, or how to write one.  This query did get quite a few requests, so it took me a long time to realize there was anything wrong with it. But eventually after reading every blog in existence on the querying process, I recognized my error.

Here’s the final hook I used in queries:

17-year-old Daisy Fitzpatrick has doled out more death sentences than the Texas Prison system. And it’s going to get her killed.

See the difference? I’m not trying to stuff everything that happens in the story into a paragraph, that’s what the rest of the query is for. While this isn’t the best hook in the world, it did get a lot of attention.


Great — But how the hell do I write a hook?

To write a good hook, drill down to the absolute barebones of your story.  A good way to do this is to force yourself to write a Twitter Pitch. With 140 characters you HAVE to rely on the essentials. In those 140 characters, what does a reader need to know?

Cut your story down to two or three elements that set your story apart. What makes it special? What are the stakes? Why should someone read it?

This is the formula I’ve seen before: [Character] + [Conflict] + [Stakes]  = A great hook.

Need some more examples? Agent query has some listed here.

Editing a Manuscript – My Editing Process

So, I will start out this editing post with a note. This is my editing process. It may or may not work for you. When I began editing, this was not the path I followed, but editing is an evolution.

I edit in stages. It’s easiest for me to break it down by what I’m looking for. These are the things that I know I screw up on every draft (and I know this thanks to my wonderful agent, critique partners, and beta readers).

How I Write

When I write a first draft, the goal is to get the bones down as quickly as possible. I start every project with a detailed outline, and if there are a lot of characters/deaths, a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will contain details such as description, bio, age, relationship with the MC, arc, and cause of death. Depending on what the subject matter is, I will begin researching/interviewing before I write the manuscript.

Sometimes questions will come up during the drafting/editing process, so additional interviews are often needed after the first draft is done.

All of my manuscripts are written long-hand (handwritten in a notebook).  Yes. Really.

Note: I’m often asked how quickly I write. My fastest first draft (40k words) was written in two weeks, my slowest, six months (80k words).

How I Edit

The first edit, is typing up what I’ve written in my notebook (This usually takes me a week to ten days). Sometimes it’s real, real, rough. So I spice up some scenes, add dialogue, and try to take an objective look at the plot itself. Is it too slow? Am I missing something? Do I even like these characters?

The second edit, my focus is always on the structure and the voice of the character. Writing it, and typing it up, it really helps me see where I’m at with character development. I note issues with the characters, with the relationships, and scenes that I still need to write.

Then, I rewrite my outline. Most of my first outlines are about HALF the length of what my second outlines are. I make a checklist of everything I need to change, and everything I need to write.

The third edit, a lot of this edit is writing. Writing up the chapters I missed in the first draft, and putting them into the MS where they belong.

The fourth edit, re-reading all new chapters, overall plot. Adjusting dialogue and character relationships. At this point, I take a harder look at my grammar, and sentence structure but that’s still not my focus.

The fifth edit, this is getting into the final stages, at this point I’m pretty happy with the story overall. I focus on making sure all the arcs I want are in place/working. Sentence structure, grammar, continuity, timing, and making sure I’m showing not telling are the main things I’m looking at here.

Depending on the type of story, at this point I may have to create a calendar to map out events to be sure they’re happening at the right times. Especially if I have time jumps, or flash backs.

At this point, I usually do one final read through, and send the baby off to my critique partners/beta readers ESPECIALLY if I still feel like something isn’t quite right. I don’t usually tell my beta readers what I don’t think is right, because I want them to read it objectively without me coloring their responses.

The sixth edit, ripping the MS apart based on feedback (making a new checklist), and duct taping it all back together again. Sometimes these edits are substantial, sometimes they’re minor fixes. Every MS is different.

The seventh edit, the final edit. This is the final editing stage. Cleaning up the few remaining typos (how the hell are there still typos?!) and making sure everything is polished and shiny for my agent.

Well, that’s it. This process takes me anywhere from one to three months. Usually six weeks is the sweet-spot. One of the biggest helps with editing is understanding your weaknesses. If you know your weaknesses, it’s easy to look for those specific issues as you edit. I recommend having at least a few beta readers, specifically people who will tell you the truth. AND at least one critique partner, again, someone who will tell you the truth. You’re not looking for someone to be mean, or rip your work apart — constructive criticism is the goal here.

Happy editing!

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