Monday, May 29, 2006

Just a regular guy. . .

I've been writing since I was a boy. In fact, my first short story was about Snoopy and the Red Baron when I was in the First Grade at elementary school. Trust me, that was a loooonnnng time ago. Anyway, at a time when most boys response to the question what they wanted to be when they grew up was fireman, policeman, Army-man, racecar driver, baseball player, etc., my response was that when I grow up I want to write books.

When I was in High School, rather than party with my friends, I could be found in my room writing stories and poetry. When I met my wife at age 16, one of the things that she loved about me was the poetry I wrote her. In the United States Navy, when I wasn't on watch or working my rate, I could be found on my rack writing my latest book in a spiral binder. During break at the credit union I worked at I wrote stories, poetry, or read. In construction, at break, while the other guys are talking about their macho accomplishments, I'm either reading a book, or jotting down notes for my book that's been swirling in my head all day. During the late nineties, for about five years, I made a strong push at the short story market, gaining around a hundred rejections. During that time I pushed one book, but directly at publishers. Then, a life changing article appeared in Writer's Digest Magazine.

It was the June, 2004 issue, page 32, "After the BIG SALE" by J.A. Konrath. The article outlines in a journal style the road to becoming published for Joe Konrath, and how a regular guy suddenly found himself joining the club of published writers. . . and with a six figure deal to boot. At the time, I had just completed the first draft of a novel that my wife had proclaimed, "This is the one!"

So I worked my butt off with re-write after re-write, cutting, pasting, adding other characters, eliminating another, toning down one as I increased the visibility of another. Throughout the process, the ending never changed. It was the ending that inspired me to write it in the first place.

At the time this novel was called "Sara's Rose Garden." It changed to "Roseboro," then back to "Sara's Rose Garden," then finally landed on "A Light in the Shadow." By New Years in 2005 the novel was ready, and I decided it would be best to look for a local agent before trying for one so far away in New York City. That was my first mistake.

On January 3, 2005 I sent off my first query letter. In fact, I mailed out seven. On January 31, 2005, something magical happened. An agent requested a one page description of my manuscript, a five page synopsis, and the first 50 pages of the work. I about had a cow! I told everybody, and I responded immediately. On February 28, 2005 they requested the entire manuscript. I was beside myself. This agent, in a recent interview that I read on the internet, indicated that she rejected 98% of the submissions she received. Holy cow! Was this really happening?

Eventually the contract was signed, the editing ensued, and the submissions to publishers began - - but not a single one of them bit. As this went on, I performed more research, research that I should have performed before I sent out the queries. The agency did not have a very good standing in the publishing community. Most of their sales were to small press publishers that didn't even require agents for acceptance, or to an overseas publisher that was questionable at best. I'd been had. Nonetheless, I had begun other manuscripts, and decided to ride out the contract in hopes that this agency could surprise me, and the industry. They didn't, nobody bought the book, and even the agent gave up on it eventually.

I tried to query other agents with A LIGHT IN THE SHADOW later in the year, and in the beginning of 2006, but nobody wanted it. I have since mothballed the novel, as well as a few of the others I've written since completing that manuscript, and donated my energy on my latest work - THE WAY OF DECEPTION (http://home.comcast.net/~douglasgibbs/conspiracy.html).

After a couple dozen rejections, I continue on. Recently I had my query letter critiqued on Absolutewrite.com, a writer's forum I'm a member of, and they shredded it. As a result, I re-wrote my query, then my manuscript, and changed the title to its current THE WAY OF DECEPTION.

Last year, at one of his book-signings, I had the opportunity to meet Joe Konrath, and it was a thrill for me. He hit it big, but he's still just a regular guy - - like me. If he can do it, by darn sure I can - - and if I can, then so can you. Don't quit. A professional is an amateur who didn't quit.

Confucius once said: "A man that finds a job he loves will never have to work again."

My wife recently clipped a little saying that also sums it up. It reads: "Freedom is doing what you want. Happiness is loving what you do."

I'm with you all the way. We'll can do it. Persistence is the key.

God Bless.

Doug

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The power of advice from other writers!

I recently posted a thread on http://www.absolutewrite.com requesting that my query letter be critiqued. I received four responses, and wow, did it help. They indicated that my description was all over the map, my hook was far from intriguing, I don't explain "what happens in my book" relying on theme, and recommended eliminating certain pieces of information that was either counter-productive, carries no weight, and that I am not even giving my novel a chance because of the title being an imitation of The Da Vinci Code. In one part I was told that in a query it is essential to keep even a complicated thriller simple. The query's focus should be on stating the stakes. The most important piece of advice said, "don't try to sell your book by putting down another, allow your book to sell on its own merits." Indicating my methods of marketing came off as first overly agressive, and secondly left the impression that I really don't know how to market, which is probably not a good image to give to an agent. The last person did indicate that the book looks like an exciting thriller she'd pick up in the bookstore, but the query needs some work to make it shine.

You know, such criticism would have had me in a ball in the corner a few years ago, but now it taught me, excited me, and pushed me to make the query, and the novel, better. As a result, I have changed the name to THE WAY OF DECEPTION, and I am currently totally revamping my query letter. I am forever in debt to these writers that so graciously gave me what I needed (a swift kick in the you-know-what), and I wish there was more of a way to thank them than just saying thank you, but I think just knowing that they helped me is thanks enough.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Literary Agents that want new writers, where are you?

Agents judge manuscripts expecting to have to reject it. They want to find the next big writer, but like you, they aren't expecting it to pop into their lap any time soon. Your manuscript being taken seriously most of the time depends upon who it is coming from. Joe Shmoe, unpublished writer, may sit in a slush pile for months before it is opened. Agents read work from well-known, established writers with an eye for liking it, looking for reasons to accept it, overlooking minor flaws. A new writer's work will be read by a junior agent hoping to find the slightest flaw so that they can reject it and go on to the next manuscript in their mile-high stack.

That is why it is so important to research, research, research. Many rejections are simply due to sending an agent inappropriate work. I know it's difficult, sometimes, to determine who may or may not be appropriate for your manuscript. Then when you find a perfect fit, often they have already found another like yours to represent first. Research, find the best fits, and then write your query letters with attention and care.

And in that letter, let the agent know why you are contacting him or her specifically. They don't want generic letters, or to be just another agent in a list of the entire agenting community. Use your research and tell the agent why you picked them.

Take personalized care, and you may land the agent you need to get your book published.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Writing Fiction effectively

Everyone knows that a good writer opens with a compelling hook, and each sentence after that is another hook. Each paragraph must be designed to keep the reader reading. The novel must open raising questions in the reader's mind, making him or her concerned for the protagonist. Open up into action. A lot of description or background information will just bog the story down. Be careful also to make certain that you don't introduce too many characters at the beginning of your story. People have trouble remembering names in real life, and it is not much different when they read. Allow the reader to keep track of the story and your protagonist without having to worry about remembering too many people. In regards to characters that you do introduce, give them a uniqueness. Use a physical mark, or device like glasses, or a scar. Use a unique attitude to tendency. Set each of them apart so that when the reader comes across them again in the story it's okay that they don't remember their name, because they remember the gold rimmed glasses, or bubbly personality, or purple hair.

Your protagonist should be not only believable, but must be motivated to progress through the story. His or her goals and actions must be apparent. Traits that the protagonist possesses should assist him or her in obtaining the goal, prize, or whatever, and make the character bigger than life. The protagonist never gives up, always finding a way around the obstacles you throw at him or her. The protagonist must also be flawed in some way. The flaw ought to drag him or her down, and should be conquered (or at least recognized) by the end of the story.

Conflict is plot. The conflict must incite a chain of events, that coupled with the character's actions, makes more events happen which in turn makes more things happen. Conflict should appear on every page. The characters must find this tension with each other, themselves, and their environment. Use internal conflict as well as external. Remember: Things must always get worse.

Scenes must be specific (in time and space) and advance the plot, as well as throw obstacles at the characters. Everything should be involved, including attitudes, norms of the location, weather, lighting, dialect, etc. Then, as things get better, make the protagonist stumble (possibly as a result of scenery) in a way that also pulls him or her farther away from his or her goal. Always make the problems worse, and then allow your protagonist think about how to deal with the latest obstacle.

Readers enjoy it when a character has no way out, but instead of some cheap ploy to get them out, they think of a way out that even the reader didn't think of, but feels that they should have. This goes back to using the traits that you have bestowed upon your protagonist.

Good dialogue is not everyday dialogue, but it isn't fake or forced either. Good dialogue is heightened, embedded with the conflict that your have injected. Emotions should be evident in the dialogue, without ever actually being told. Let the reader discover these things between the lines.

Ensure that the reader can see, hear, smell, feel and taste the story as it unfolds. Sensory details enlivens the story, making it real to the reader. Do not include those items that does not further the story, however. Omit unnecessary words, phrases, and items. If something does not enable the plot to progress, delete it.

You are a storyteller first. Don't use gimmicks to turn off the reader or shock them. Just tell the story, and allow the readers imagination to play a part in the imaginary world that you have created.

And remember: A professional is an amateur who didn't quit.

See more about me, becoming a writer, and other items of interest at http://www.geocities.com/douglasvgibbs

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

From the Funny File - - -

Someone gave this joke to me a while back, and I am not even sure how long ago it was, but man is it funny - if you're a writer...

A writer died and St. Peter offered her the option of going to hell or heaven. To help decide, she asked for a tour of each destination. St. Peter agreed and decided to take her to hell first. As she descended into the fiery pits, the writer saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes by demons. "Oh, my," the writer said, "let me see heaven."

A few moments later, as they ascended into heaven, the writer saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes by demons. "Hey," the writer said, "this is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh, no it's not," St. Peter replied. "Here, your work gets published."