Monthly Archives: February 2011

How to freelance for magazines

It is so hard to get the attentions of an agent these days, anything you can do to help yourself should be pursued. One thing that is frequently recommended is selling articles to magazines to convince your agent that you actually have the skills to write at a high enough level to be published.

I took a webinar recently on this subject. Perhaps the most important thing that was said was this simple little question: WHY? Why do you want to pitch to a magazine? Is it for money? Or to meet interesting people? Or to get more work?

Here are some tips for how to get out of the slush pile:

  1. Write to the Managing Editor or Acquisitions Editor, and if you can find their names on the masthead of the magazine, use them.
  2. Ask for small assignments first. Assume that you’ll be writing the 300-word fillers until they get to know you better.
  3. Don’t sign a contract before checking out the magazine. Use Google, Preditors  & Editors, and Mr. Magazine.
  4. Take some time to find out how to write a good query letter. You could do worse than look at The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters.
  5. Last but not least, have fun! Write about things that you enjoy doing.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: Who are the Iowa Book Doctors?

Image: realsimple.com

Leave a Comment

Filed under How to Publish Your Novel

Publisher’s Marketplace

If you are seriously interested in publishing your novel, you should join Publisher’s Marketplace. For only $20 a month, you get daily listings of deals that agents make to sell forthcoming novels, as well as industry news and useful links.  You can use their website to track book sales, find agents, and read reviews. You can find reviewers, bookstores and bestsellers. (And, if you are an agent, you can use their recently unveiled Nielsen BookScan to track book sales.)

But for the unpublished author, the real benefit is that Publisher’s Marketplace opens the door into the publishing industry. And these days, it pays – literally – for writers to be savvy about book sales.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: How to freelance for magazines.

Leave a Comment

Filed under How to Publish Your Novel, Promoting Yourself

Book Review: DAUGHTER OF YORK by Anne Easter Smith

Writing historical fiction is not easy, especially if you are writing about a real person. You cannot assume that your readers are going to understand how hard it is, or the difficult choices you have to make.

DAUGHTER OF YORK is the story of Margaret of York (1446-1503), sister to Edward IV and wife to Charles, Duke of Burgundy. In Ms. Smith’s telling of this story, the narrative arc is hung almost entirely on the romantic attraction between Margaret, and Sir Anthony Woodville, brother to Edward’s Queen. So it is unfortunate that Ms. Easter Smith chose to focus on the fictional aspects of the love-story between Margaret of York and Anthony Woodville in her Author’s Note, because some of her readers in their Amazon Reviews said that they felt cheated. What they don’t understand is the paucity of documentation from the Middle Ages that tells you anything about people’s emotions, or psychological states. It turns out that Ms. Smith did have some evidence for thinking that there might actually have been a romantic relationship, the fact that Margaret did stay with Anthony at his estate in Kent during her visit to England in 1480. If I had been Ms. Smith, I would have re-written that paragraph in the Author’s Note to bring that fact forward.

So what about the novel itself? It opens very well, with beautifully rendered descriptions of the London skyline circa 1461, the music that was played during court ceremonies, and the clothes worn. I also found Anthony Woodville’s dialogue to be quite wonderful: “I commend your choice, Lady Margaret. Mine is Lancelot du Lac, for his gentleness, courtesy and courage. If I may be so forward as to tell you, my aim is to model myself upon him. You do know he was also the greatest fighters of all Arthur’s knights, do you not?”

Now I loved that snippet of dialogue, because I think that Ms. Smith has artfully created the illusion of Sir Anthony actually speaking to us from the fifteenth century. But I am British, and I was made to read Shakespeare when I was twelve. Most American readers are going to find that kind of language too turgid, and the lack of contractions too awkward to read. One of the reasons why Phillippa Gregory is so successful is because her fifteenth-century characters talk in language that is considerably more modern and slangy. Which means that there are far fewer bumps for today’s readers.

This is a long novel, at 557 pages, longer than most. It must be clear to readers that Ms. Smith has done an enormous amount of work on researching this novel. But telling a wonderful story that will grip readers and carry them along demands a very different set of skills. Ms. Smith tells us that she went to great lengths to whittle down the research and make it more palatable for her readers.  But I honestly think that this novel would have benefitted from even more whittling down, because it sags in places.

Despite its flaws, I think that anyone interested in this period should give it a try, if for no other reason than that the research is impeccable.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Book Review

How to survive pub board

If you have acquired an agent, sold your book to a publisher, and gained the attentions of its editor, you could be forgiven for thinking that all you need do is put your feet up, and have a chocolate truffle (or several).

Unfortunately not.

Your book could still be denied publication.

How can that be? you ask. After all, I have an agent and editor behind me now. So how can my novel fail to get published?

In two words: pub board.

What is pub board?  This is the meeting at which your editor presents your novel to the people at sales and marketing. Your editor has to convince sales that your book is actually going to sell. Your editor has to educate the people at marketing, so that they know what your book is about, in order to promote it.

And this is where your novel can fall down.

Is there anything you can do about this, as a writer?

  1. Know your market. Who is going to enjoy reading your book? Which genre does it belong to? Which novels does it compare with? Where does it fit on that bookshelf.
  2. Have a platform, because yes, in these days of chaos in the publishing industry, you will be required to help sell your book. Do you have a website? A blog? Are you an active participant on Facebook and Twitter?
  3. Take the sales people at your publishing house out to lunch or coffee, or find some way of visiting with them so that you can talk about your novel and answer any questions they may have. The more they know, the better job they will do at selling your book.

If you have any stories you would like to share about your own publishing ventures, please feel free to comment in the comment box.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: Publisher’s Marketplace

Image: www.touchstone-books.net

1 Comment

Filed under How to Publish Your Novel, Promoting Yourself

I join a book club

Finally, I have joined a book club. I have been meaning to do so for years, but sometimes it is hard to get into established ones, who don’t necessarily want new members. And then I’ve been going to writing clubs rather than book clubs, because I’ve been trying hard to learn the craft of writing,

Joining a book club illustrates the notion that sometimes the best way to get what you want is not to go directly for it, but to meander off onto a side path. I joined writing clubs to get advice on my manuscripts, but have become more and more disappointed as my writing has gotten better. You see, most people who join writing clubs have half of a first manuscript they want to share. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. But for a writer who has passed the beginning stage, what is actually needed is advice from a professional. And the only way to get that is to pay to take craft courses, not to rely on well-meaning amateurs.

I’ve recently discovered that book clubs can be a blessing for those interested in practicing the craft of writing. Since you can talk about anything as long as it is related to the book under discussion, there is no reason why you can’t slip in a few craft questions about character, story arc or anything else. And the best part of it is that the people you are asking are your potential readers. These people don’t necessarily know much about craft. But they do know if they like the book, and can often articulate why this is so in great detail.

If you are a writer who feels frustrated with your writing group, my advice is to consider joining a book club. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Next: How what you don’t know about publishing can kill your book.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment

Filed under About Cynthia, How to Publish Your Novel, News & Notes

Book Review: A ROSE FOR THE CROWN by Anne Easter Smith

The best way of telling a well-worn story is to freshen it up by introducing a new point of view. Phillippa Gregory did this brilliantly with the OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, the Anne Boleyn story told from the point of view of her sister Mary. In her debut novel A ROSE FOR THE CROWN, Anne Easter Smith has told the Richard III story from the point of view of his sweetheart Kate Haute, who was also the mother of his illegitimate children.

Ms. Smith does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in by portraying her humble heroine as an outspoken and lively girl who tries the patience of her parents, and has no idea how lovely she is. We follow Kate Bywood from her humble home in Kent, to her adoption by the Hautes of Igtham Mote, through two unhappy marriages, to her meeting with the teenaged Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who later becomes King Richard III), to the three children she bore him, to the end of their affair when he married Anne Neville in 1472.

The best recommendation I can make for this book is that it is hard to put down. Ms. Smith has done meticulous research, but by focusing on humble folk, has worn her learning lightly. I also want to commend Joanna Maslowska Maher, who did the cover design for Simon & Schuster/Touchstone. It is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen, and sets the stage for the treat that is within.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Book Review

I go to AWP

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) holds a conference every year. I had never been before, and I went to see the Book Fair, meet some friends, and sit in on some of the sessions.

The most impressive thing about this conference is the Book Fair, which is huge. I’ve never seen so many representatives of indie presses all together in one room. I had a wonderful time walking up and down each row as I looked for presses that might be interested in publishing my novels. (This is my Plan B. Plan A, is still to get representation. Plan C is to self-publish).

I also had time to sit in on the sessions, and it was an interesting experience. I should say, first of all, that in my professional life I am a medical writer with a science background. I’m used to people who deal in facts, and always support what they say either by producing relevant data, or by making an argument.

So I was bemused to find myself in a session listening to five people talking around the issue of whether workshops actually work.

This is an important question because workshops are the backbone of MFAs and many writing conferences, so it is important to know if they don’t work and why. I sat in the audience for 75 minutes, without hearing one person explain exactly what the problems with workshops were. I heard two people say that they were problematic, two people say they were not problematic, and one person give a lit-critty deconstructional analysis.

I was puzzled. After all, if you don’t state what the problems are, how can you possibly find a remedy?

Next: I join a book club.

Image: mymcpl.org

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.


Leave a Comment

Filed under About Cynthia, Conferences, How to Publish Your Novel, News & Notes, Promoting Yourself

I get scooped

There are two kinds of historical novels, those which are about a real person from the past, and those which are about fictional characters set into an historical context.  Although agents prefer novels written about real people, the risk you take in writing such a novel is that someone else may have the exact same idea, and beat you to publication.

This has happened to me.

As you know, I have been trying to sell my novel ONE SEED SOWN, TWO MURDERS REAPED, which is about Cecily Neville, Richard III’s mother. On Wednesday, I learned that Anne Easter Smith is to come out with a novel about Cecily titled QUEEN BY RIGHT.

Needless to say, I was very upset. Right now, I am a complete unknown who has failed to get the attentions of an agent, even though I have been trying to do so for a year. How I would have loved it if I had been first!

But this is the difference between being published and unpublished. Ms. Smith has three novels under her belt, which have sold moderately well. She has an agent. She has an editor. She has a publishing house. All she has to do is write, and I have to say she has worked with commendable efficiency to get a 500-page historical out in 18 months.

So what am I going to do about this?

I am going to wait.

I am going to stop promoting ONE SEED.

I am going to start promoting another novel I’ve completed, HE MUST BE SOMEONE, set in 1921 in Georgetown Washington DC, and Berlin Germany, which is a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets that takes us into the life of a gifted violinist.

I am going to buy QUEEN BY RIGHT when it comes out on May 3rd, and read it. I will probably write a book review to post on this blog. And I will hope that her novel does well, because if it does then I will have an audience eager to read another novel about Cecily.  Stay tuned.

Image: A photo of the model Heather Hayes posing as Cecily Neville. Photographer: Whitney Arostegui.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under About Cynthia, How to Publish Your Novel, News & Notes

Book Review: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Mary Ann Shaffer’s THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY is a wonderful quirky book, that by turns is funny and tragic.

Juliet Ashton has survived the second world war. To cheer people up, she wrote a column under a pen-name. Now she wants to do something different. One day, a letter arrives from Guernsey, from someone asking for a small favor. Kind-hearted Juliet complies, and sends a note back in response. From such small beginnings, Ms. Shaffer spins a wonderful tale of wartime hardship, post-war optimism and the shadows left behind.

This is not to say that the book is completely faultless. Some readers will be put off by the fact that this novel is actually a collection of letters, and may wonder why the author chose to cast her story in this fashion. Telling a story like that is a wonderful way of dealing with POV problems. Every character has a chance to become the narrator of his or her own story, and it can be easier to bring out voice and personality when writing in first person, rather than limited 3rd.

Casting novels in letter-format also has a distinguished history. All those eighteenth century novels like PAMELA, CLARISSA, EVELINA and CECILIA were written in this way. In fact the novel got started because Samuel Richardson was publishing a book of how-to letters for the nouveau riches. Letter number 7 or 8 of this compendium was how to tell your parents that the squire is making unwanted advances. And so PAMELA was born.

Perhaps the other biggest problem with the novel is the revelation of the death of the main character, which occurs halfway through the book. Putting this revelation later would have enabled the author to use it to heighten tension. On the other hand, this character takes up a lot of psychic space, and so getting rid of her allows other characters to flourish.

But such objections are minor. If you allow yourself not to be put off by all the letters, I think you will find this novel a surprising treat.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Book Review

Watch out for those subtle POV mistakes

In an earlier post, I mentioned that subtle ‘tells’ can show up, ruining your prose style, and pulling your reader out of her fictive dream. Today, I’m going to talk about subtle problems with point of view (POV).

We have all been told never to change POV in the middle of a scene, or head-hop. This mistake is easy to avoid, because you just have to remember to stick to one POV per chapter (at least).

Like unwanted ‘tells’ that show up in your prose style, unwanted POV problems can surface as well. These mistakes can be avoided by writing in first person POV. But if you need to write in limited third, then you really need to keep an eye on these problems.

In the following example, I am going to highlight the POV mistakes, by putting them in ALL CAPS:

She flinched. “How can you say that to me?”

“Very easily,” snarled Rossi.  “I can say that to a woman who has no regard for her own reputation, or her daughters’. Puttana! Slut!” he spat.

Angelina recoiled and WENT WHITE. Memories flooded back. Something terrible had happened the last time she’d heard that word. Unbidden tears came to her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, fumbling for a handkerchief.

She stiffened. The last thing she wanted was his pity. She waved away his handkerchief and continued walking with him down the street, arm in arm, as if they’d just had a lover’s tiff. A sudden thought occurred to her: “You’re Italian aren’t you?”

“I speak four languages,” he replied.  “Italian, German, French, and English.  How do you think I got into Georgetown?”

“You told me you were born in this country,” she remarked, her cheeks GOING PINK. “But no non-native speaker pronounces that word the way you do, with the correct intonation.”

Now, I’m going to rewrite the passage, taking care of these mistakes. I’ll highlight the correction in ALL CAPS:

She flinched. “How can you say that to me?”

“Very easily,” snarled Rossi.  “I can say that to a woman who has no regard for her own reputation, or her daughters’. Puttana! Slut!” he spat.

Angelina recoiled and HER BLOOD WENT COLD. Memories flooded back. Something terrible had happened the last time she’d heard that word. Unbidden tears came to her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, fumbling for a handkerchief.

She stiffened. The last thing she wanted was his pity. She waved away his handkerchief and continued walking with him down the street, arm in arm, as if they’d just had a lover’s tiff. A sudden thought occurred to her: “You’re Italian aren’t you?”

“I speak four languages,” he replied.  “Italian, German, French, and English.  How do you think I got into Georgetown?”

“You told me you were born in this country,” she remarked, her cheeks GROWING WARM. “But no non-native speaker pronounces that word the way you do, with the correct intonation.”

Next: I get scooped.

Image: Houses in Georgetown, Washington DC. Personal collection. HE MUST BE SOMEONE is set there.

–Cynthia Haggard writes novels.  She is currently seeking representation for HE MUST BE SOMEONE,  a novel about identity, forbidden love and family secrets. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Craft, How to Publish Your Novel