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Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to Make Your Villain both Terrifying and Real

Please welcome guest blogger Lucinda D. Schroeder

To make a fictional criminal real, writers have to know how real criminals think and how they operate. One area that writers can easily exploit is the use of “signatures.” This is a consistent (post-mortem) “mark” that killers often leave at the crime scene.

The concept of “signatures”  was developed by FBI whose theories on this have remained fairly consistent for the last twenty years. Basically a “signature” is a very specific thing that the killer does to his victim’s body.  He may leave the victim’s body posed in a particular way that later identifies the killer every time he strikes.
Ted Bundy, a serial killer, was known to use pink polish to paint the fingernails of his dead victims. Every time this “signature” occurred, law enforcement knew they were dealing with a specific killer.

Fiction writers can make these specific calling cards creepy and terrifying. There’s no limit to this. Criminal “signatures” can also be set up in a way for the killer to communicate with law enforcement like the D.C. snipers did. Most killers leave a “signature” for emotional reasons providing insight to their criminal minds. These clues can be used to further an investigation.

A secondary character trained to interpret “signatures” can have a strong impact on the providing law enforcement on what type of killer is running loose.  These interpretations can be anything a fiction writer wants them to be. Just the fact that the writer is using the concept of “signatures” makes the fiction more credible.
FBI profilers have long said that to catch a killer you have to study their art.
“Inside the Criminal Mind” begins on February 6th.  In this course writers will find dozens of ways to make the core of their criminals real while using fiction writing techniques to enhance the terror.  

“Fiction on top of reality is like icing on a cake.” Lucinda Schroeder

See you in class!  Lucinda

PS:  My true crime book “A Hunt for Justice” will be profiled on the Travel Channel on Feb. 21 at 9:00 ET.  The series is called “Hidden Cities” and the city being profiled is Anchorage.

Inside the Criminal Mind, presented by Lucinda Schroeder, runs from February 6, 2012 through March 4, 2012

Lucinda Schroeder is a retired federal agent who spent 30 years investigating crimes. She holds a BA in criminology and is the author of "A Hunt for Justice" --a true crime story that reads like a mystery.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to make ‘the muse’ your slave…

Please welcome guest blogger Lori Toland

At least every day I see a tweet or a Facebook status like this:

“I found my muse and back to work on my latest WIP.”

Or… “My muse visited me last night and I wrote 1500 words on my latest WIP.”
But my favorite has to be…  “I’ve found my muse and I’m chaining him to my desk. Take that, you little %$#@.”

When I see these, I chuckle to myself. Muses get a bad rap. Writers blame all their woes of missed deadlines and series being dumped because “my muse has gone missing.”  Well, I have some really bad news for you.

Muses don’t exist. Yeah, you heard me right. Or at least, not in the capacity everyone believes and I’ll tell you why.

I had the chance to go to RT when it was in Orlando in 2009. Then in 2010, when RWA was rescheduled to Orlando, I just had to go because it was in my backyard. I’ve gone to panels and lectures given by dozens of authors, some even NY Times bestselling authors and they all say the same thing:

“There are no such things as muses.”

The gasp I heard from the unpublished authors echoes throughout the room. Then there’s a whisper amongst two people in the audience, “She has to be wrong.”
She’s not wrong. She’s a multi-published author with almost twenty books to her name. Don’t shoot down her advice. You should absolutely listen to her. Instead of scoffing at her, someone asked her why and she explained. It’s a reason I hear a lot from authors who are successful in this business.

Muses do not control your output. They are not typing away at your keyboard, slaving over your story while you’re on your patio, having a martini or a hot cocoa. You are the person putting those words down on the paper. It takes a lot of work to make a novel and the words don’t write themselves.

Instead, muses are our inspiration, the reason I get out of bed and rush to be my computer because I had an idea about my next story. They are the reason my husband asks, “Why are grinning and staring off into space?” Nowadays he knows me too well.

Sometimes we find it easy to dump our writing aside because we are too busy. Your kids have soccer practice, your day job is smothering you with work, your MIL is coming over and your house is a wreck. These are legitimate excuses but be wary. They are just more reasons not to work on your novel.

Another question came up: “I set aside my time every day to work on my novel and for some reason, I can’t seem to write one more word. I’m stuck in this scene and ready to tear my hair out. ARGH! HELP ME!”

This is a legitimate problem. I sometimes work around this by moving around in my story and writing different scenes but I’m just avoiding facing my problem. One author at RT put it best when she said, “If you are stuck at a scene in your book, your plot has jumped the tracks at some point. Back your story up to the point where your story was working and then fix it.”

I’ve applied what these authors told me to my own career. I’ve been published for 2 years this February. I have 3 short stories, 2 novellas, and 2 novels published. I have one novel under contract, due to release early 2012 and countless novels and novellas in the hopper, ready to be worked on.  What I am saying is not believing in muses controlling me has worked for my career.

So please, don’t chain your muse to your desk… that is, unless he wants to be. But that is a whole other blog post.

CEO by day, erotic romance writer by night, Lori Toland lives in Orlando where the summers are hot but the romance between her characters is even hotter. Writing since the tender age of 13, Lori somehow finds time to play video games and watch movies while taking care of her beloved cats and a husband who will forever be her hero.

Soul Seduction

Ashlee Bennett has her priorities straight. Fighting demons is at the top of the list until she meets her sexy neighbor, Luke Byrne. She shouldn't want him, but she can't stop dreaming about his buff body and sexy grin.

Her world is turned upside down when Luke follows her one night and is determined to stand beside her and fight. Ashlee knows she needs to keep her distance from Luke, not just to protect her virginity but her heart as well. But Luke may be the only one who can save her from the night, and her dreams.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Put some new tools in your writing toolbox

Please welcome guest blogger Kris Neri

There is considerable genre bending going on now, particularly in the paranormal arena. This is great! Not only does it allow us to reach new readers, it lets us add new tools to our writing toolboxes and to use them in imaginative new ways.  
My background is in mysteries and thrillers, mostly funny mysteries. Now I write humorous urban fantasies, too, and I’ve taken to fantasy like a duck takes to bread thrown upon the water. But I’m glad I have an in-depth understanding of the crime genre because its principles provide unseen girders in my cross-genre works.  

I’m a longtime writing instructor and freelance editor, and I’d like to share with you some of the worst mystery-writing mistakes I’ve seen in my students’ and writing clients’ works. Not because I think many — or even any — of you are writing traditional mysteries, but because a crime or danger or puzzle element is often involved in many of the cross-category fantasy sub-genres, including urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Even if yours does not, an understanding of these principles may help you to better work with whatever struggle sustains the narrative drive in your WIP. The principles are the same whether a story involves a body found before the fireplace in an Agatha Christie-type vicarage or if a time-traveling pharaoh is secretly creating unrest in Egypt to reclaim his throne. (Hey, that’s not a bad idea.).

One of the biggest mistakes I see is that there are no false trails. In mysteries those are called red herrings, but false trails are a necessary part of most novels. If your protagonist knows precisely how to meet her goal easily and instantly, the journey is unlikely to engage too many readers or to fill an entire novel. Strangely, though, I’ve had more students fight me on this point, insisting that false trails aren’t realistic.  

Actually, they’re precisely the way real life works. With any problem, we pursue the most obvious solution first, and only try less obvious solutions when that fails, usually because, at the start, we can’t see the full extent of the problem. To use a real life example…imagine you’re ready to leave your house, but you can’t find your keys. You look where you usually put them, then you check your purse, eventually removing everything in the purse in search of them, then you look in rooms that you might have carried them into…. Finally, it occurs to you that you changed to another purse briefly yesterday. (Why did you do that? I don’t know. Work with me here.) When you look into that alternate purse, you find the keys slipped into a pocket. You see, you didn’t remember changing purses, and until you factor that into the equation, you don’t see the full picture.  

That’s the way it works in a novel, too. Our characters don’t always understand the full extent of the problem, and they grasp what seems to be the most obvious solution AT THAT TIME. As long as the false trails are organic to your story, and not some device you’ve created simply to slow your protagonist’s success, they will engage your reader.  

Another common problem is that newish writers sometimes share too much and the wrong kind of relationship backstory. In the crime genre, that usually means the history shared between the victim and villain, or the heroine in danger and the bad guy pursuing her in a suspense novel. New writers often justify their backstory faux pas in terms of fairness to the reader, but full disclosure at the start doesn’t actually benefit readers. Readers want their vicarious adventures to involve both struggles and surprises. If you lay out precisely what’s coming, with a detailed explanation of why, you can kiss surprise goodbye.

And this principle has broad implications for every kind of novel.  If you want any element to play out with a strong, surprising impact in the climax, you can’t push that element into the reader’s face. The element has to be there, sown in carefully, but you don’t want to draw attention to it. Not too early anyway. We novelists are like magicians, engaging in slight-of-hand, luring attention away from true nature of the trick, so the surprising outcome will have greater impact. We’re always saying, “Look HERE, don’t look THERE.” Until, that is, we’re ready for THERE to take center stage.   

To me, the best part of genre crossing isn’t just the fun of creating new beings and new worlds — although those are some of the best things I’ve discovered since I first found words written on pages — it’s that no techniques, no conventions, no tools are off-limits. It’s that I can take well-used tools, twist ‘em around and use them in a brand new way.  

I hope you’ll find something you can use in what I’ve shared here today.  

What new tools have you found lately, and how do you use them?

Kris Neri writes funny urban fantasies featuring fake psychic Samantha Brennan and genuine Celtic goddess/FBI agent Annabelle Haggerty, HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE, a Lefty Award nominee, and MAGICAL ALIENATION. She also writes the popular Tracy Eaton mysteries. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School, and with her husband, owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ. She welcomes friends to her website, http://www.krisneri.com, and her blog, http://krisneri.blogspot.com/

Magical Alienation

A spaceship crash in Roswell…a rumored alien…the mysterious Area 51…a harmonic convergence in Sedona. No connection, right? With its rock stars and shape shifters, gods and militia leaders—Magical Alienation will turn what you think you know upside down.  

Fake psychic Samantha Brennan and Celtic goddess/FBI agent Annabelle Haggerty team up again. While the rock people twist the surface of the earth and Sedona heads into the darkest night the planet has ever seen, Samantha wonders which, if any of them, will survive it. But when Celtic gods are involved, nothing is ever as it appears.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Agents/Editors: We Don't Bite...Much

Please welcome guest blogger Lynn Price

Hello and Welcome,

Okay, so the class is Agents/Editors: We Don't Bite...Much. If you are in the wrong classroom, consult with your counselor and she will direct you to Science 303 – Let’s Get Nuclear, or Math 201 – We Don’t Need No Frickin’ Long Division.

The idea over this two-week period is to discuss publishing from my side of the desk in order to give you an insider’s view as to how agents and editors work, why we make the decisions we do, and to finally put to rest - once and for all - that there really is a method to our madness.

My seminars are based on my book The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box – Getting a Hook on the Publishing Industry. I wrote this book in order to demystify the industry in order to help authors become more successful.  

This is a one-stop-shopping class that explains the why’s about publishing in a satisfactory manner so you aren’t scratching your head wondering if we aren’t all barking mad. In truth, some of us are…heck, lots of are…but that’s beside the point. I want you to ask LOTS of questions because it’s how everyone learns.  
There are no dumb questions, unless it’s from the beagle, and I’m used to dealing with her. For those of you who don’t know the beagle, she is my unreliable secretary who neither files, nor answers phones. Instead, she spreads out on the sunny spot on my desk and preens. But she makes fabulous margaritas and that’s why I must keep her around. She has offered a free pitcher during our two week time together, so I guess we may let her sit in and observe.

So that’s it. My plan is to put up a new seminar Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday that will deal with some aspect of what agents and editors are thinking and why. I look forward to “meeting” all of you and answering any and all questions you have.  

I also maintain a blog - http://behlerblog.com/ - where I talk about all things publish, get outraged at some of the sillier things happening in the industry, and generally attempt to prove that I have no heart or soul.

Lynn Price
Behler Publications

Agents and Editors: We Don't Bite...Much, presented by Lynn Price, runs from February 13, 2012 through February 26, 2012

Along with being the editorial director for Behler Publications, Lynn Price is the award-winning author of the novel, Donovan's Paradigm, and of the writing reference book, The Writer's Essential Tackle Box: Getting a Hook on the Publishing Industry. Debuting last year as part of the Get It Write series, this second work provides "an insider's view geared to inform and educate writers as to how we work, why we work, and the pitfalls to avoid." Since 2003, Behler Publications has been publishing best selling and critically acclaimed works chronicling personal journeys with socially relevant themes: stories that deal with how people are influenced and changed by their experiences and how they deal with those repercussions. The books invite introspection: "I'm a better/more thoughtful/ smarter person for having read this book." In addition to extensive speaking engagements at writer's conferences all over the country, Lynn also assumes a lighthearted and somewhat irreverent tone in addressing the many issues facing today's writers on the Behler Publications blog: http://behlerblog.com/

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pitch Perfect: How to Hook an Editor

Please welcome guest blogger Angie Fox

Want to stand out from the crowd? You’ll need a hook. If you handle it right, this will be your dream editor or an agent’s first impression of your book. It’s what sets you and your work apart from everyone else.  

Sound good? It is. When your hook is both strong and memorable, you’ll have that editor thinking about your book and anticipating it long after your initial meeting is over.
So what makes up a good hook? Simplicity. You don’t need to recite a paragraph-long pitch to an editor. You don’t need to wow them with every nuance of the conflict between your hero and heroine. That comes later. What you want to do first is get them interested in you and your book’s premise.

For example, the hook for my first book (my entire series, really) is the gang of geriatric biker witches. When anyone asks me about the Accidental Demon Slayer series (and now its booksellers), I tell them it’s about a gang of geriatric biker witches, oh and a reluctant demon slayer. End of story. Either they get the hook or they don’t. You’ll know right away whether you’re a good match for an editor, or in my case, potential readers.

So many times, authors will confuse their main conflict with their hook. It’s tempting to tell an editor that you’ve written the most touching love story of the year, or a paranormal thrill ride that will keep readers up all night. That’s all fine. In fact, that’s what you want your books to do. But it’s not your hook.

To find your book’s hook:

Dig deep. Ask yourself:
  1. What is it that makes my story completely unique?
  2. If I could tell an editor or an agent one thing about my book, what would it be?
  3. What impression do I want to leave with my readers after they’ve read my work?
Another worthwhile exercise is to look at the books that you’ve bought. What about each of them hooked you? Chances are, it’s also what made that editor buy.  

Sometimes, a hook is worked right into the title of a book. Think of Sally MacKenzie’s series: The Naked Duke, The Naked Earl, The Naked Viscount. Or it can be communicated in a simple sentence, like Colleen Gleason used for her Gardella Vampire series. “It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Regency England.”  

Editors love strong hooks because it lets them know immediately whether your book will be a good fit for their line. And after they offer you that cushy contract, your publishing house will use those hooks to sell your work. Everything from Colleen Gleason’s covers to her official tagline, “belles, balls, beaux…and stakes?” fit with her initial hook.

It can be hard to find the hook in our own work, simply because we are so engrossed in our own stories. This is never an easy exercise, especially the first few times. But pulling back, discovering what makes your book unique and then being able to communicate that can make the difference between an engaging pitch and an unforgettable one.

Lining Up the Bones: Crafting Your Paranormal, presented by Angie Fox, runs from February 6, 2012 through February 19, 2012

Angie Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of the Accidental Demon Slayer series and the up and coming Monster MASH series (releasing this summer). While researching her books, Angie has ridden with Harley biker gangs, explored the tunnels underneath Hoover Dam and repelled down a wall. She thinks pitching is way harder than all of that. Visit Angie at www.angiefox.com

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

10 Tips for Attending Writers Conferences

by Agent Michelle Brower, FOLIO LITERARY AGENCY

1. Go to get feedback on your work in a workshop or instructional setting. Sometimes writers forget that the first and most important step in starting a writing career is actually, you know, writing. If you’re a genre or commercial writer, find out how your work fits the field you’re writing in, find out if anyone is bored, find out the pages where your reader just couldn’t put the manuscript down. If you’re a literary author, find a conference with a great group of faculty who can offer a nuanced reading and challenge you to do better.

2. Go to meet other writers. I know most writers tend to write alone in some cramped closet in a deep dark basement somewhere and rarely ever emerge to see the sun, but a conference is a great place to meet others of your kind. You can share writer’s block stories, bounce ideas around, talk about the process. And when you go home, thanks to the magic of the Internet, you just might have a ready-made critique circle to share your work with.

3. Go to learn about the publishing process. Let’s face it, sometimes publishing can seem a little mysterious and unfathomable. At conferences, there’s often a wide range of publishing personae there: agents of all shapes and sizes, editors from major houses, small publishers, magazine editors, etc. We almost always do some kind of panel, and this is your chance to ask educated questions about how publishing works. Ever wonder who decides what cover a book gets and why? How debut authors get blurbs? How do books get into the front of the book store? Here’s your chance.

4. Don’t expect to get a major book deal and be whisked directly from the conference to Hollywood with a newly fat bank account. It’s perfectly true that some people do sit down with an editor or an agent at a conference and something good comes of it down the line. But to be honest, it’s really rare. The thing that helps the most? Having an amazing book that you’ve worked on until it’s perfect.

5. If you’re pitching, have a book and be a writer. It’s surprising to me how many people pay for an individual pitch session, sit down, start telling me about their unfinished novel, and get really disappointed when they find out they have to complete it before it can be sold. All debut authors (with rare exceptions in certain genres) have to have one full novel that we can sell on the basis of its merits. Nonfiction books need complete book proposals. It sure would be great if you could sell an idea, but you can’t. Also, once a man sat down across from me and started telling me about the novel he had “written” by dictating to his secretary. He had the verbatim transcripts, and he was hoping I would “iron them out” for him. Needless to say, I did not have a good impression of his writing abilities.

6. Don’t be a pushy pitcher. I’ve been pitched in the bathroom. On the treadmill. In an elevator. While trying to eat. Once, in the airport when the conference was over. Now, agents are at these conferences for a reason—we do want to hear what prospective authors want to say, and in fact we are looking for good new material. But think about when you would bothered by talking about work, and don’t pitch to us then. If you didn’t get a chance for any face-time with the agent of your choice at a conference, it is perfectly acceptable to send an e-mail afterward with a “Sorry I missed you at (this) conference” and a query. Just think, then I won’t have to remember you as the person pitching their comic novel while I’m in line for the ladies’ room!

7. Agents and editors are people, too. For the most part, we are nice people who love books and reading. Don’t be overly obsequious, and don’t be overly rude. We are not trying to crush your dreams, nor are we magical beings. Honestly represent yourself and your work with confidence, and we promise to treat you with respect. We realize that you have worked very hard on your book, but we can’t take on everything, and any rejections are not a wholesale rejection of you.

8. Don’t be shy. Conferences are a great place to just talk to other people about what’s going on in the publishing world. It’s very important for authors to be in touch with contemporary writing. Who are the hot authors now? What’s working/not working in commercial fiction? What topics have recently been buzzing in nonfiction, and which already have 5 new books about them? Who is a good publicist to use? How do you start a blog? Take advantage of the collective wisdom of your peers.

9. Don’t bring paper manuscripts to hand out to agents or editors. We have small suitcases. We are probably not going to read your full manuscript right after we meet you. Wait, and follow up after the conference according to agent or editor preference.

10. Come prepared. Know what agents and editors will be at the conference, and research what they represent and edit. Have questions at the ready for panels and round tables. Read some of the work written by the authors on the faculty, and know what to expect from different types of events. If you do your homework on a particular conference and the people attending it, you’ll have a great time!

Check out FF&P's Fantasy on the Bayou Writers' Conference (March 2-4, 2012)!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Revision is My Thing

Please welcome guest blogger Laurin Wittig

I'm one of those writers that dread the first draft -- the process of taking the perfect vision of my story out of my head, feeding it through my fingers onto a blank screen where it becomes a pale, messy, distorted reflection of the perfect story I thought I was writing. *shudder* It used to overwhelm me. It was never perfect. Heck, it wasn't even good. I finally had to accept that this is the way my first drafts work. I had to learn to just let whatever happens in that first draft happen. It's the only way I ever hack my way through the first draft jungle. Once that job is done I'm faced with sifting through the chaos to find the true story, the one I really wanted to tell.

For me, this is where the fun begins. I love revisions but I didn't always know how to fix the mess I'd made and so I began my continuing quest to learn how to craft a story. Over a lot of years I've learned many techniques to apply to my manuscripts while revising, but there are two I find the most useful in solving a multitude of problems: scene goals/disasters and sequels.

Every scene I write must have a goal/disaster pair for the point of view character. If I don't have a clear goal and pair it up with a strong disaster I can guarantee my pacing will be off, the conflict will be weak or nonexistent, I may even have the wrong pov character, and the reader won't have anything to worry about. A reader without anything to worry about -- will the goal be achieved? -- has no reason to turn a page. Something as simple as tweaking a goal and/or the disaster is often all it takes to resuscitate a dying scene.

However, there are times where what you have, or what you need, isn't really a scene in that there isn't a goal/disaster. What you need is a sequel. This gives characters an opportunity to reflect on something that has happened to them and form a new plan (ie, goal!). Sequels are particularly useful for getting the emotional layer of your story across to the reader and for sneaking in backstory and motivation. They also help slow down the pacing to give the characters and the readers a chance to take a breath, metaphorically speaking, before diving back into the action. If you are told your characters aren't coming alive on the page, this may be the technique you need to master.

Do you know how to craft a strong goal and a great disaster in every scene? Do you know the structure of a sequel and when to use one? I learned these techniques from a wonderful book called Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. It's my number one recommended how-to book for writers. However, you can learn these techniques from me in an interactive workshop where you'll learn the hows and whys of the techniques and apply them to your own work so you, too, can master these easy, yet powerful, tools of the writing craft.

Scene CPR: Breathing Life into Ailing Scenes with Scene Goals, Disasters & Sequels, presented by Laurin Wittig, runs from February 6, 2012 through March 4, 2012.

Laurin Wittig is an award-winning author of Scottish historical romances. She has been published by Berkley Publishing, independently, and with Amazon's Montlake Romance line where two of her backlist books will be re-released on Valentine's Day, February 14th, 2012. She has 20+ years in the writing industry as an author, a critiquer, and a creative writing teacher. Her passion is story craft and she loves sharing what she's learned with other writers.

Visit her at LaurinWittig.com.

Monday, January 9, 2012

How to Keep Editors from Hating You

Please welcome guest blogger Lauri Blasch

As authors, you naturally want editors to look at your submissions as favorably as possible. But many of you sabotage yourselves without even realizing it. What most of you are unaware of is the volume of work an average editor has on his or her desk at any given time. We often have dozens of manuscripts either waiting to be edited or waiting to be read and accepted or rejected. Consequently, anything you can do as an author to make your submission package easier to read is a big help to us. It also helps you to get a quicker, more favorable reply. Why? It’s simple. The harder a submission package is to read, the less likely we are to read it.

We simply don’t have time to reformat an unreadable manuscript. Nor can we spend time trying to undo whatever cutesy thing you may have done to get our attention. For example, I once got a submission package with a bright red background. The email query letter was bright red, as was the synopsis and even the manuscript. No doubt the author assumed that the color would make her manuscript stand out. And it did. However, it also made it so hard to read and so irritating to my eyes, that I deleted it without bothering to read it beyond the first couple of paragraphs of the query letter. I always feel bad whenever I have to do that because I may have been throwing away a brilliant story. But as much as I strain my eyes on a daily basis, they just weren’t up to reading a bright red submission package. It also told me that this was probably the author’s first manuscript, as experienced authors are usually more professional. If she had been around very long, she would have—or at least should have—learned this kind of gimmick only hurts your chances with most editors.

On the other hand, I have found that I tend to read farther into a submission that is well formatted and easy to read than I might otherwise do, even if I don’t think I want to accept it. Our policy at Black Opal Books is to read at least the first chapter of every submission (except for bright red ones) before we decide to reject it. However, I have found myself reading two or even three chapters of a well-formatted, easy to read submission I don’t particularly like, hoping the story or the writing may get better farther in. On a couple of occasions, this has led to us accepting a submission we might otherwise have rejected because the story did catch my interest in chapter two or three. If those manuscripts had not been so well formatted, the authors would have lost the sale.

In the current economy, authors are finding it harder than ever to find a publisher willing to take a chance on a story. Don’t sabotage your own chances by submitting something that the editor is going to reject on formatting alone. Here are a few tips that can help you:

Be professional, not cutesy—submissions should be black print on a white background. No exceptions.

Check submission guidelines—publishers post them for a reason, one of which is to see how well you can follow instructions. So pay attention and do what they ask, regardless of how silly it seems to you. They won’t thank you for deviating.

If a publisher asks for double-spacing on a manuscript and doesn’t specify the spacing on the synopsis, don’t assume it can be single spaced. Unless there is a specific limitation on the number of pages the synopsis can be, double space it, too.

If you don’t know, ask. Most publishers nowadays have a contact form on their websites that allows you to ask submission questions before you submit. If they do, use the form to ask about anything they don’t explain in their submission guidelines. This will do a couple of things for you. It will show them that you are professional enough to understand how important the guidelines are, and it will also let them know they need to correct the guidelines to answer the questions so authors don’t have to ask.

And lastly, don’t take a rejection so personally. Editors and agents are human. Some stories appeal to us and some simply don’t. It doesn’t mean you are not a good writer. It just means we didn’t like the story. Just because I might reject a story that I don’t think is good enough to sell, it does not mean another editor or agent won’t love it just the way it is. So before you revise your entire manuscript based on the opinion of one editor, get some additional input from another one or two. If two or three editors reject it, especially if they all reject it for the same reasons, it is time to think about revising it. And don’t hesitate to re-submit it to the same editors once you have revised it. They may reject it again without reading it, but if you include in your query that you took their advice to heart—if you really did—and revised the manuscript according to their suggestions, I’m betting they’ll be tempted to take another look, even if only to see if you really did. I know I would.

Professional Manuscript Formatting: Make It Easy For Editors To Say Yes, presented by Lauri Blasch, runs from February 6, 2012 through February 26, 2012

Lauri Blasch has been a professional editor for over ten years, first as a freelance editor then as a non-fiction, technical writing editor and now as an acquiring editor for Black Opal Books. She has a BA in special education and taught disabled as well as gifted children for a number of years before switching to a less-stressful career. She loves working with authors, especially with new authors because they are so willing to learn. She’s a single mother of four pre-teen children. When not working or tending her children, she takes night classes at the local community college, working toward her masters in education.