Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bios, Taglines and Ed Boards--Oh My!

A few weeks ago, I got this e-mail from my agent:

Hi Maegan,

Hey, can you give me two things...

1 - a great, short bio on yourself, and

2 - a hook (one to three sentences) that an editor could use when talking to his ed board? (I came up with a couple, but don't like them.)

We've got people interested at _______ and ________!

(I redacted the names of the publishing companies and my agent... because I'm silly and superstitious, that's why!)


I should preface this by telling you that we I got the email, I was embroiled in an hours long Death Match with a particularly surly and unhelpful Centurylink service rep over the fact that they cut our service, even though we had a $200 bill credit. The second I read these words, I started to hyperventilate and laugh at the same time. I'm pretty sure Ms. Centurylink thought I was having some sort of psychotic break. I had to pass the phone off to my husband and stick my head between my knees.

I was excited! Two well-known publishers (that's all you’re getting out of me until one of them says yes!) not only agreed to read my novel—they were both considering it for publication!

I was happy! Seriously, how could I not be? I am on the verge of possibly, maybe seeing my novel in print! This ranks up there with getting married and giving birth...

But I was also scared as hell.

A bio?

Like, you want me to write about myself, and stuff? Can I lie and make myself sound interesting? Because, really... I'm just a stay-at-home mom with an overactive imagination and a laptop.

And a tagline?

I'll tell you all a not-so-secret secret--I can write a 400 page novel without thinking twice, but ask me to write a synopsis, query letter or tagline and I am instantly thrown into a state of panic. My brain short circuits. Smoke pours out of my ears. I start to cry--it's horrible... and embarrassing.

And what, in the name of all that is holy, is an ed board??

In a fit of desperation, I did something I swore I'd never do. I begged my agent for help.

Hi ______,

Could you give me an example of both (or point me the right direction to find on my own) so I know what I'm shooting for?

I had just admitted that I had NO idea what I'm doing. Knowing this, and imagining that my agent is now having serious doubts as to why he agreed to represent me in the first place, I quickly fired off another email:

Hi _____,

I know I asked for suggestions, but I want you to know that I'm working on it on my own. I'll send you what I have soon. _______ AND ________? Wow, I think I'm a little dizzy!

Thanks for everything...

Yes, in retrospect, I realize that I just kept digging the he-thinks-I'm-a-dummy hole, deeper and deeper but I couldn't stop... then I did what I should've done in the first place. I consulted the all-knowing oracle that is Google.

I typed How to write a short author bio into my search bar and found a terrific blog by literary agent Rachelle Gardner that offers some very helpful tips at Check it out, I think you’ll find her advice helpful.

Next I searched how to write a tagline.

This one was a bit tricky, because a tagline is also called a hookline and sometimes a logline. They’re all the same thing: a short one to three sentence blurb, designed to pique interest in your audience. When I searched tagline, I stumbled around a bunch of advertising sites that didn’t do me much good. Next, I tried logline. This seems to deal with screenwriting—not my thing. Hookline worked a bit better—I found a blog by a woman named Katherine Roid that was pretty informative:

Now I Googled the important stuff: What is an ed board.

Wikipedia says:

The editorial board is a group of people, usually at a publication, who dictate the tone and direction the publication's editorial policy will take.

…basically, this is the group of people, at a publishing house, that talk about your novel and basically decide your fate.

If that wasn’t scary enough, I happened onto a tidbit that made me want to cry:

If a novel makes it to the “ed board”stage, it has a 15% chance of being published.

I’m paraphrasing here, but… 15%? So, if my 3rd grade math holds, this means that out of 100 book proposals they hear, the ed board will say yes to 15 of them. That’s it. 15 out of 100.

I was suddenly sure I didn’t have a snowball's chance in hell.

Before I could consider chucking it all and joining the circus, my agent emailed me back:

A bio is easy -- give me something that introduces you to the publisher, Maegan. A paragraph is probably fine.

He included some examples that I’m not sure I’m allowed to share, along with some examples of taglines. They were so good, they made me wish I knew what the hell I was doing. I think I might have started to hyperventilate again…

Okay, back to the bio… a whole paragraph? About how great I am? I’d rather eat glass…

But I did it. Here’s what I wrote:

Maegan Beaumont is a first-time author, whose vivid imagination and longtime love of action movies and thrillers has inspired her to write a few of her own. A native Phoenician, Maegan’s stories are meant to raise your blood pressure, make you wonder what the guy standing in front of you in the Starbucks line has locked in his basement, and feel a strong desire to sleep with the light on. When she isn’t busy fulfilling her duties as Domestic Goddess for her high school sweetheart turned husband, Joe, and their four children, she is locked in her office with her computer, her coffee pot and her Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one true love, Jade.

I can’t explain why writing the bio was so hard… it probably has to do with the fact that writing it is a way of self-promotion and I’ve never been one to toot my own horn when it comes to my writing. I’ve kept it quiet for so long that to talk about it—and myself—feels braggy and self-serving.

As for the taglines, I wrote a few of those too. I'll share the one that didn’t make my eyes bleed:

SFPD homicide inspector, Sabrina Vaughn, used to be someone else. Someone she spent fifteen years pretending didn’t exist. When she spots a childhood acquaintance, she becomes certain of two things—that his appearance is no coincidence and that her past has finally caught up with her.

These were even harder than the bio. How in the world do you distill a 400 page novel into 3 sentences or less, while conveying the tone of your novel… oh and don’t forget to make it interesting.

It’s impossible.

But it’s also necessary. For a shot at publication, there isn’t much I wouldn’t do—including write a bio and a bunch of taglines.

What I sent into my agent was approved and sent on to the editors at each house considering my novel. The editor will put together a proposal and present it to the ed board. The ed board will decide my fate.

I’ve been waiting to hear back for 2 weeks, now…

I just hope they like me.

Plot issue? Writing question?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Outlines

Holly wrote:
 I read a book on writing, before I took Les’ class and before your blog, that suggested creating a very detailed outline of the novel you want to write—literally scene by scene. I haven’t done that with my current book, and I’m wondering if I should. I feel like I’m floundering along, I have no idea what’s going to happen next, or what SHOULD happen next to keep the tension up, and the story going. In fact, in my latest scene, Ollie is telling her mentor, Merc about what she found on the thumb drive. It’s time for her to do it. BUT, I haven’t written about it til now. I know I can go back and fix that, but it’s frustrating. My question is—do you think I should take some time out (an afternoon or so, not weeks) and write a detailed outline, so I know what’s coming? Or, do I just keep plunking along, then fixing things as they come to me. I feel my story is stuck, and maybe this is why.
Hi, Holly!

First off, I’d like to reassure you—what you’re feeling is completely normal. There were many times during the writing of my novel when I felt like throwing in the towel. Show me someone who claims to be able to plow through a novel without EVER hitting the wall and I’ll show you a liar… or possibly some sort of robot. Writing is painful. It’s difficult. It’s frustrating. And it’s totally worth it. So, hang in there, it’s gonna get better—I promise!
Your question was essentially: which is better, a bare bones outline, or a detailed outline?
The answer: Both… kinda.
Yes, both. Stop swearing, Holly, and let me explain:
The broad, 20 word outline you have right now is meant for one thing only—to keep you on track. This outline is meant to hit your MAJOR plot developments. It should look something like this:

What this outline DOESN’T tell you is what happens between the lines.  That is entirely up to you, Holly. This is where you unleash your imagination and create scenes that will link your major plot developments together. So, really, it should look something like this:

 The number of scene/sequels it takes for you to get from plot point to plot point is totally up to you. As long as each of them are necessary, further the plot and interest the reader—go for it!
Now you’re asking--how in the hell do I do that??

 Well… You can go about it one of two ways (and this is where the "kinda both" comes into play). If you can see the whole story, all at once—and are committed to it—then you might find it easy to just write it out. The drawback is that, unless you have a firm grip on your story, it can be damn near impossible to keep it on course.

The other way, and this is what I suggest that you do: make scene cards.

 Buy a pack of index cards (I like the big ones) and a good pen, (I like Pilot pens best. Blue, medium point. … I have a minor office supply addiction. Don’t judge me.)

Now, sit down with your outline and write out each development on a separate card and lay them out. Start with your IncInc—how do you get from there to your first MPD? Scene ideas should start flowing (You’ve already wrote some, so write those down first). Write each scene on a card and use them to connect your outline together. It should flow like a movie. You should see your characters in action, moving from scene to scene—each one leading from MPD to MPD, and eventually your resolution.
Your biggest sticking point seems to be this thumb drive that your protag stole from her father’s house. This is a legitimate question, because we all know: the longer a story question hangs in the air, the bigger its impact MUST be to the outcome of the story. This thumb drive has been hanging out there for a while, so it’s contents has to be explosive. What could possibly be on it that would have bearing on her father’s death? Make a list. I can think of a few things and I’ll email them to you as sort of a jumping off point. Whatever it is, it must further the plot, and if at all possible, put your protag in danger.
So… take a trip to OfficeMax (or your office supply closet at work) and get yourself some index cards. Take a day to review your scenes. This will show you where your holes and weak spots are. Write new scene cards to fill the holes and shore up your walls. Keep them in order and refer to them as you go.
I hope this was helpful to you, Holly! Good Luck!

Plot question? Writing question?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review: and she was

Book Review
 and she was
by: Alison Gaylin
When I started writing for ‘real’ (with publication as my ultimate goal), I decided to make it a point to buy and read authors that I’d never read (or even heard of) before. Maybe I was hoping to bank some Karma points. Maybe I was curious to see what it took for a “no name” author to get published. Probably both.
 I bought and she was with the intention of reading it and writing a review. In March, and I really wanted to like it. I mean, I really, really wanted to like this book. Besides, it got blurbs from Lee Child AND Harlan Coben—no brainer, right?

Not so much.
I stuggled, but I finally forced myself to finish it a few days ago (I read roughly a dozen books in between… plus writing my own.) and decided, to be fair, I’d give myself time to “digest” it. I’m glad I did.

First, the positive:

The cover.
It drew my eye and grabbed me instantly. My hat’s off to whoever designed it. The use of color and styling is fantastic.
The writing.
Is fantastic! Gaylin knows how to turn a phrase. She left me, again and again, in a state of writer’s envy. Her use of language was interesting and thought-provoking. I found myself re-reading passages, not because I didn’t understand them, but because I like the way they sounded—and because I wished I had wrote them.
The premise is a good one.
P.I. Brenna Spector suffers from a neurological disorder that enables her to recall, in detail, everyday of her life. Spector, a divorced mother, is often bogged down in the past, so entrenched in memories, that living in the present is often impossible. Her disorder, triggered at a young age by her teenage sister’s disappearance, is often in control. I liked that while her disorder is often used to her advantage, Gaylin shows us how debilitating it can be. Searching, first for a client’s wife, and then her murderer when her client is accused of killing her, Spector becomes entangled in the 10+ year-old case of a young girl who goes missing in the same town.
The characters are vivid.
We see Spector in every aspect of her life. Private investigator. Mother. Ex-wife—it’s all here. We feel her struggle to break free of a past that never fades. We empathize with her as we watch her flounder as a mother who has failed to completely connect to her daughter and as an ex-wife who still loves her ex-husband, simply because she can’t forget how.
Spector’s assistant, Trent, is almost worth the price of admission, all on his own. He presented the perfect foil for the almost rigid Spector—100% Jersey Shore and funny as hell. Every time he made it on the page, I laughed out loud.
The plot was solid
In my opinion, this is completely different than, “the plot was great!” What this means, to me, is that there were no plot holes. It’s obvious that the author took her time when plotting this novel, and she did it well, but…
And this brings me to the not so positive:

The plot was slow.
and she was (this is how it is laid out on the book cover—all lower case), is touted as “A novel of suspense”… only, it wasn’t very suspenseful. Maybe this is because we only got a few glimpses of the antagonist and incidentally, he was the least fleshed-out of all the characters. Which made him kinda boring. The antagonist is just as important as the protagonist—especially in the suspense and thriller genres. Your antagonist (if he or she is a “bad guy”) should be larger than life. Gaylin’s antagonist was a throw-away character that seemed easily defeated, which really disappointed me.

What I bought was not what I got.
I bought a book about murder, a missing girl and the protag’s struggle to bring a killer to justice. While and she was had all these things, at the end of the day, that’s not the book I felt like I read.  and she was had a political-thriller feel to me (nothing wrong with political thrillers!) that I wasn’t looking for. Corrupted law-enforcement. Wealthy city officials buying their way out of trouble… unfortunately, this slowed the read for me.

The ending was a total rope-a-dope.
By this, I mean it came out of nowhere. Totally NOT where the book (or the reader) was headed at all, which left me feeling a bit cheated. Not that it didn’t make sense (because the plot WAS solid), just that when it all came together, I was left saying, “Really?” And not in a good way.

All in all, and she was, was a mixed bag for me. There were things I LOVED about the book, and things I didn’t. If you’re into books that are more character-driven than plot-driven, then this is a book for you. It might surprise you to know that if Gaylin writes another Brenna Spector novel, I’ll be among the first in line to plunk down my $8.50 for a chance to read it. I was that drawn to Gaylin's characters and use of language.

plot problem? writing question?