Sunday, January 1, 2012

STET! on Hiatus

Backspace regrets to announce that our wonderful newsletter editor and STET! blog manager, Amy Sue Nathan, is retiring. Amy's writing career took a seismic shift recently when her first novel, The Glass Wives, sold to Brenda Copeland at St. Martin's.

We hope you continue to enjoy the wealth of articles Amy has collected. STET! is an invaluable resource for writers thanks to her efforts. We'll miss her!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Should You Start At The End To Reach The Middle?

by Tara Maya

Beginnings are difficult. Endings are difficult. But connecting them is the most difficult of all.

As usual, a few plot holes have opened up during revisions, a few broken bridges between the Beginning and the Ending. To fix them, to tie up the loose strings, I am writing from the outside in...from the beginning toward the middle, but also from the ending toward the middle, until the two meet.

To to this, I take each character's story arc and ask myself, Where does this person need to end up? Then I ask, where does this person need to begin?'s just a matter of figuring out the steps in between. Generally I try to have each major character show up once a chapter, and supporting characters at least three times in the book. I have a lot of characters, so this in itself can be tricky. My main characters have one to three scenes per chapter.

Designing each individual story arc is not too hard, in and of itself; the tricky part comes when I juggle them. I have to make certain the logistics are feasible. Scene X logically must come before Scene Y. But I also try to coordinate the themes of each scene, which should contribute to the mini-story arc and theme of each chapter. (Each chapter has its own chapter theme, which contributes to the larger theme of the book.)

For instance, the chapter theme in the first book of The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice, is "Recrudescence," or the resurgence of a disease which had been dormant or cured. For a few characters, their recrudescence is literal, and they suffer a relapse of the disfiguring skin disorder they had when they were Shunned. For most of the others, however, the recrudesce plays out more symbolically. Kavio discovers an old enemy is back, in an unexpected position of strength. Brena meets the bear again and realizes her injury is getting worse. Gremo... well, I could go on, but I won't spoil anything by saying that Dindi also finds something won't stay down, so to speak.

Each scene focuses on a different character dealing with a relapse or reoccurrence of a problem or person who was supposed to be gone. The chapter as a whole contributes to the book's overall theme of sacrifice because the each person will realize in their own way that to truly conquer their problems, they have to do more. They have to give up more than they thought to gain what they want... possibly 
much more than they are willing to give.

Tara Maya went to school for four years to study History and then after a while she went back to school to study History some more. Because four years of History just isn't enough. Academia may have taught her Strunk and White, but the School of Hard Knocks also taught her a thing or two. She's had jobs as a forklift driver, a mermaid and overseas humanitarian worker. She's lived and traveled all around the world: in a village in Cameroon, Africa; in a Buddhist nunnery in Nepal; in a secret Russian city; in Aceh, Indonesia on the same coast hit by the tsunami. She once swapped ghost stories on Halloween with a serial killer. She attended a Backspace convention in 2007 and it was fantastic.

Tara Maya's novel, INITIATE, first in the fantasy series, The Unfinished Song, was released by Misque Press in ebook and trade paperback form in January, 2011. Her second book, The Unfinished Song: TABOO is also now available. The third novel in her fantasy series, The Unfinished Song: SACRIFICE debuted August 30, 2011. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Traditional or Self Publish: Game Changer

by Kathy Calarco

Inertia: A tendency to remain in a fixed condition without change; disinclination to move or act. 

I've always valued open-mindedness. Critical thinking and viewing all sides before coming to a conclusion is the more logical path for me. Yet the subject of self-publishing took on a vivid black and white philosophy that didn't include fence sitting. True confession: I believed self-publication was an act of desperation.

Way back in the days before electronic publishing, self-publishing existed in print format. For a tidy sum one could pay to publish their book. Prices varied depending on the package, some upwards of a few thousand dollars. I checked it out once and when I saw it cost money that I didn't have, I took a pass. Preferring to take the traditional path didn't cost me a single penny - just tons of angst (and I'm not including fees for contests and writing workshops, etc. Those were necessary learning tools). Plus, for me selling to a traditional publisher would give me a huge sense of accomplishment.

I still feel that way, but lately I've considered changing my views of those who choose the self-publishing road. Many of my writer friends, who got closer to a traditional publisher's door than I ever did, have gone the self route. Many of these writers are excellent and extremely passionate about the craft, especially this one. It's just that the luck pendulum never swung in their direction. You know - right time; right place, etc. Thus, rather than leave their babies tucked away on the hard drive, they've unleashed them to the highway of electronic readers, circumventing the traditional route. Plus, they're making money and hopefully enough to justify their choice. (Side note: Those who print self-published of yesteryear most likely didn't recoup their investment.)

And who am I to denounce them for their choice? (A smug snob, that's who.)

Perhaps sometimes it isn't about how to publish but choosing to. Not all who choose the self-published route do so because they're sick of rejection. Not all do so out of desperation.

Maybe they just want to be read. And this notion struck me with brute force recently like a divine intervention. It makes me want to purchase a Kindle (again) so I might read the works by very talented writers. And maybe one day some of them will want to read my works...

That is if I have the nerve to put myself out there. And there's the rub. The self-published author possesses insurmountable courage. They have unleashed their babies for all to praise or call "meh." The latter scares me. Still, the self-published authors of the world , at least some, haven't let the "meh" reviews discourage them.

I wonder if self-publishing fulfills a desire for writers to see their hard work to fruition, which makes me question my former feelings about self-publishing. That's a good thing because to stop self-questioning is a dreadful form of inertia.

All said, I must step up and honor my fellow writers who choose self-publication. It's not about the bling, but always about honoring the art and thyself.

Here's to change and growth! May I remain true to myself while embracing the choices of others.

Kathy Calarco maintains the belief that it’s never too late in life for anything. Having returned to school at age 53, she’s currently studying for a degree in Liberal Arts with a focus on Humanities and English Literature. She writes contemporary literature and poetry, and maintains two blogs, Writeful Mumblings and Five Minute Sprint.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing Well is Hard Work

by Rebbie Macintyre

Writing is hard any time, under any conditions. Not as hard as handling a jackhammer in 110 degree city heat, mind you. And not as hard as chasing toddlers around the house after working all day. And not as hard as dealing with a boss who's dumber than a bag of hammers.

But it's still pretty hard.

You know what in the English language is the dirtiest four-letter word? Hope.
Because we always have that hope, don't we, as writers? Hope that our project will outshine all the other work out there. Hope that we'll outshine our past projects. Hope that a big success may come our way because it's got to happen to someone, doesn't it? I mean, look at all those TV series and movies. They all started with the thing we do: a story.

But my post isn't about Hope. It's about the single basic building block of writers: words.

I just finished one of the best writing books I've read since Donald Maass--and if you've followed my posts, you know I'm a BIG fan of the Man. This book is The Writer's Portable Mentor, A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long.

A lot of stuff in that book. Good stuff. Hard stuff.

Like doing Lexicon Practice.

Long teaches that collecting words should be a regular, definite and specific habit for writers. She suggests buying a blank book--something with nice paper, something you want to keep for a while. Put two words per page, half a page each. Now this is not a typical vocabulary list full of words you learned for your high school English class. These are words that you find irresistible. Words that are, as Long says, juicy and hot. When you run across a word you like, put it in your Lexicon and later, when you make time, look it up and write down the definition and the root.

Put down words you know and like. Don't order your list. When you come across a word you like, add it to your Lexicon. Long suggests using concrete words, words that can be sensed. These are the words that make your writing "click" with a reader. Either nouns or verbs.

Words I have in my Lexicon so far: spindle, carroty, fissure, crawlspace, pockmark, felled, muck.

Nothing glamorous here. No movies or TV series.

Hard work. Good work.

See all those four-letter words?

What's in your Lexicon? Don't have one? Start today, in the comments section.

PS - I just found a new resource for building your writer's workable vocabulary: Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words.


Rebbie Macintyre was born in America's heartland and now lives in Florida. She graduated from the University of Missouri and earned her master's degree at the University of South Florida. Her life experiences have provided the fodder for a number of her stories. She's been a teacher, counselor, salesperson, violinist, swimming coach, SCUBA diver and sludge truck operator. She enjoys hiking, biking, a glass of wine and mountain sunsets. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Her first novel, Cast the First Stone, was released in March, 2009. Her second book, A Corner of Universe, was released in February, 2010. Rebbie is a Backspace member.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On Rejection by author Adrienne Kress

Rejection. It sucks. It truly does.

As writers and actors we have a heck of a lot of it, and, at least for me, it stings every time. It's very difficult when the product is something so personal. With acting, you are trying to basically sell yourself, and with writing you are trying to sell something that is a part of you. 

Now of course we all cope in our different ways. Some deal with it matter of factly, it's business not personal. Some rage against the machine, telling everyone how much the industry sucks. Some sit quietly and mope. 

And while some coping strategies may be better than others, I have always believed that the most important thing is to understand the pain.

This is what I have learned after years of acting and the whole writing thing. We are human beings. We feel sad when things don't work out. We can also feel angry, hurt, confused . . . even scared. 

And there is nothing wrong with that. At all. 

I feel sometimes we waste so much time beating ourselves up for feeling these feelings, that that in itself keeps us from moving on, past the pain of rejection. We live in a society where we have been told it is weak to cry. We are in businesses where others will note, "But you knew getting into it it would be really hard" and so we are not supposed to feel bad when the predictable happens.

Yeah, grand, whatever. We still feel what we feel. Whatever the feeling may be.

It's important, at least for me, to understand that no matter how I feel right now in the rejection state, I know I will not give up. This is a great thought to have because it then doesn't matter that you feel lousy now, or that you are full of self pity, because in the end you know that you aren't about to give up or anything. You're just being indulgent.

And that to me at least is the key. Instead of pretending the emotions don't exist, or being ashamed of them, I say indulge them. Not for a long time mind you, but take a day to just feel lousy. Vent to a caring friend. Cry into your pillow. Do whatever you need to do to purge the unhelpful feelings. Because then it's out. It's like, pardon the analogy, throwing up. Sometimes we consume something that is toxic to our system and our bodies automatically vomit it back up. And we feel better. Well "vomit" up the toxic emotions, lay them bare.

And then move on.

That is also very important.


There is nothing good that comes from wallowing. 

The next day do something really proactive. Send out more queries, write a blog entry, write a novel, learn a monologue. Force yourself to feel that things are still somewhat under your control.

Of course this is only my coping strategy, some people have ones that suit them better. My point though is the solving of the problem comes not with the question of: "How do I stop feeling bad when I get rejected?" But rather: "How do I get past the emotions I inevitably feel when I get rejected?"

It's about acknowledging that you are human and feel things. Icky things. And then learning how to get past and cope with those icky feelings. Not get rid of them. But, in a really weird way, befriend them.

Now, I think it's time for others to share their coping methods! Don't be shy, we can all learn from each other!

Adrienne Kress is a Toronto born actor and author who loves to play make-believe.  She also loves hot chocolate.  And cheese.  And her cat Atticus. 

She is the author of two MG books: Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate (Weinstein Books) as well as a theatre graduate of the University of Toronto and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in the UK.  Published around the world, Alex was featured in the New York Post as a "Post Potter Pick", as well as on the CBS Early Show. It won the Heart of Hawick Children's Book Award in the UK and was nominated for the Red Cedar. The sequel, Timothy, was nominated for the Audie and Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards, and was recently optioned for film.  She's also contributed to two anthologies out this Spring:  Corsets & Clockwork (YA Steampunk Romance short story anthology, Running Press Kids), and The Girl Who Was On Fire (an essay anthology analysing the Hunger Games series - SmartPop).

Her debut YA, The Friday Society (Dial), comes out in the fall of 2012.

Originally posted March 28, 2008. Reposted with permission of the author. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Obtaining Cover Blurbs

by Jessica Faust

Any published writer knows that writing the book, querying, and finding an agent is the easy part of your publishing career. Once you find a publisher the real work begins, and part of that work is obtaining cover blurbs for your book—you know, those quotes from other authors praising your work and you as a new up-and-coming star author. 

But whose job is it to get those quotes? Is it the author, the author’s agent, the publisher? One reader was recently told by her publisher that it’s best if she stay out of it and let the publisher handle the blurbs. This publisher felt that established authors don't always like blurb requests directly from the author (harder to turn down, criticize, etc.), but the author wanted to know if it was okay to go ahead and approach a few contacts anyway.

And this is why I can’t stress enough how attending conferences and being part of writing groups can pay off: it’s just as much about building those author relationships as it is about meeting editors and agents. If all goes well, your publisher, or your editor, will approach a select number of authors requesting blurbs on your behalf, but of course there is no guarantee that everything will go well. Certainly I’ve been in situations with publishers who have put 100% of the burden of obtaining blurbs on the author, and this is where all that networking comes in. Now it’s up to you to get in touch with those bestselling authors and request that they read your book.

Networking is important in this business, as it is in any business, but I know some of you are going to wonder what you can do in a situation like that if you have no opportunities to meet bestselling authors. Well, cold calling (or emailing) is certainly an option, but I would do it carefully and to only a few. I think your best bet, in a situation like that, is to discuss options and possibilities with your agent and see what she can come up with. Remember, agents have connections with authors far outside of just who we represent and might be able to help out more than you realize.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that no matter who you, your editor, or your agent approach, that author has every right to say no and that’s okay. An author’s schedule can be insane between writing the next book, revisions, edits, and yes, a large number of requests for blurbs. How that’s handled is up to the author. I know some who refuse to give blurbs, while others limit themselves to only a certain number a year. One thing that I stress to all my clients is that, no matter what, you should only blurb a book that you truly feel you can get behind. You don’t need to tell the author you didn’t like it, you can always just say you didn’t have time.

Originally published on the Bookends blog on August 13, 2009. Reposted with permission of the author. 

As owner and literary agent at BookEnds, Jessica Faust prides herself on working closely with her authors to make their goals come to fruition. Currently she's seeking submissions in the areas of historical, contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and erotic romance; fantasy, steampunk, women's fiction, and mysteries; and YA, especially steampunk, dystopian, and fantasy YA. In nonfiction, Jessica specializes in current affairs, business, career, pop reference, parenting, women's issues, sex, and general nonfiction. While open to anything, Jessica is most actively seeking unique fiction with a strong hook, and nonfiction with creative ideas and large author platforms.

A veteran of publishing, Jessica began her career in 1994 as an acquisitions editor at Berkley Publishing, Macmillan, and Wiley, where she had the unique opportunity to acquire and edit both fiction and nonfiction. Jessica takes her editing experience to the agency, where she works closely with her authors to create the best possible proposal submissions.

Jessica has been a regular columnist with Romantic Times magazine, taught at New York University's Continuing Education Program, been recognized as Agent of the Year by the NYC Romance Writers of America chapter, and is asked regularly to speak at writers' conferences throughout the world. On average she is a guest speaker at eight conferences each year. She is a member of RWA, MWA, and AAR.

A native of Minnesota, Jessica now lives in New Jersey with her family. Her personal interests include cooking, entertaining, reading, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.

You can contact Jessica directly at or follow her through Twitter at

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Fiction Synopsis Is A Sales Tool

This post originally appeared on STET in March 2011. It's one of the best synopsis posts I've found online!

by Diana Peterfreund
I’ve been getting a bunch of requests for advice on how to write a synopsis for a novel. Most writers I know hate writing synopsis, loathe it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I have a friend who calls them sucknopses — a term that drives me up a wall. I feel very much in the minority, because I love writing synopses. LOVE IT. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do in the entire process or writing a novel.
My love for writing synopses started early on in my career, and it changed my ability to write on a fundamental level. Now, armed with a synopsis, I can sally forth into the wilds of my story without fear of getting lost. I’ve got a road map.
I was taught to write synopses by Kathy Carmichael. Her synopsis writing workshops and handouts cannot be beat. Doesn’t matter if your synopsis is for romance or not (she has some especially for non-romance fiction. This is the place everyone should go — anything I would say about the nuts and bolts would be derived from her workshops. I cannot recommend them enough. I have not looked at them in years, however, because at this point, I kind of know what I’m doing, It’s like no longer referring to maps once you’ve driven the same route a few times.
So now that you know where I get my basic template for my synopsis, let’s move on to the special things I do.
Thing #1: I write my synopsis before I write my book.
I really think writing your synopsis before you write your books makes it SO much easier. You still have a firm hold on what your central story question is, and you aren’t distracted by all your pretty little details and funny lines and unique set details.
A portion of you have already run off in terror, because you belong to the group of writers who think that pre-planning takes all the fun out of it. I can’t tell you how many arguments conversations I’ve had about this with writer friends who think planning books out in advance is sheer madness. My brain does not work that way. Unless i have a plan it’s like getting in a car with no idea where I’m going. I prefer to have a destination in mind and a road map of how to get there.
Please note: this does not mean that I know every single thing that is going to happen in every scene on every page of my novel. (A lot of people who are on the “OMGNOOO, you PLAN?” bandwagon assume that it’s all or nothing in that manner.) Nor does it mean that things don’t change. To completely beat this “roadmap” metaphor into paste — sometimes you’re on the way to a certain place, and you have to take a detour. Or maybe you say to yourself — hey, let’s take this other road instead.” Or even decide to go to a different but related place. All cool.
But the interesting thing is that it probably won’t change the synopsis, much like if you decide to take a detour on your way to your favorite restaurant it’s unlikely worth mentioning to the people you’re meeting for dinner.
I judge a lot of unpublished writing contests, and the number one problem I see in a bad synopsis is that the author doesn’t know what details they should put in, and which ones to leave out. Writing the synopsis before you write the book helps avoid a lot of these problems because you don’t have any of the details yet.
For instance, say you are George Lucas, and you are writing a synopsis ofStar Wars. It probably doesn’t behoove you to bother mentioning that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and Luke drink blue milk out of plastic glasses in the opening scenes. A person looking to buy your book doesn’t need to know that. You should spend your time mentioning that those new droids Uncle Owen and Luke just bought are actually refugees from a captured intergalactic ship who are carrying top secret information vital to the rebellion for some old hermit named Ben who lives in the mountains.
Which brings me to
Thing #2: A synopsis is a sales tool.
This is another tip from Kathy Carmichael. A synopsis is not your outline of the story, if you’re an outliner (though it can serve as one in a pinch). A synopsis is, in actuality, your opportunity to skip over flaws in your story. Again, let’s say you’re George Lucas, and you are, perhaps worried that your scoundrel smuggler character might be a little TOO over the top in that one bar scene where he shoots Greedo in cold blood. I mean, it makes sense in context and all, nails the character PERFECTLY, and it’s a totally awesome scene that should never ever have been changed (damn you, George, damn you) but you’re afraid that if you type: “while Han’s first mate, the giant fuzzy Chewbacca, negotiates with Obi-Wan and Luke, Han Solo meets with this ugly green dude who is looking for money Han owes to some other guy and Han shoots him” someone is going to go: “Man, this is not going to play well in Peoria…” You know what you do? You don’t mention it. Because
Thing #3: A synopsis is your chance to tell.
“Show, don’t tell?” Doesn’t apply in synopses. You don’t need to talk about Han shooting Greedo because you have already introduced the character Han as being a “scoundrel smuggler-type with few scruples — or so you think!”
In fact, that’s how you should start your synopsis (Kathy goes into far greater detail on this). “Character A is a such-and-such sort of person who wants such-and-such because of this reason. Unfortunately, he/she is thwarted in this desire by XYZ.”
(If you are writing a fantasy, even this might be pre-empted by some sort of statement about the world rules. For instance, the first paragraph about my Rampant synopsis explains how unicorns are not, in fact, the fluffy innocent sparkly magical pure being of myth and legends, but instead giant, man-eating venomous beasts that have fortunately been extinct for a century or so, only oops, not so much. Then I go into all sorts of stuff about Astrid.)
The other thing that helps you to figure out what detail you need to put in and which to leave out is to really be strict with yourself in terms of space. I cut my teeth writing synopses for inclusion in Harlequin submissions. At the time (might still be, I don’t know) Harlequin said that synopses had to be 2 pages long. That’s two pages for a 50-70k book (depending on what line you were targetting. So you learned to really concentrate on the characters and what made them tick. Usually, in such synospes, you were going to spend the first page on hero (space scoundrel/smuggler), heroine (intergalactic princess and rebel spy), and premise (it’s hatred at first sight when he rescues her from the evil intergalactic vizier/high priest’s evil planet-killing fortress), and the second page on what all happens to them after that.
Much more standard synopsis length is 1 (double spaced) page for every 10,000 words of manuscript. When you are just starting out, look at each 10k words and FORCE yourself to keep your synopsis to that length. You’ll be surprised how it makes you focus on what hte big plot points and turning points of your story are.
This article was reposted with permission of the author and first appeared on The Official Website of Diana Peterfreund.
Diana Peterfreund has been a costume designer, a cover model, and a food critic. Her travels have taken her from the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the underground caverns of New Zealand (and as far as she’s concerned, she’s just getting started). Diana graduated from Yale University in 2001 with dual degrees in Literature and Geology, which her family claimed would only come in handy if she wrote books about rocks. Now, this Florida girl lives with her husband, her daughter, and their dog in Washington D.C., and writes books that rock.

For a full bio, click here.  For a list of all Diana's books, click here.

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