Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Importance of Books

I feel blessed that my parents made a point to read to me from birth. I learned to read at a young age, and have had a lifelong love affair with books. Books are of the utmost importance to society as well as to individuals.

Books preserve history. How much would we know of the past without the literary works and historical records that survived into modern times? They give us a glimpse into societies that are long gone. Fiction can provide us with many of the details of everyday life that official paperwork, such as governmental documents, cannot provide. It tells us what people ate, how they spent their leisure time, and what values were important.

Books help us learn. When many people think of books and education, they think of their textbooks from school or outdated encyclopedias. However, there is a wide world of nonfiction out there to educate us on every subject imaginable. When I want information on something new, it only takes a trip to the public library. Books spread ideas and philosophy, from Plato to Wittgenstein and everyone in between.

Books take us to places we may never have the chance to visit. In books, I can walk the plains of Middle Earth, comb the forests of Narnia, or explore the secret passages of the Hogwarts castle. I can visit the polar icecaps, the Great Wall, or the Egyptian Pyramids. Whether real or fantasy, books can be my own personal travel agent and whisk me around the world.

Books engage our imagination. When we watch movies or television, we are given the entire scene in front of our eyes. When we read, however, we get to picture the characters and the scenes. We get to fill in the details and daydream. Books allow us to be the director. They provide us entertainment and joy.

Many people seem to do their reading solely on the internet nowadays. However, I will always enjoy the comfort of a good book. They are easier on my eyes and I can curl up in front of the fireplace with one on cool winter nights. I love bookstores and libraries, and could spend days there. Books are like an old friend that I can always go back to.

The written word was one of the major advancements leading towards modern civilization. Without it, where would we be today?

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Resources for Fantasy Writers

A writer's world will influence the stories that they write. The books they read, people they meet, and places they visit will provide details that color the narrative. Fantasy writing is no different. Fantasy writers can benefit by taking advantage of the many resources available to them. A variety of books can help them craft the perfect story.

Pay attention to the people around you, especially when it comes to dialogue. Listening to the natural rhythms of speech patterns can help you learn to develop realistic characters. Every character should have their own unique voice, so begin to notice what is unique about the people you encounter.

No matter what you enjoy writing, it is important to read as much as possible. One of the best ways to learn about a particular genre is to immerse yourself in it. Study the books that you read rather than just becoming immersed in the plot. Seek out new fantasy authors to see how they have created their stories. What do you love about them? What do you hate? What ideas seem to be overdone? How does the writer develop the characters and plot? Knowing what is already out there can help inspire you to do something new and different with your writing.

A quick Google search can bring up a variety of other resources. From manuscript guidelines to name generators, there is something out there for everyone. One of my favorite places to start is with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:
http://www.sfwa.org/writing/

There are many books out there on the subject of fantasy writing, but a handful of them particularly stand out to me. Here are my top four choices that fantasy writers should have on their bookshelves:

1. "How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card
Card's book, like his writing, is geared more towards Science Fiction, but I believe that fantasy writers can get just as much out of this book. Card is especially helpful in the topics of world building and character development. Make sure that your fantasy world has rules!

2. "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel" by Diana Wynne Jones
This is one of the most hilarious books on fantasy cliches that you can get. I recommend it to fantasy readers and writers alike! It is structured in the form of the encyclopedia and uses humor and wit to make its point. Any writer who wants to avoid writing the same cliches that have plagued fantasy in the past should make sure this is a part of their collection.

3. "The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference"
This book is from the editors of the Writer's Digest Books, and contains chapter ranging from "Magic" to "Dress and Costume" to "Anatomy of a Castle." While it can work to create your own world with its unique rules, you may reach more readers by using some of the conventions of the genre. Rules are meant to be broken, but you have to know what the rules are first. This book can help you determine how authors traditionally use fantastical elements.

4. "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White
While not specifically on fantasy writing, every author should have a style guide in their reference collection. No matter what genre you write, proper grammar is important. Have this reference on hand! A good dictionary and thesaurus can also help, although alternatives are readily available online.

The most important thing in any type of writing is practice. Continue to write, rewrite, and get critiques on your work. This is the best way to develop your skills and style. Writing fantasy well takes time and patience, but it is a rewarding pursuit.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Finding the Right Literary Agent for You

Finding the right literary agent can make all the difference in your publishing process. It is important to spend time preparing before entering into a business relationship with an agent. Luckily, the internet provides easy access to information about most agents and can simplify your search and evaluation process.

Take your time to research potential agents before sending your query letter. There are many resources available to help you find the best match. Look for agents who not only claim to represent your genre, but who have actually made sales to quality publishing houses. The most important asset an agent has is contacts with editors. If they have successful sales to the top publishing houses in the past, it is more likely that those editors will take time to look at your book.

Avoid agents that charge reading or critique fees. Many of these people are not legitimate agents. When in doubt, try Googling the name of the agent with the word "scam" and see if anything comes up. It can be easy to spot a fake agent from the results of this search!

There are a large number of websites that can help you do your research. A few of my favorites are:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/
The Absolute Write forums have a section called "Bewares and Background Check" where you can read about people's experiences with agents and publishers. This is a good place to start protecting yourself from scam agents.

http://www.agentquery.com/
Agent Query is one of the most thorough search engines and information centers for agents. You can search by genre to find a list of agents that represent similar books. Their writers section also has a large amount of information about how to write query letters and submit to agents.

http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
Publishers Marketplace is the only paid service I would recommend to writers besides the Writers' Market Website. It is the best place to keep up to date on industry news and current sales.

http://www.nicholassparks.com/WritersCorner/Agent.html
Many authors have information for writers on their website, from personal experiences to tips. One of my favorites is the Writer's Corner at Nicholas Sparks' website. He has a large amount of information, including sample query letters.

If you receive an offer of representation, make sure to ask any questions you have. One of the major stumbling blocks many authors have is communication. Some agents rarely update their clients about the status of their book unless there is an offer or requested revisions. Feel free to ask questions about how often the agent updates their clients. Make a list of any concerns you have and don't be shy to ask. A quick Google search can help you find additional questions if you have trouble thinking of any.

Make sure to take your time with any contract that an agent sends you. It is important that the contract has a clause to terminate the relationship if it is not working for you or your agent. Most agents will negotiate their standard agreement if there are small points that you would like changed.

Remember that the professional relationship you have with your agent can make or break your book. Take the time to do your homework, and you will have much better odds of success!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Mistakes New Freelance Writers Make

Breaking into the world of freelance writing for magazines is daunting. With a little time and organization, new writers can avoid many of the common mistakes that plague their peers.

Develop an organizational system to keep track of your story ideas, queries, research, and notes. It does not need to be complicated, but it must work for your style. When you need to find the transcript from an interview, you should know exactly where to look. Create a workspace where you can find everything easily. Also, make sure to backup your work and keep hard copies of important documents.

Take time to study the markets that you are querying. Most public libraries will keep at least several months of magazine back issues. Spend some time reading the ones you want to write for. How is their magazine divided, and where would your idea best fit? Pay attention to the types of articles they print, the tone used and how long they are. You want your article to be targeted to the specific publication.

Keep for formatting simple. Use plain white paper, one-inch margins all around, and either Times New Roman or Courier for your font. It should be 12 pt. Your query letter should be structured as a basic business letter. Request submission guidelines from the magazine, and follow them even if they contradict the standard formatting. Submit in the manner the editors ask for. Even though you are a writer, this is not the arena to showcase your creativity. Keep it professional.

Query larger markets first. Many authors doubt their talent and spend far too long writing for free. If you want to make writing your business, you need to get paid for it. Try querying a national magazine if you have an idea that would fit them. You can always query local or start-up magazines later.

Read your contract carefully, and make sure to ask if there are any clauses that you have concerns about. Know exactly which rights the magazine wishes to purchase and which you retain. Many freelance writers make additional income by selling reprint rights or electronic rights to articles that magazines have purchased. As long as the magazine does not buy all rights you may be able to do this as well.

Get your article in before the deadline. This is crucial to your success. If you are consistently late with your submissions, editors are probably not going to use you for future assignments. However, if you send your articles in early (fully proofread and edited to the best of your ability), then you may find the magazine contacts you when they need a piece written.

If you have previously written for a publication and proved yourself, don't be afraid to negotiate a higher pay rate for your next piece. Far too many writers seem content to continue writing for low-paying publications or are afraid to ask for a pay increase. There are many freelancers out there who are paid $1 or more per word. Aim high!

If you are serious about pursuing freelancing as a career, I suggest picking up a copy of "Make a REAL LIVING as a Freelance Writer" by Jenna Glatzer. Glatzer is a contributing editor at Writer's Digest magazine and has written seventeen books and hundreds of articles. She explores many of the business aspects of freelance writing in remarkable detail in this book. The book deals with everything from dealing with interview subjects to communicating with your editor.

Most of all, do not take rejections personally. Every serious writer has received stacks of them. It does not mean your story isn't good or that it won't find a home somewhere. It just wasn't what that particular editor was looking for. Review your query letter to see if it could be stronger and submit the story elsewhere. Don't forget to tailor it to the new market as needed!

Remember that this is a competitive field. Consider yourself a businessperson and develop a thick skin. Good luck!