There Are Three Rules To Writing A Novel…

… and no one knows what they are. Or so says the infamous quote seen on mugs and hats everywhere people want to make money off of frustrated authors.
I’m not saying these are the missing three rules, but they’re my best guess for the time being.

1- Write it all down. Too many young authors dismiss an idea by saying “I’ll remember it later” or “it’s a stupid idea.” You won’t and it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s fanfiction, or parody, or something you wrote just because it sounded funny – write it down. Write it, edit it, and polish it before you judge your work. As long as you agree to learn from your mistakes there is no wasted time, and more than one author has become famous writing “just for fun” while they waited for the perfect book to come along.

2 – Assume your reader is intelligent. They want to read your book, don’t they? That proves they’re intelligent. So trust your reader and don’t hammer them over the head with needless details. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and give your reader a minute description of a car unless this car is radically different than the common definition. And get so lost in your love of words that you alienate your reader. Yes, a book set in ancient Rome would be more accurate if you wrote it in Greek and Latin, but far fewer people would be able to enjoy your work. Your readers are intelligent, don’t make them jump through hoops to enjoy your writing.

3- Start editing at chapter three. After your first draft is finished reread starting with chapter three. Many authors use the first two chapters to set the stage and establish characters. If you can start reading at chapter three and enjoy the book the readers don’t need those first two chapters. You may need them as an author, but your audience doesn’t. Of course, if you read from chapter three and nothing makes sense pat yourself on the back, you started your story in the right place!

There, now when someone tells you that no one knows how to write the perfect novel you can smirk knowingly and say,”I do.”

What three rules do you believe every good book follows?

Previously Published June 2012

Finding Your Strengths

All writers are not created equal.

Some are gifted at world building, others excel at pacing, some write witty dialog without breaking a sweat (looking at you, Whedon). Whatever your skill, you should identify it and make the most of it?

Why?

Let’s pretend that your greatest strength is dialog. And then you write a book with a character that never speaks to anyone. Everything is description and inner monologue. Guess what? That book is not going to snap the way your previous books did.

Worse, your readers who come to you looking for a specific style of writing might be turned off.

Think of writing a book like you would plan to dress for a photo shoot; even if you’re changing the style of the clothes you still want to accentuate your best features.

So how do you find your strengths? Here’s four quick questions that will help you find your best angle…

1) What do you like writing best?
If you find the descriptive scenes just flow, you might have a knack for world building. If you always know where to end a scene for the right dramatic tension, congratulations, you’re one of the lucky few who has a talent for pacing.

2) What scenes do you think of first?
If the dialog comes before the character description, you probably have flair for dialog. If you know your characters better than you know your neighbor, you are a natural character builder, and I bet no one has ever called your characters “flat.”

3) What do your reviews say?
Look at your critiques and reviews say? Do they mention lush worlds, colorful characters, or snappy sass? That’s your talent!

4) What do people ask for your advice about?
When someone sends you a message and says, “How would you do this?” you know you’ve found your strength.

Previously Published January 2016

How To Be A Good Critique Partner (reprint)

Critique groups abound, especially as NaNoWriMo wraps up. The crisp, cold weather of winter combined with the frenzy of writing a novel in a month spawns writing groups like there is no tomorrow. New writing groups are wonderful, but not all critique partners are created equal.

The horror stories about bad critique partners turning a book into a chimera are all over the place. If you have nothing better to do one day, ask me about it on Twitter when I’m in a talkative mood. I have stories. But this post is about how to make yourself a better critique partner.

1) Know the Expectations
Before you start any editing project you need to know what the author wants. The wrong critique at the wrong time will kill many a good book before it’s finished. Ask the author before you start what they want. I offer levels…
— “Just a look” where I read it over and give a thumbs up or down. This is perfect for rough drafts and cheering on an author struggling to complete a project.
— “Look for plot holes” where I read and point out inconsistencies in the plot line, plot holes, and correct basic spelling and grammar errors with a note (ie – note: comma before proper names in DL)
— “Shred it” where you nitpick every single word and flaw. This is an edit for a final draft. Every word and movement is under the microscope for nuance and meaning, and I only do this with an author who is subbing the piece in the next 6 months. I wouldn’t attack a first draft like this ever.
— “Final Edits” reading the piece out loud and looking for grammar and spelling errors exclusively. This is for a clean copy that’s days away from being submitted. It’s not uncommon for authors to add a spelling error while editing.


2) Know the Audience
Before you can critique you need to know where the manuscript is headed. As a critique partner the book isn’t written for you, it’s written for a reader somewhere out in the great, big world. You need to be the reader’s advocate and make sure the book turns out well enough that someone who doesn’t know the author can enjoy it.

3) Know the Market
Fuss all you like about artistic rights. If an author wants to publish a book they need to know the market expectations (word count, content, common tropes, ect) and so does their critique partner. A good critique partner is going to red flag a mid-grade manuscript that goes over the 60,000 word limit. You also need to be familiar with the genre your partner writes in. What happens if you and your buddy both write horror and then, one day, your partner decides to write epic fantasy YA? You either start reading epic fantasy YA, or you find your buddy a new critique partner who knows the genre. Trust one who has been mismatched with critique partners before, it’s not pretty when someone edits a sci-fi manuscript with YA expectations. *shudder*


4) Trust The Author -or- Don’t Cut To Early
Never tell an author a scene doesn’t need to exist until you’ve finished the book. There’s a habit in writing groups to rip and shred before reading, and it doesn’t work. Yes, that opening line needs to be amazing, but the only legitimate comment you can give about the validity of an opening chapter is, “This works, I’m hooked.” or “I’m not hooked yet, I’ll keep reading and maybe there’s a better opening.” (Hint: check chapter 3)

5) Leave The Voice
The novice mistake of critiquing is to rewrite the book in your own words. Resist the urge. Every author has a unique voice, don’t squish it into oblivion because you’d compare love to a summer’s day and the author compares love to a rosy sunset.

6) React
Ninety percent of the notes on a good critique are reaction notes. “Oh My Gosh!!! I can’t believe Character just did that!” … “Love it!” … “I laughed here.” … “I’m picturing him naked, which I know is wrong. Rewrite.” Reactions let an author know if things are working. A large, and often overlooked, portion of editing is leading the reader down a path of emotions and reactions. If the author wanted a scene to be warm and cuddly and it’s coming off with a stalker vibe, the author needs to know. Don’t get caught up in the But-The-Author-Told-Me trap. Readers are not going to have a two hour conversation about this scene with the author. They won’t know that the author wanted the guy to be authoritative and demanding. The reader will see a stalker scene, not an authoritative male being Alphahole-ish but sweet.

Do you have anything to add? What makes a critique partner great? Hit the comments and tell me all about it.

Previously published December 2012 on www.lianabrooks.com

Dialog Choices and Slang – a writing post

Dialog choice, or the words your character uses to describe the world around them, is a major deal breaker for books. If all the characters sound the same they lose their individual personalities. One of the big places where you’ll see a variation in a shared language is in slang words. Slang changes much more rapidly than the rest of the language. It’s okay, sometimes encouraged, to create slang for your new world.

Negative slang usually reflects major religious beliefs and social fears (damn, hell, comparison to being a dog, or stupid). Positive and affirmative slang is less codified but usually comes a subculture of some form before being adopted and adapted by a wider group of language users (wicked, cool, hot, lit, ect).

Buzzfeed did a pretty decent video on the evolution of American slang. Keep in mind that what you’re writing isn’t 100% American culture so your subcultures are going to be different. Even within our culture slang can vary by family or friend group. They can come out inside jokes or even typos. So, while you’re writing, make sure the slang you use is appropriate for the time, venue, culture, and character using the language.

No Manuscript? No Problem! Carina Press is taking proposals!

LOVELIES! This fabulous announcement came across my Twitter feed this morning and I want to share so you can have a look. Being able to pitch a book on proposal, and sell it like that, is a great opportunity if you know you can write on a deadline and work better knowing someone is expecting your book. If that sounds like you, go check out Carina Press’s proposal and see if this is the lucky break you were looking for!

Confused about what the difference between Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy is? There’s a great break down HERE.


From April 13th to June 4th, Carina Press is accepting proposals for paranormal romance.

Maybe you’ve heard that no publishers want paranormal, that paranormal is dead or that readers aren’t buying paranormal romance? Wrong! Carina Press is actively acquiring and publishing paranormal romance—and readers are buying it. So bring us your shapeshifters, your vampires, your fae and demons and witches. We want to read your paranormal romance proposals, because we love this genre and readers do too!

Details on this limited-time-only proposal call can be found below. You can also keep an eye on our blog and Facebook and Twitter pages to stay up-to-date on all our submission calls.

Submission link: https://carinapress.submittable.com/submit/82046/paranormal-romance-proposal-call

Closing date: June 4th, 2017 (all submissions due by 11:59pm Eastern on this date)


Requirements for this proposal call:

  • Your book must fall within the paranormal romance subgenre, but can be of any heat level or pairing, including same-sex/multiples.
  • Paranormal elements should play an important role in story development, plot and characterization.
  • We will look at paranormal romances in different time periods and unique settings—they do not need to be contemporary or based in the US.
  • Your proposed book must be a completely new work and not have been previously published in any form, whether self-published or released via digital or traditional publisher. Only new material will be considered during this submission call.
  • You cannot submit a project you have submitted to Carina Press before.

Materials needed to participate:

  • A query letter with a 1-2 paragraph book description, plus an introduction of yourself as an author/your writing and publishing history.
  • Three complete, ready-to-send chapters of a WIP. If you have more than three chapters, you can certainly send more!
  • A thorough, well-thought-out synopsis that is at least 5 pages long. The synopsis is extra important with a proposal because we need to see progression of plot, character arc, storyline and, also really crucial—how it ends! See more about writing a synopsis here.
  • You may submit more than one project! However, please submit only one proposal per series.

How to submit:

  • If your book meets the guidelines above and all your material is ready and properly formatted, please use this link to submit.
  • Direct your submission to the editor who has advertised an interest in seeing manuscripts like yours! In doubt? Direct your submission to Editorial Director Angela James or Senior Editor Kerri Buckley.
  • We will consider all proposals that fulfill submission call requirements and are received by 11:59pm EST on June 4th, 2017.
  • All eligible proposals will receive a response within 12 weeks of submission.

Not going to be ready in time? Not to worry. We remain open to full manuscript submissions all year long via bit.ly/write4cp, and more submission and proposal opportunities are coming in 2017.

For questions about this call for submissions, please email us at submissions@carinapress.com.

For more information about Carina Press, and to read our submission guidelines, please visit bit.ly/write4cp.

 

Need help getting your proposal ready? Ask me about editing specials!

Mother of Teens: How To Write With Little Kids At Home

On one of the writing forums I belong to someone asked how anyone could possibly write with little kids around. What they really wanted to know was: CAN YOU WRITE WITHOUT PUTTING YOUR KIDS IN DAYCARE? Not everyone has a partner, nearby family, or the money needed to create a kid-free environment when they want to write.

There is a myth that you can’t write while you have little kids around. Or that you need to have a partner who will take care of the entire household while you sequester yourself with your muse to commune with pen and page.

And, like all other myths, it’s a big, fat lie told by some author desperate to get out of watching Frozen for the fifteen-millionth time.

You can write with kids at home. You can write with kids in the room. You can write with kids on your lap.

My first story (Even Villains Fall In Love) came out the same year my son was born. That means my two youngest kids have never known a time when Mommy wasn’t a published author. I wrote a trilogy between the time my daughter was born and the year she turned four. Four kids, three cross-country moves, and three books. If I can pull that off, so can you.

HOW TO WRITE WITH KIDS AT HOME
1 – Set reasonable goals and set acceptable reasons to miss writing. If you stress out because of impossible goals, or because you’re trying to write with a newborn, you’ll make yourself miserable. Don’t.

2 – Steal what time you can. When the baby naps, while CARS is playing for the 3rd time today… I’ve finished novels with babies nursing or a toddler on my lap. Use a boppy pillow and run spellcheck.

3 – As kids hit the Needy Years (3-5) where they nap less and need attention, make a writing space for them. My 5yo isn’t in school yet, but she’ll give me a quiet 30 minutes if I give her a dry erase board, markers, paper, and a place to sit near my desk. Thirty minutes usually means 500-1000 words. Thirty minutes daily means a novel is finished in 3 months.

4 – Prep to write so that when you sit down to type that is all you need to do. Outline, use note cards, use sticky notes, whatever… just make sure that computer time is spent writing, not trying to think. Check out the plotting session I did to get you started. 

5 – Give yourself 30 minutes a day. You might get 300 words, you might get 1000, but with 30 minutes a day (weekends off) you can write a novel in 6 months.

How To Write A Synopsis

One of the things I’ve noticed while editing for clients and helping with Son Of A Pitch is that many authors are intimidated by the synopsis. This is a standard part of most query packets and something that many authors hate writing.

A synopsis is just that: a brief summary of a book. It’s usually between 2-5 pages in length and dull as dirt. Because it is very challenging for authors to summarize their book, and because the synopsis is a very dry read, many people dismiss it as unimportant. They’ll dash off a synopsis, run spellcheck, and call it a day. That’s not the way to get an agent or sell your book.

WHY A SYNOPSIS?
The synopsis allows agents to see a summary of your book without reading the full manuscript. It’s a shorter time investment, which is better for business, and it allows them to see if your plot jumps the shark thirty chapters in. It also tells an agent where your marketing skills are at.

If you can make a synopsis with few adjectives and limited description exciting, you’ll be just fine. If you can’t, well, the agent has to decide if they want to invest the time in helping you learn.

WHY DO AUTHORS NEED SYNOPSIS WRITING SKILLS?
Here’s the dirty little secret most querying authors don’t know… your query and synopsis writing can make or break your career.

I don’t mean in terms of finding an agent either. A query becomes the basis for your back-of-cover blurb, i.e. that thing that actually sells your books to readers. The only difference between a query and a back-of-cover-blurb is you add the word count to the query. Even Indie authors need to know how to write one well.

A synopsis becomes the basis for selling your second book. After you’ve sold your debut novel it is common for agents to try and sell your next novel on spec. That means you write the blurb, the synopsis, and the first three chapters/30 pages of a new novel and try to sell it on that alone. In the case of a multi-book deal like the one I had for the Time and Shadows series, I had THE DAY BEFORE written and I sold the other two after I sent a synopsis in for them. The synopsis was the basis for the outline when I was writing. It was how I proved to my agent and editor that I had some idea where this series was going.

The sooner you learn to write a good synopsis, the better off you’ll be.

HOW DO YOU WRITE A SYNOPSIS?
– Finish the book
– Summarize each scene with one sentence
– Add additional information that is relevant for understanding character choices (fears, motivations, goals)
– Read through to make sure the plot and motivations are clear
– Add any words necessary to tie the sentences together (next, then, after)
– Edit for typos and grammar errors

One thing I have found DOESN’T work is trying to explain the book’s backstory in the first chapter of the synopsis. Case in point, the original synopsis for THE DAY BEFORE vs the synopsis that I sent to Marlene Stringer.

Synopsis 1: This was before the R&R that killed Sam’s fiancé. Notice how dull it sounds. This isn’t the opening chapter either. This is just filler.  

Samantha Rose is a junior agent with the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, the main government body responsible for investigating violent crimes. While the Commonwealth borders stretch from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Circle, the bureau doesn’t see a reason to station Sam anywhere fun after she took personal leave to care for her father within six months of being hired. For her sins, she’s stationed in Alabama District 3 with a misogynistic boss who still thinks the United States shouldn’t have joined the Commonwealth.

Sam is bound and determined to handle every case with cool efficiency, no mistakes allowed. If Senior Agent Marrins had nothing to complain about, he can’t deny her promotion and the transfer to Washington DC where Sam’s fiancé lives. When she’s told to wrap up a Jane Doe case that looks like a dumped clone to investigate the vandalism at a government-funded lab, Sam thinks she’s found her way out of the rural south.

 

Synopsis 2: Written over a year later. It incorporated advice from agents, workshops, and fellow authors. It gets to the book right away, focuses on the plot, and shows the agent what the story was. 

When a trucker finds a dismembered body on the side of the road junior agent SAMANTHA ROSE is the one responsible for finding a name for Jane Doe. Senior agent ROBERT MARRINS thinks the dead woman is clone. The coroner, LINSEY MACKENZIE thinks Jane was tortured to death but her fingerprints don’t match anyone in the database. MacKenzie’s fingerprints were found on the body, but this is dismissed because everyone believes he forgot to put his gloves on when Jane first arrived at the county morgue.

Sam is also assigned to look into the break-in at Novikov-Veltman Nova Laboratory by her boss, Senior Agent ROBERT MARRINS.

At the lab, DETECTIVE ALTIN walks Sam through the crime scene. Sam is introduced to DOCTOR EMIR and to Doctor Emir’s assistant HENRY TROOM. Sam is concerned by the disappearance of the two security guards, MORDICAI ROBBINS and MELODY CHIMES. It looks like the lab break-in is an inside job.

 

Can you see the difference?

A good synopsis may be dull in places, but it still sells the story. Happy writing!

Need more help? A query packet critique costs $25 and includes a full synopsis critique. 

What’s Ahead In 2017

If 2016 was the year I was busy behind-the-scene, 2017 is the year you get to finally see all those stories I’ve been teasing for the last twelve months. Big things are coming and I’m excited.

SPRING RELEASES
THE DARKNESS AND GOOD ANTHOLOGY – a collection short stories written by Amy Laurens and myself. Most of these stories were first published on the Darkness & Good blog. The stories in the anthology have been edited, and in some cases expanded.
BODIES IN MOTION – In war, Selena Caryll and Titan Sciarra were bitter enemies. Now that the fleet is grounded and fighting for survival these two find that the best future is the one the build together (if they don’t kill each other first). This is a SFR novella that kicks off the new Newton’s Law universe.

SUMMER RELEASES
FOUNDATION STONES – Captain Kamara of the King’s Guard would rather see the king’s nephews hang than consider any of them as a replacement for her aging, childless liege, but when one of them frames her for the murder of the king… well, the enemy of her enemy is a man she’ll at least plan a prison break with. This is a fantasy novel that will be serialized on the blog over the summer.

FALL RELEASES TBA

WINTER RELEASES
FOUNDATION STONES – After being serialized on the blog I’ll collect the chapters, run through one more edit taking into account any comments left by readers, and publish the ebook in winter 2017.

 

Where am I moving this summer??? I still have no clue. My husband’s contract up here is ending and the people we’re renting from want to sell the house in July, so one way or another, we need to move in June. We have applications in across the country (and a few overseas) but I honestly have no idea where I’ll be at the end of 2017.

When are you going to write that one book? From Even Villains 4 to questions about Prime Sensations (will Kaleb’s brother get his own story?) there have been a lot of questions about adding to existing series. EV4 is on the schedule for writing after the move, but a lot of what get published in the fall and early 2018 depends on things in the background that I’m not supposed to talk about yet. The sooner a book sale announcement is made, the sooner I have to go edit that hush-hush novel. Take that as you will.

The other major factor here is that, this fall, my youngest starts kindergarten (you have no idea how weepy and old I feel saying that). I won’t just be in a new city, but I’ll have a whole new schedule to work with, one that allows me to have interruption-free writing time (theoretically… we all know how Murphy’s Law works in these situations). I’m keeping my fall schedule open to possibility. We’ll see what happens, where I am, and what deadline have magically appeared before I make any promises.