Online Resource Guide for Aspiring Authors

reading-stack-of-booksThis past week I spent four amazing days at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Everywhere, groups tucked into corners between panels to help each other get ready for the great and scary pitch sessions. Someone mentioned feeling intimidated to come to their first conference, ready for battle in the Hunger Games of aspiring authors. Instead, they found themselves wrapped in the comfy arms of the writing community. I’ve been wrapped in those arms for years. It’s nice in the arms!

For me, most of those arms have been virtual ones. And something I noticed at the conference was that many writers weren’t familiar with the online community and sources that make this whole writer-to-author process so much less frightening! Want your query package critiqued? Want to learn which agents will be good fits? Want to learn more about craft? The online writers community has got your back.

Here are some of the most helpful online resources for writers hoping to become authors that I’ve collected during my years of learning about writing and the publishing industry.

Writing Craft:

First up, K.M. Weiland’s “Helping Writers Become Authors.” Hold onto your hats, because there’s both a website AND a podcast! You not only get bite-sized tips on all sorts of topics, but K.M. Weiland’s guides on characters arcs and plot structure are fantastic. They’re a huge help at the editing stage, guiding you to examine key moments and deliver memorable moments to readers.

Like the idea of learning while brushing your teeth in the morning? Another podcast I faithfully subscribe to is the Writing Excuses Podcast, which delivers craft advice from a panel of published writers. Pro tip: their archives offer gold beyond what’s available on iTunes.

Former agent, now freelance editor and consultant, Mary Kole has an incredibly helpful blog, Kidlit.org, that tackles both the industry and editorial advice inspired by her experience working with writers. While the focus is supposedly on children’s and teen lit, I’d say 90% of the content can apply to any novel. Mary Kole walks you through common mistakes writers don’t even know they’re making. She also has a book called, “Writing Irresistible Kidlit,” that has a respected home on my bookshelf.

notecards
My revision notecards. Learned this technique in “How to Revise Your Novel.”

Lastly, I can’t talk about craft without mentioning one of the most significant impacts on my writing, Holly Lisle, who offers both articles and courses. Her articles are refreshingly practical. Instead of, “Have high stakes!” Holly breaks down how to actually accomplish those overly-general writing tips. During a revise/resubmit where I was completely overwhelmed, I splurged on her course, “How to Revise Your Novel.” It changed everything about how I approach revision. I jumped right into, “How to Think Sideways” after that. If you’re ever getting frustrated with reading things like, “Give your characters voice,” “Fulfill your promises,” or “Start with a strong premise,” and are screaming, “But how?!” I recommend Holly.  

Query Package:

First mandatory reading assignment: the Query Shark Blog. Aspiring authors send their query letters to The Shark (literary agent, Janet Reid) for public critique. It’s…brutal, Game of Thrones-esque entertainment, with a high dose of snark, but oh so educational. Read from the beginning. Yes, the beginning. And enjoy the chum bucket as you get whipped into querying shape.

At the same time, make your way through Nathan Bransford’s thorough guide to querying. It answers questions about what agents want to see, a mad lib guide to get you started, even strategies for how many to send at a time.

Then, when you’ve a solid grounding in what makes a good query, head on over to the QueryTracker Forums, where you can critique and get critiques for query letters, pitches, first pages, and synopses. While there are other writer communities online that do similar things, after spending time in a few, I’ve found QT to be the most supportive and welcoming of the bunch. It’s also a great place to do arrange page swaps and feel out potential for critique partners in your genre.

Finding the Right Agent

Now it’s time to take the plunge and approach agents. I highly recommend QueryTracker.net. Wait, didn’t we just cover that one? Nope. While they’re run by the same crew, they are separate sites with distinct purposes. QueryTracker.net is an amazing, beautiful, magnificent tool for exploring agents and keeping track of the queries you’re sending out (hence, the site name). You can search for agents by genre, but also see data like how long they take to respond and whether they’re more or less likely to request pages. You can easily see who you queried, whether you’ve sent out pages, and how long you’ve been waiting. If you get to the point where you’re querying in large batches and maybe have partials out, this is a great way to avoid embarrassing confusion.

Agentquery.com is another agent data base. It’s very basic, information only, but has the benefit of collecting information on preferences beyond stated genres. Instead of just, “Mystery” listed as a genre accepted, they’ll post information gleaned from interviews or provided by agents themselves like, “Not interested in mysteries unless it’s chicklit.” This is great in helping you figure out if your project is up an agent’s alley.

My ultimate secret weapon in the agent search is the Literary Rambles Blog, though it’s only geared toward picture book through YA. While not as exhaustive as an agent database, the depth is incredible. The blog hosts pick an agent to feature, then scour the internet for any information, from preferences to reputation. The picture you get of agents here is likely to be more complete than what you’ll find elsewhere, and there’s often a ton of links provided to interviews and sources to explore.

So there we are—the resources that have been warm shelters along this shadowy path toward publication. It’s certainly not the only resources I’ve tried, and I’ve also read tons of books on all of these subjects, so if you have any questions about the process or want peeks into my writing bookshelf, just ask! You can comment below (you don’t need to be a WordPress member to comment!) or shoot me an email at brandilyn_gilbert@yahoo.com.

In the online community, we love to help, and we have cookies.

(Okay, not real cookies, but we love saying we have cookies and offering each other cookies. It’s a thing. Don’t worry, you’ll learn.)


 

Want more posts about writing? Check out Why I Write for Kids and TeensWhere do ideas come from?, or NaNoWriMo: Your 50,000-Word Writing Challenge.

Tune in Monday, for the next Inspiration and Perspiration interview! I talk to Megan Snedden—photojournalist for BBC, National Geographic, USA Today, and more—about what it takes to turn a creative passion into a career.

Want more stories, writing adventures, and interviews with creative folks? Check the top right of the page, to follow the blog! And post any questions you have below!

Why I Write for Kids and Teens

Sometimes, when I tell people that I write for kids and teens, they respond with something along the lines of, “Oh that sounds fun! Do you think one day you’ll be good enough/serious enough to write for adults?”

popular-blank-meme-templetes-022-not-impressed

I then launch in to all the reasons I love writing for young people. The challenge of creating a layered story that can appeal to different types and ages of readers. Characters learning their places in the world, moving from relying on adults to trusting in themselves and their friends. The room for genre-blending and experimenting with style since the books are primarily sorted by age group instead of genre!

Then I take a breath and realize they’re gone.

Having to defend the merits of writing for this age group makes me think a lot about why I’m drawn toward it. In last week’s interview, Krystal Becker talked about getting into art modeling because she wanted to go beyond admiring pictures to living in them.

I wanted to hug her. Because, that’s just it, isn’t it? Kids don’t just read stories. They live stories.

When I was a kid, there were a few series I was obnoxiously obsessed with particularly engaged in. Early on, it was The Baby-Sitters’ Club by Ann M. Martin. I still have a letter I wrote to my friend, disappointed that my dad had said we couldn’t start our own baby-sitting club until we were 13 (you know, the age when you’re totally mature enough to take charge of young children’s safety). Despite this set-back, I laid out my plans for making my favorite fictional club come to life.

When I was in fourth grade, it was Spooksville by Christopher Pike. While I did my chores, I pretended that I was climbing a mountain to the beautiful witch’s castle or wiggling into the magic tree that ate children. I also was into the X-Files at a perhaps inappropriately young age and my sister and I slung on my parents’ trench coats and made files for alien abductee and monster victim cases.

I then grew up and grew out of playing in the fictional universes I loved.

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Um, ignore this.
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And this.

I remember my fourth-grade self thinking that one day, if one kid out there in the world was daydreaming of being part of one of my stories while in class, or running around the neighborhood, or while they were doing the dishes, I would have all the success I’d ever want.

Today, as I write my middle grade novels in particular, I go back to young-Brandi’s goal. I ask myself what elements could make the story easier to play in. Maybe it’s adding something to a character’s appearance that would make a Halloween costume recognizable. Maybe it’s including props that could be duplicated at home. Maybe it’s a magic system with rhyming spells. The richer the world, the easier it is to jump in deep.

So why do I write for young people? Kids and teens tend to live in stories, share them socially, push the canon worlds created into new territory. And when they do, they give those books life beyond the confines it’s pages. I, for one, would be thrilled to provide the starting material and see what they build.

What do you consider when thinking about the audience or consumer of your work? I’d love to hear from you—comment below!


Haven’t yet read the interview with Krystal Becker, art model and artist, mentioned above? Find it here: Art Modeling and Creating Art with Krystal Becker

Similar posts: 

Collecting and Connecting – Two Years of Interviews

Create the World You Want to See

Where do ideas come from?

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Create the World You Want to See

our-liberty-signI’ve been thinking a lot in the past couple weeks about the subtitle I chose for this blog. Why not, “Story time!” or “Who brought the marshmallows?” or “Why to be careful checking out a stack of books about witchcraft because a student might think you’re trying to summon the devil”? (Another story for another time.)

See, people say teenagers think they’re invincible. But when I was a teenager, I was pretty disillusioned. Books had promised me a lot about this world. That good people would get what they deserved, and bad ones too. That friends were loyal and enemies could see the light. That I’d be able to make a difference. But around my junior year, most of those promises had been undelivered. I was also realizing how big in scope some of the world’s problems were, far beyond the power of a 16-year-old who couldn’t even vote. It started sinking in that maybe the world wasn’t going to turn out the way I’d thought it would and that there was nothing I could do about it. 

So, I sought solace in writing. If my real life didn’t have those things I wanted, at least I could write about them. In the online community, I met other readers who longed for those things, and we spoke to each other in story-form.

Then, I came across this quote by Chuck Palahnuik:

“The first step—especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money—the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”

My own beliefs had shifted through reading fiction, from the classics to amateur works. Writing had helped me work through my own beliefs regarding everything from what a good relationship should look like to what justice means. So when I read this quote, I decided instead of resigning myself to the world as it was, I could be active in making it better. My role? I would write the books.  

I really do believe that culture drives our society. TV shows, books, art, songs have ways of getting around the barriers of what we think we believe to pose different ideas for how things could be. They get shared across party lines as entertainment, but offer the opportunity to relate to someone different, even if that person is fictional.

The U.S., and maybe the world at large, recently revealed itself as far more divided than most of us ever understood. And a lot of people, especially young people, are wondering how to amplify their voices and change minds. 

Write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.

Create the world you want to see.

Urban Legends: The Hook

killer-820017_1280The babysitter and the creepy phone calls. The woman followed home by someone flashing their headlights. The “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights?” message.

I only recently discovered that not everyone’s childhood innocence was ax-murdered by these stories. For me, all you have to say is “urban legends” and I experience a mixture of emotions I can only describe as…nervous horror-glee. 

As a kid, I loved scary stories. I took those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books into the dark closet (the title’s instructions were clear, people) and would read them by flashlight. Most would leave my creepy little heart unsatisfied. I felt un-scare-able. 

Some of the urban legends are apparently in those books, but I remember my introduction to them coming when some family friends stayed the night. In the room of kids in sleeping bags, the oldest girl asked, “Have you ever heard any urban legends?” She shared a couple with us and due to the world having a sense of humor, the house alarm went off, and all of us screamed and screamed from the primal core of our being.

For those of you less familiar with these stories, I’ll start you off with the mildest one I know. For those of you who like to close your eyes during the scary parts of movies, feel free to skip past the next couple paragraphs.

A couple goes to a secluded lookout point for make-out funtimes. But, over the car radio comes an emergency bulletin—a patient has escaped from the local asylum. He is highly dangerous and can be recognized easily—he has a hook for a hand. The girl announces that make-out funtimes are OVER and asks to go home. The guy lock the car doors and assures her they’re perfectly safe. But the girl is not having any of that nonsense, pushes him away from her, and demands to be taken home. The guy, annoyed, peels out and drives her to her house, steaming the whole way. But when the girl gets out and goes to close her car door behind her, she shrieks. Hanging from her door handle is a bloody hook.

(I like to think this story has an epilogue in which the girlfriend waves the hook in her creep of a boyfriend’s face in the ultimate “I told you so,” then dumps him to look for a boyfriend who respects her boundaries and comfort. The hook might even remain on her shelf, baffling her parents, as a reminder to herself to always trust her instincts.)

Any research on what makes Urban Legends like these ones tick will tell you they’re morality tales, warning young people against all sorts of bad behavior. I’d argue they mostly warned me against babysitting. I’d also argue the morality part wasn’t what kept me staring wide-eyed at the ceiling all night long.

The thing about the classic urban legends is that in most of them, the main character makes it through unscathed. In other stories, the main character might be going through something terrifying, but they know what’s happening. And we can then look around our living rooms and say, “Well, I’m not being chased by a hooded figure, I guess I’m good to go.”

The way urban legends hook us (*wink*…yes, I’m a nerd) is by landing a twist where the main character realizes that danger was close without them knowing it. They tickle our spines with scenarios of people who feel something is off, but only later are shown how sickeningly off their situation really was. Someone was in the back seat the whole time. Someone was in the house. That clown statue wasn’t a statue at all. 

So, when we’re trying to sleep, these are the stories that make us ask, “Are you sure there’s nothing in the closet?” “Are you sure that creeping sense of unease should be dismissed?”

“Are you sure—really, really sure—you should turn on the lights?”

Happy Halloween! 

If you’d like to walk down a dark and twisted memory lane, or if you’re new to urban legends and want to not sleep for the next few days, here are some links to some classics if you don’t have a creepy friend to whisper them to you at a sleepover.

(Warning, a lot of the titles of the actual articles behind the link give away the twist, so if you’re really new to them, ask someone to tell you them without clicking.)

The Boyfriend

The Babysitter and the Phone Calls

The Clown Statue

The Dog

Flashing Headlights

Bedroom Light