Writing, writing conferences, writing tips

Lessons Learned at the WD Conference


Two words for the Writer’s Digest Novel Conference in L.A: Worth It!

A couple of weeks of craft workshops jammed into two and a half days may be overwhelming, but there was lots of value for $249.

Twenty plus pages of facts, thoughts, post-its to self, and business cards fill my note book so this will be a two parter.

I’ll start at the beginning and give some highlights. All of the speakers have websites and resources you can find through the links I’ve listed.

Keynote quote speaker Jonathan Maberry spoke on importance of being a good literary citizen,

“don’t be a jackass,”

“any completed first draft is a win even if it’s bad because you completed it.” 

1. An Intro to Structure That Empowers Plotters and Pantsers Alike and Your Story on Steroids- Larry Brooks, Storyfix.com gave us slam dunk specifics. There are too many notes to give here, but go to his site for the free downloads. A gem for me was:

“Know the difference between concept and premise. Develop these before writing the story.”

Believe me, I’m a pantser, now in recovery, and this tip helps tremendously:

“Concept: the dramatic landscape of story that is conceptual; the stage, or arena. No character names needed. Write this in two or three sentences.

Premise: the protagonist has to have a conflict to surmount, a quest. Define your story core.”

2-Your First 50 Pages – Jeff Gerke. This author/editor is the Jim Carrey of the writing world who talked about how neuroscience relates to storytelling.

“In publishing everything is decided on your first 50 pages-if even that.”

Writing has to cause the reader to identify with someone/something in the story. Make the protagonist vulnerable or have some kind of need. Engage the readers mind with action, intrigue, curiosity. The brain is looking for danger, surprise, something new, so start with that in the beginning.

Martha Alderson, Plot Whisperer with her graph
Martha Alderson, Plot Whisperer with her graph

3. Martha Alderson, the Plot Whisper. She uses a plot graph to show you how to correspond your novel with the beginning, middle, and end of a plot.

There are four types of scenes: suspense, dialogue, crisis, and twister.

Catch her detailed mini-workshops on YouTube where she shows you how to plot a novel or screenplay.

Every scene should have a setting…goal…sensory details…forward movement…opposition.. and emotion.

There is a difference between the crisis and the climax of a novel:

Crisis-the antagonist wins, protagonist loses. Climax-protagonist wins and learns everything in the middle.

4. Ask the Agent Panel. A list of pet peeves and suggestions:

Misspelled names…using the words ‘fiction novel,’ bad grammar, writers who don’t read the submission rules,…pitching at inappropriate times. 

As if on cue, when the Q & A period began, a woman pitched her book, “Anyone interested in….” Ugh, it wasn’t pretty.

Search for agents by using Query Tracker, Twitters #MSWL (manuscript wish list), or go to the bookstore, look for books in your genre and on the last page under acknowledgements, the agents name is usually listed. I use Poet and Writers agent listing.

One of the agents said she was looking for a YA set in prison. It was like the heavens opened up when I heard this statement. I had to make myself stop wiggling in my seat and wait for a time when I could tell her I had such a novel. During Q & A I said I had the novel she wanted,  she said send it to me.

Then  I asked a question: whether more emphasis was placed  on the query or the first 10 pages. Two out of three agents said the first pages.

I need 50 pages to know if a book is good, but only 1 to know it’s not.”


I hope you found something useful for your writing life. Investigate the presenters sites. Plan to attend a conference on writing craft. Invest in your writing.

If you have a specific question that I may provide information for, please ask me in the comment section.



Chingonas, Encouragement, Writing

Writing a Query Letter Sucks Sometimes

Getting to the gate
Getting to the gate

Ugh writing query letters suck. They are a necessity for the unpublished writer without an agent. Writing a good query is not for the faint of heart, you have to be in it for the long haul, you have to put on your big girl chones (panties) or big boy pants to write, rewrite, a few times. It takes a chingona to re-work a query and not give up.

You can moan and groan or look at the query letter as an adventure-with turbulence. The query letter is your calling card, your advertisement for your unborn baby (book) that you have worked on for months and years. The query letter is your ticket to the “Gatekeeper” who can unlock the giant fence that leads to another huge gate “Publisher.”

Writing the query letter doesn’t have to suck too much if you get a format down, work hard

at revising it after a critique, and follow the advice of literary agents who read query letters for a living.There are tons of articles on how to write a query letter.  

A search for “How to write a query letter ” yields about 3,560,000 results in 0.22 seconds.

It is very hard work assembling your story into a calling card that makes an agent say “I gotta have this manuscript…”

You only have one page, three or four paragraphs that have to seize the agent’s attention and keep him/her reading for more than 10 seconds.

Your query has to grab and hold that agent, make her nod her head and say, “This is promising…” Your query has to have her type “I’m interested…send me your full manuscript.”

When you get a request for full you do the “OMG” gasp, reread the email, do the happy dance, mouth a prayer of thanks, light a candle

and ask your friends to send their positive vibes, energy, and prayers into the universe for you.

Or maybe that’s just me.

happy dance
happy dance

Here are two formats I used when writing my query letters. At the end of the post I’ve copied a Twitter feed from the cool agents who are on Twitter’s #tenqueries. You can learn a lot from the rejection/pass stack. 

The first formula for a query is from Nathan Bransford’s blog:

[Agent name], [genre], [personalized tidbit about agent], [title], [word count], [protagonist name], [description of protagonist], [setting], [complicating incident], [verb], [villain], [protagonist’s quest], [protagonist’s goal], [author’s credits (optional)], [your name]

Now, look how your query turns out:

Dear [Agent name], I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent]. [protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal]. [title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author’s credits (optional)], and this is my first novel. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Best wishes, [your name]

Another formula is from Agent Query: 

  1. Paragraph One—The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and wind them in.
  2. Paragraph Two—Mini-synopsis: This is where you get to distill your entire 300 page novel into one paragraph: (approx. 150 words).
  3. Paragraph Three—Writer’s bio keep it short and related to writing.
  4. Your Closing: As a formal closing, be sure to do two things. First, thank the agent for her time and consideration. Only send what the submission guidelines specify.

The hashtag #tenqueries is for an agent  who goes through his or her query inbox and shares the reasons why they do or do not request a manuscript. This is the post from November 7, 2013. Read from bottom to the top: Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 4.05.11 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 4.06.48 PM November 8, 2013 Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 2.19.52 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 2.20.25 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 2.22.21 PM

This agent read 20 queries and requested two. The odds are slim but you can increase your odds by writing a great query and following the submission guidelines the agent has posted.

Now, go write and rewrite.  I hope you get to do the happy dance soon.