Wednesday

Tip of the Week 11/18/09

Tip of the Week: Always read all of the directions, and then follow them.

Now before all of the people who entered the contest worry that I'm talking about them, calm down. I'm not. In fact every single person who entered my contest had a perfect entry -- just the way I wanted it.

However, I thought of this tip because I've been reading submissions for The Bloom Award over at Blooming Tree Press, and there people have not always been as successful. Remember when it says double-spaced, it means double-spaced. Not 1 1/2 spaced, not triple spaced. Double spaced.

Sunday

One Page Summary Contest Information

This year, I'm running a one page summary contest. All entries should be a one page plot summary of a manuscript you have written. The top 5 entries will be posted and discussed on this blog (pending author approval of course). The top fantasy/sci fi/adventure/mystery summary will have its full manuscript requested for consideration for publication by CBAY Books. The top summary in any genre will have its full manuscript requested for consideration for publication by Blooming Tree Press. Since neither press is taking unsolicited manuscripts, this is a great chance to potentially have your work looked at.

To enter, email your summary to onepagesummary@gmail.com by 11:59PM (PST) Tuesday, November 17. Obviously this is a special email that I have set up specifically for this contest, so you don't have to worry about your entry being lost amongst my normal email chatter. Also, that means that you should title your email the title of your work. Please then place your summary in the body of your email. Do not attach anything. If you submit your summary as an attachment, I will delete it without opening and reading it. Also in your email, please before your summary include a one sentence line telling me the genre and age group (chapter book, midgrade, or YA) that the book is intended for.

And finally, here are the rules. Please read them all:
  1. This contest is open to any one page summary written for a fiction chapter book, midgrade, or YA novel.
  2. No non-fiction.
  3. Your summary must be for a work that you have already completed. If you win and I ask for your manuscript, you must be able to supply it immediately.
  4. Your summary must be a plot summary. Do not include teasers.
  5. Plot summaries must not exceed 300 words.
  6. I know I said this above, but NO attachments. I'm serious.
  7. All entries are due by 11:59 PM (PST) Tuesday, November 17. No exceptions.
I hope to be able to notify the top 5 by this Friday, and then run one summary a day next week. The top two winners will be announced on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Any questions? Put them in the comment section here, or message my profile over at Get Me Out of the Slushpile!.

Saturday

Book of Nonsense Audio

The Book of Nonsense has been made into an audio book (and not by me)!

A while back, I sold the Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air the audio rights for this work, and now, the long awaited (by me and the author) audio book is now available for pre-release download. Technically, the audio book hasn't been released yet so you won't find it on itunes or amazon or the like for now. But, if you are as impatient as me, you'll be glad to know that it is up on lulu.com.

And if you would like to hear a preview in all its coolness, click here. When I did it just automatically played on quicktime. I had nothing to do with it, so I don't know if that's just because my computer already had it or if it requires it.

Wednesday

Tip of the Week 11/11/09

Tip of the Week: To get your one page summary started, try writing a single sentence for each chapter that highlights the main event.

Trying to write a summary for your own work can sometimes be a daunting task. This is a simple way to get yourself started if you hit a roadblock. It can also help you determine if you've missed something in your plot.

Tuesday

More One Page Summaries

Like I said yesterday, a one page summary divulges the entire plot of your novel. Another word for it would be a plot summary. So, to help people understand what I mean by plot summaries, I went and found a few good ones on the web.

The first one is the plot summary for Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet. You can find it on wikipedia here. Just look at the part of the page labeled "Plot Summary," not all the other things on the page.

This summary does a good job of detailing out every major plot point in an interesting manner. Granted, it contains lots of spoilers, but that's exactly what an agent or editor wants in a plot summary. They want to see the entire plot arc.

Now because this book is one in a series, the plot summary does not have to introduce the main characters. It's assumed that the reader, in this case random wikipedia readers, are already familiar with the characters in question. If you are pitching another book in a series to an editor who is familiar with your characters, then you can also be as brief about your characters. Otherwise, you would want to tell a sentence about each major character.

Another great source of plot summaries are any of the study guides designed for students. As an example, I've linked to SparkNotes plot summary for Treasure Island. You can see the page here.

These plot summaries are designed for students who do not have time (or desire) to read the assigned books. In a short summary, SparkNotes, Cliff Notes, and the like tell the reader about key characters and all major plot and subplot points. These are the same things an editor or an agent needs to see when they are trying to determine if they would like to read a certain work.

So, keep practicing on those summaries. Remember, the best will have their manuscripts requested.

Sunday

One page summaries

One of the key parts of a query letter is the one page summary or synopsis of your work. This is literally what it sounds like -- a one page, single spaced summary of your novel from beginning, middle to end. Unlike your query letter, cover letter, or pitch, you do want to give away the whole story. You want the editor or agent to be able to tell what is going on. They key is to also entice them.

I have found that the best one page summaries are the ones that almost read like a micro-story with no scenes. Obviously it's impossible to retell a thirty thousand word novel in three hundred words and leave in things like scenes or descriptions. This is pretty much the only time you should be doing all telling and no showing. But that doesn't mean your writing skills should disappear. This is still a writing sample. After all if you can't entice the editor/agent with your synopsis, then you probably aren't going to be able to get them to read the entire work.

So that leads me to the writing pompt for this week. Take your finished novel and write a one page summary. And you might want to consider participating in the prompt this week. Over at Get Me Out of the Slushpile! you can post your summary and recieve feedback from me and other people. Please do not post your summary as an attachment. To make it easier for everyone, just paste it into the body of a post.

Then after everyone has had a week to receive comments and revise, I'm going to run a small one page summary contest. The top 5 I'll post and discuss in 2 weeks, and the top general one (chapter book, mid-grade, YA -- any genre/topic) and the top midgrade or YA -- SF, fantasy, mystery, or adventure novel will have their full manuscript requested (the general for Blooming Tree, the more specific genred one for CBAY). More details and rules will be posted next week. But just FYI, all entries will be due Tues. Nov. 17. But like I said, I'll post all the details next Sunday. This week is devoted to practice.

- Posted via iphone

Friday

Weekend Discussion

So far I've mentioned what I don't like to see in a mystery story, but what exactly goes into making a good mystery? Here are my ideas for a fun, exciting mystery:
  1. Logic
    In the end, the mystery has to make sense. As part of this, the characters have to be consistent, the timeline should be linear, and all relevant information must have been presented. When the detective explains at the end how he figured it out, the reader should feel a little surprised that they weren't able to figure it out too. After all, the solution should make sense.
  2. Red Herrings
    Of course, one of the reasons the reader didn't figure it out is by the liberal use of red herrings. This is where the author gives great literary weight to inconsequential things but pays only a passing glance to relevant, important information. Agatha Christie is great at hiding the obvious amongst a plethora of random facts. In almost all of her mysteries the most obvious solution is the correct one -- the husband kills the wife, the wife kills the husband, etc. In fact, these people are almost always suspected in some way or other before initially being exonerated. She confuses the issue with so many false (but plausible) trails that everyone gets taken in. In fact, if someone is serious about writing a mystery, even one without murder, I would recommend reading Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Quite a bit can be learned about mystery plotting by studying these books.
  3. Protagonist Solves the Mystery Him/Herself
    This is the problem I come across the most when reading mystery manuscripts. The piece will be proceeding in a normal mystery fashion and then instead of the kid solving the mystery, a helpful (normally adult) person steps in and explains it all. This is the big difference between Harry Potter 1 & 2 and Harry Potter 3-7. In the first 2, Harry and friends figure everything out on there own each time. They discover what's being hidden in Hogwarts or the location of the Chamber of Secrets and the type of beast within all by themselves. In the rest of the books, Dumbledore tells Harry everything. This doesn't make them bad books but it just makes them mysterious instead of actual mysteries.
Those are some of the things that I think make a great mystery. What do you think makes one? Join the discussion at Get Me Out of the Slushpile!

Thursday

Review of the Week

Enola Holmes Series
By Nancy Springer
By far, this is one of my favorite mystery series being written for kids right now. The series begins with Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes's eccentric mother disappearing, leaving behind a significantly younger sister. In their usual lack of tact, the men decide to pack 14-year-old independent minded Enola off to boarding school. Enola has other ideas. Thus begins her adventures in dodging her brothers and running her own rival detective agency.

These books are classic mysteries with clues, red herrings, and lots of deductive reasoning. Enola has to decipher codes in various mediums, use disguises, spy out the land, and practice self-defense. For kids who want a classic mystery, these books are some of the best out there. And for those authors who are looking to write mysteries, studying the way Springer arranges her plots would be most instructive.

I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Wednesday

Tip of the Week 11/4/09

Tip of the Week: When writing a genre book, especially a mystery, be sure to research, research, research.

Now obviously you don't want to read so many books in your genre so many times that you start subcounciously plagarising them, but you do want to be familiar with your genre's conventions. As an editor (and as a reader), there is nothing more frustrating than reading a book that you expect to work out one way, only to have it somehow mess up out of ignorance. It's one thing to have a book conciously flaunt its genre's conventions and work. It's quite another to accidentally omit hallmarks of the genre and have the piece not work out.

Monday

Well, my Twitter/Facebook update experiment is over. I generally let everyone see what one of my week's was like. Of course, it wasn't entirely accurate because I got too stressed on Friday to try to do posts. I also worked a little Saturday and a lot Sunday. It was one of those weeks where I don't get a day off. Sigh. The joys of being your own boss.

However, now we're back to the normal editorial fare for this blog. And this week, I though we'd talk about my favorite genre of all: the mystery.

I think there is a sad lack of pure mysteries in the midgrade and YA age ranges. You find lots of mystery chapter book series and hundreds of adult mysteries, but not that many midgrades and YAs. And of the midgrades and YA mysteries you do find, they almost always cheat.

For example, in Chasing Vemeer when the painting uses supernatural means to tell the children where it is, that's not solving a mystery. It's cheating. Or in Getting the Girl when the author withholds crucial information that would have solved the mystery early on, but the mystery isn't solvable without it, that's not a great mystery. It's cheating.

So, this week instead of a writing prompt, I thought we could have an extra discussion. I am interested in knowing what are some of the great midgrade and YA mysteries that you've read. Go to the forum for Buried in the Slushpile to join the discussion I started there.