Should you write according to trends?

What, in your opinion, will be the hot topics in the next few years in the different genres? I mean, which way will the wind blow in horror, scifi, fantasy, romance, children’s, etc. For example, Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings films saw a boom in fantasy and wizardry, right?

Recently we had Beowulf, which seems to be setting the tone at the moment and I am eager to learn more about James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’. Do you think that such things affect the market and should people try to conscious of potential fashions when they write?

My advice

Never follow fashions. Granted, if you have a fantasy book finished or nearly complete just sitting around the house and suddenly fantasy is the big craze, then by all means spend all your free time trying to promote it, because it just might make it easier to sell.

On the other hand, don’t decide to write something because of the market; with as long as it takes to write and edit a novel, pitch it, and get it accepted and published, there’s a big chance you’ll miss “the craze” period.

I myself don’t follow trends. Books aren’t movies, and while movies have big hit time periods, loyal genre readers will read regardless of what’s at the theater. So instead I focus my attention on whether the submitted manuscript is great or not, and whether I believe that the genre readers would love that particular book, regardless of what’s “popular.”

As far as what’s “hot” right now, I really can’t and won’t say for books. For movies, it’s obvious that fantasy has taken off in the past few years, with Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings triology, and new kids movies such as the Waterhorse, the Spiderwick and Narnia chronicles. But how long that will last it’s hard to say. And remember–these movies took a few years each to make. So the writing aspect of the production was done even before that–so if you’re hoping to land a fantasy script in Hollywood, technically it needs to be done before the market is really “hot” for that genre.

Again, I wouldn’t focus on trends or what’s happening around the world. Instead focus on the writing, because even if you do try to get picked up in a science-fiction frenzy, if your book sucks–wait, no, if it’s even mediocre, then it’s not going to be picked up no matter how popular the genre.

Leave the trend-acolytes to those sanctimonious non-fiction writers who try to cash in immediately after major tragedies by writing so-called novels and autobiographies…

The minute details

One of the issues that many new writers have is the use of details — or, rather, the lack of. If you read my previous posts on using the five senses to detail your novel/short story, you will have some background information on what I’m talking about. Below is an extended example on how adding details really brings a scene to life.

EXAMPLE 1:

I slowed down as I neared the accident. I could see billowing clouds of smoke through the dark night air, and it blurred my vision and made it hard to see. My car passed through a dim cloud of the smoke, and the two cop cars suddenly appeared through the darkness.

Ok, not bad, right? I described what I saw, in the order that I saw it. So what’s the problem? Well, I only described what I saw, and nothing else. What happens when you pass through smoke? Do you just see it? Or do you smell it as well? Here’s a better example on how to write the above scene, adding more visual details as well as sounds and smells.

I slowed down slightly as my tires crunched over broken glass, I could feel the sharp edges though my seat as the tire ground them deeper into the asphalt. My car passed through a dim cloud of smoke, my air conditioning sucking up and blasting me with the pungent scent of burnt rubber and gasoline. I covered my nose with one hand, trying to breathe in the vanilla lotion rather than the smoky haze. Blue lights flashed everywhere, blinking rapidly and illuminating my dashboard and my hands on the wheel.

EXAMPLE 2:

After passing the cops, I was able to see the damage. There were three cars amid the police vehicles. One wasn’t damaged much, just a few dings in the front end. The car in the very front had the back end destroyed, the trunk caved in and paint gone. The middle car though, a small volkswagon, was a tragedy.

Again, what’s missing? In this section, it’s hard to add many sounds or smells, and no tastes, to the description as the narrator is describing a visual scene. So what to do? Beef up the description. Add in small details that your mind might pick up later after taking in the “bigger picture”…

There were three cars pushed together between the cops. The one farthest in the rear got it off the easiest—maybe needed a new bumper or just some good bodywork, being a large truck that probably helped. The first car’s rear end was destroyed, the trunk caved in and pushed down so that the license plate nearly faced the ground. The middle car, an old blue Bug with a green door, made my heart skip a beat.

EXAMPLE 3:

This last part of the example shows how to use what I call the “whirlpool effect.” What I mean by this is, start with the big details, the ones that a person would initially notice from afar. Then, work your way down the ladder of details to the smaller and finite ones that would probably be missed if you didn’t take a second glance. Many authors stop after the large overview is described, but trust me, it’s very important to add in these little details, which causes the reader to pause and take in the scene from a new perspective. The first example is written without the use of the “whirlpool effect”:

The bug had been smashed completely, folded like an accordion. The back end was flattened, as if the truck behind it had ridden on top of it and crushed it nearly to the ground. The windows were busted out, and the paint and handles trashed. The car was definately totalled, leaving almost nothing untouched.

Again, adding the small and mostly un-noticed details:

The Bug had been smashed between the two cars, folded like an accordion until it was close to only a third of the length it should have been. The back end was flattened, as if the truck had ridden on top of it and crushed it so that it sat no more than a foot off the ground. Every window was gone, the glass piled in heaps near the odd angled tires, glittering like precious jewels in the midst of the carnage. It seemed the only thing untouched was the gray tinted Jack Ball on their antenna, the little clown in his yellow hat smiling as if the whole thing was a joke and that everyone should forget about it and go out for burgers, then everything would be alright.

FINAL WORDS:

It’s a little extra work on the writer’s part, and it definately takes more time to sit back and re-think your scenes, but it’s definately worth taking the extra step. Not only will your scene details be more vivid and believable, it also helps you slow down in other parts of your story (dialogue, action, etc) to look at the finer details and make sure that you’re putting everything into your story that you can. It can only help.

Disturbing writing prompts

I get the question of “how to overcome writer’s block” more than you’ll ever know. So, to help out a bit, below is a list of ten strange, unique…disturbing…prompts to help kick your butts in gear if you’re in a writing slump, carefully put together by our editors and strange-but-surprisingly-helpful friends.

**Note. This list is odd, and not meant for young adult or children fiction. Please be aware. There, we warned you.**

1. You wake up in your college dorm bathroom. The only light is that filtering through the filmy windows high above the showers. You’re alone. You try the door, only to find yourself locked in. Then you realize that it’s the first morning of Thanksgiving break, and since the dorms were cleared out and locked, you’re stuck for the next four days. How do you entertain yourself?

2. You’re at home. You just got out of the shower, when the bathroom door starts shaking. A seven-inch long spider leg comes exploring under the crack at the bottom of the door. What’s worse, it’s got your spouse’s wedding ring looped around it’s hairy appendage…

3. You accidently run over the next door neighbor’s seeing-eye dog. How do you tell the nine-year old owner?

4. Back in the bathroom. You’re sitting on the toilet, and you hear a splash, even get a few droplets spattered your behind. You look down – your penis just fell off.

5. You come home from work early to find your dog reclined on the couch with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a cigarette.

6. Write an 800 word story about a small, red-headed boy named Claire. Though he’s nearly 13 he looks to be pushing eight, has a fear of anything that flies (especially hummingbirds) and is allergic to chocolate, peanut butter, wheat, strawberries, milk, and latex. He only has one limb (you get to choose).

7. You find a business card left under your windshield wiper that says: “Population controller and problem solver. 15% discount to all new customers, and an extra 10% for maltreated husbands.”

8. You’re at the hospital for your mid-term ultrasound. The doctor’s face pales and steps out of the room for a moment, muttering something to someone before he turns his attention back to you. With a slight frown, he twists the monitor so you can see. Your 20 week old baby has a five inch neck and a tail.

9. You’re falling asleep at your desk when your nose starts itching. You sneeze, and an earthworm slips out.

10. Imagine yourself inside of your favorite movie. Kill off the main character and take over his love life.

New cover update

Abaculus has been edited and resubmitted, we should get the final proof by Friday to review.

Here’s an image of the updated cover:
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Not following submission guidelines

Ok, so here’s the deal. Leucrota Press has explicit guidelines on what we are looking for in novels as well as how to go about sending it in. While the submissions for the most part have been following the “what we want” part, they’ve been ignoring the “how we want it” when it comes to electronic submissions.

Electronic Submissions

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of submissions where the author just puts “Here’s a submission for ya, hope you like it!” and then pasting their three chapters (and sometimes the entire novel) into the body of the email.

…In case you’re a little behind, that’s not what we want. It’s annoying as hell to read, a pain in the ass to try to copy and paste it into Word so that we can read it later, and we’re tired of doing it.

So, we’ve decided to stop.

Not only will your submission be immediately rejected, it won’t even be read. You will get a polite (well, polite by our standards) response saying “You failed to follow directions. Sorry.” And then we’ll hit send, then delete your previous email, and forget about you.

Sound harsh? Well, maybe a little. But you have to understand that it’s not anything different than what the “big guys” do. In fact, they might not even bother responding at all. So no, we’re not being mean. We’re being practical – it’s a waste of our times to deal with authors who can’t follow simple instructions on something as simple as an email.

Postal Submissions

As a quick note, those authors that have been submitting by mail have been rather good at following all directions. Though just remember to include all of the required materials when submitting by mail: ie. a SASE.

I recevied a submission last week with no SASE, and no email address. So, guess what, that means no response. Sorry dude.

Following Submission Guidelines

Please please please…carefully read the below comments regarding submission guidelines for Leucrota Press.

WE DO NOT ACCEPT CHILDREN’S FICTION, and we do not normally accept young adult fiction either. Every once in a while, I will take a look at a YA novel that rides the boundary between YA and adult fiction, as long as it is well-written, has all the necessary plot and character requirements, and manages to catch the attention of our scrupulous editors. However, this is extremely rare, almost never, and you should only submit your YA novel if you think it can bridge the gap between the two age groups.

Again…for those of you who weren’t listening.

WE DO NOT ACCEPT CHILDREN’S FICTION.

According to our submission guidelines on our website, we state that “books should be aimed toward a mature, well-read audience.” That means no stories to put children to bed at night, or tales of bad little boys and girls, and no talking bunnies – of course unless the bunny is going to go on a state-wide killing spree knocking off all artichoke-eating… you get the point.

Yet, over the last week, for some reason that is beyond me, I received more children’s story submissions than anything else – probably close to a three to one ratio. Why? Well, I’m not quite sure. We don’t put our press out as a kid-friendly place (despite me being in the process of having one, that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to publish stories for other people’s kids), nor do our submission guidelines welcome them.

We have talked about the possibility of an imprint in the future years for the miniature version of human beings, but alas, that time is not now, and may not ever be. So in the meantime, please quit sending in your fairy tales and bedtime story collections. No, we don’t want to see them. No, we’re not interested that you’re a parent of seven. And no, regardless of whether you’ve been a middle school teacher for 20 years or a children’s librarian for 30, we don’t care. Aaaaaaaand – we REALLY don’t care if you try to sell us on the moral undertones of your book teaching children it’s not the win that’s important but the journey there, or how to help your parents understand the need to be understanding to all races and ethnicities in your classroom…

Why?

Because WE DO NOT ACCEPT CHILDREN’S FICTION. And all of our editors are the most sarcastic and egocentric bastards on the face of this planet, so we don’t care much for cutesy-wootsy “moral of the story” lines…

How to write a novel synopsis

Below is a kind of question-answer article on the basics of a synopsis, how to write one, and what editors look for in a synopsis. Any questions, please post!

Why do you need to write a synopsis?

It provides prospective editors/agents with an overall and detailed summary of your novel, introduces the characters, plot and setting, and gives a brief glimpse at your writing style and ability.

When should you write the synopsis?

Either before you write the book, during, or after. Though chances are, if you start writing it at the beginning, you will have to do some major revisions as your plot changes, characters come and go, or you scrap one of the scenes entirely.

If you start writing the synopsis before the book, it will serve more as a guideline or outline for your writing; just be sure to remember that it’s not set in stone, and that you can make changes to both the plot and synopsis. Though it does help to have a basic one-page “draft” of the “stuff” in your novel to refer back to as you work.

So, what exactly is a synopsis?

As stated above, it’s a short 1-2 page summary of your novel that provides prospective editors/agents with an overall and detailed summary, introduces the characters, plot and setting, and gives a brief glimpse at your writing style and ability. It’s extremely important because editors want to know exactly what happens in the book; it is not the same thing as the back blurb on a printed book. It gives out much more information and details, no cliffhangers.

What tense is it written in? What about perspective or style?

The synopsis is usually written in present tense—this way it makes a bigger impact on the reader, and will push the action forward more in such a small space. It can be written in either first or third person—that really depends on how your book is written. For example, if your book is in third person, you don’t want to write in first person. As far as style, try to mirror the style you use in your manuscript, this way the editor gets an idea of what the rest of the book will be like, and whether you have mastered that particular writing style. In other words, if your book is humorous, dialect-bloated, or dark, make sure the synopsis is the same.

What do you need to accomplish in the synopsis?

Several things, actually. And since you only have 1-2 pages (depending on the house) you need to do it quickly and cleanly:

1) Introduce your main characters

2) Introduce main conflicts

3) Explain the overall plot

4) Describe setting: time, place, world, etc.

5) Give a clear idea of what the novel is actually about

6) Include the conclusion. Tell who wins, who dies, what happens to everyone and why. Cliffhangers are hated—and will cause a manuscript to be rejected nine times out of ten.

Should I put characters names in ALL CAPS?

This really depends on each house. Some publishers like it to call out the names of characters, and to bring attention each time a new character is mentioned.

We at Leucrota Press hate it. We feel ALL CAPS belong in a script, not a novel, and that it’s distracting and unprofessional. You shouldn’t have to call out your characters name to bring attention to him/her—if you wrote the synopsis clearly and coherently, the writing should point them out on its own. You don’t need blinking signs and screaming kids to make an editor pay attention to your synopsis. That all depends on your writing.

How should I structure the synopsis?

1) Put your name, the manuscript title, and a contact number or email address in the top header. Be sure to keep it short—as you’re taking away space on the page from your summary.

2) Start at the beginning. Open your synopsis with the beginning of the book, telling what starts the plot moving forward, introduce the characters as they come, and the subplots as they arise.

3) Make sure your paragraphs flow logically and smoothly to the next, so that the editor isn’t distracted by choppy sentences, or has to go back and reread a paragraph if they get lost.

4) Use transition sentences. (If you don’t know what those are, stop now and break your writing hand so as to stop the madness.)

5) End with the ending of the novel. There is no need to explain the ending, why you chose that to happen, go into detail about the last scene, etc. Just say what happens at the end.

A Checklist for your synopsis:

1) Does your first paragraph contain a hook to grab the editor’s attention?

2) Do you mention all of your main characters?

3) Are the conflicts clearly defined?

4) Have you described where the story happens? When?

5) Are all of the main subplots mentioned?

6) Have you touched on every major advancement in the plot?

7) Have you said what happens at the end?

8 ) Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

9) Check your tense—make sure it’s in present.

10) Is your name and the title of your novel on it?

11) Reread it. Sit back and think about it. Does it sound like a book you’d like to read? Does it stand up to some of the other books that you’ve read and loved?