Archive for the ‘Writing Tips’ Category

Open Book: How to Create An Elevator Pitch for Your Novel

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

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    My long time friend asked me what my novel was about.  I stammered and blurted out some incoherent description. (Don’t laugh! At least I remembered to mention the protagonist.)
    This brain freeze, unlike Governer Rick Perry, was not a matter of forgetting, but a matter of not having a succinct pitch scripted.
    What if that had been a literary agent or an editor I was pitching my book to?  How long would you would stick around until I got my act together?  
     In the business world, that one compelling sentence is called an elevator pitch. You have exactly 30 seconds to introduce yourself and entice them to get to know you.  This is what you need to do with your novel…write an elevator pitch that will sell your novel to whomever will listen.  
     An elevator pitch is one or two power pact sentences that not only identifies who you are, but also tells the person to whom you are talking to what you do, implying how you can help them make life easier or solve a problem.  The elevator pitch for a novel introduces your protagonist and his conflict. It tells the person how he will benefit by not only spending money to buy your book, but also what will he derive from spending his coveted leisure time reading your story. Your one sentence summary needs to convince him that he will get the satisfaction of learning something or being entertained.  Maybe you will transport him to another place far from the pressures of his life, even it is only for a few hours.  Or maybe he can live vicariously through your protagonist? 
     Randy Ingermanson, also known as the Snowflake Guy, recommends that fiction writers start with a one sentence plot summary.  He points out that who is going to know and love your story more than you do.
     A solid one sentence summary will anchor your story to a plotline and be the guide to decide what scenes advance your story. It will be the single best marketing tool to sell your story.  It will help you sell your idea to a literary agent, to a publishing house, to your editor, to the book sellers, and most importantly, to your readers.
    Ingermanson suggests that the sentence should be 20 words or less.  That means every word has to work to remain. No extraneous adjectives, no subplot inclusions.  Simply your novel’s compelling storyline.
    Here’s some basic rules to create yours:

1.  Ingermanson’s 20 word limit.
2.  Sentence includes protagonist, conflict, and a sense of context (either cultural, venue, political etc)
3.  Power verb such as coerces, endangers, or challenges. (You get the idea.)

    Ask yourself: If your book title and one sentence summary appeared on a booklist, would you be tempted to spend $15 to buy the book if you weren’t the author?  Does it have a strong enough hook? Who will the book appeal to?

Let’s take a simple basic boy meets girl plotline and see how we can craft a good summary sentence.  Remember, the real writing is in the rewriting, so this exercise may take you more than 10 seconds.  It may take you hours, even days to decide if the sentence is the best one when you announce the birth of your baby (novel).

Draft summary sentence:  An athlete puts his girlfriend in a difficult position when he uses her to advance his career. (17 words)

Second draft: A struggling soccer player betrays a middle-aged female when he uses her contacts to advance his career. (17 words)

Third draft:  A struggling soccer player betrays a lonely female advertising executive when his romantic involvement with her threatens her company. (19 words)

   Now, what if I include an ethnic reference? She is Asian and he is Ukrainian. How will that color the summary?

    Last and most important.  You finished the best one sentence summary ever.  Now you have to memorize it.  You have to be able to rattle it off as if it were an involuntary reflex.  Live the sentence.  Breathe it.  And then, you will claim it with confidence. 

     Like that 30 second elevator pitch, you want to grab the person’s attention.  You want them to be so intrigued that they ask you for more information…like “Where can I get your book?”






Open Book: Grammar Rules You Can Break

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Did you ever write a sentence and wonder if it was acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition?  Or begin a sentence with a conjunction?  Or write the way we talk?  Me too.  Even though I have seen magazines, printed articles, and newspapers write in an informal style, bucking up against Strunk and White’s Elements of Style somehow seemed incorrect.  (I have to admit that my elementary education had brainwashed me as far as grammar rules and the mighty diagramming sentences tool.)

A couple of days ago, Erik Decker posted the blog The writing rules you’re allowed to break  You don’t have to wonder any more whether you are the writing rebel.  Decker lists 5 common rules of grammar that have gained flexibility over the years.

1. You CAN end sentences with a preposition.           
2. You CAN start a sentence with or, and or but.
3. You do not have to start a sentence with a dependent clause.  You can end with one, if it makes more sense and doesn’t form a misplaced modifier (a dependent clause should be adjacent to the noun it describes).
4. You CAN use incomplete sentences sparingly.
5. A sentence DOES NOT always have a subject, verb and an object.  A paragraph is not always contain three to five sentences.        

These bendable rules are nothing new to the slick, contemporary magazine writers.  

However, one writing rule you CANNOT break is that every successful writer knows his audience.  (Decker should have added a sixth rule…You CAN use the pronoun he in a sentence to refer to an individual.  For a decade or so, it was a political taboo to choose a gender. The only way around this is to either reword the sentence to avoid using pronouns reflecting gender or adding the words “he and/or she” everywhere in an article.  Both options halted the flow of thought and sounded awkward.  So kudos to society for allowing the use of either one gender or the other.)  If your audience are professionals, writing along the accepted grammar rules is expected.  Anything less might decrease your credibility. 

For the details of the permissible writing rule changes, click on Decker’s blog:   

10 Ways to Build Your Writer's Platform

January 3, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Create your website.  This is your calling card, your business card.  It is evidence to the world that you are committed to writing.  Obviously, you do not have to wait until your published to start a website.  You should begin NOW.  It will take time, especially if you haven’t created one before. A website will establish a following, so that when you get your first book published, you can announce its birth!

2. Blog or write for an established website.  There are websites out there that pay you (minimally, of course. Common now, you have to earn the title of a starving artist.).  Check out Suite 101 or  This provides an income stream and exposure.

3. Capitalize on your niche.  Pick a theme or specialty and wrap your writing, your website, your promotions around that theme.  For example, if I am a dog lover and all my writing should be about dogs — my website, blogs, newsletters. etc.

4. Give talks about your specialty.  Many of us like to talk about writing, because that is what we do.  Be kind to your target audience.  Only writers like to hear about writing. For all the rest of the world, it is a snore.  That is why you build up your exposure talking about Not What You Do necessarily, but WHAT YOU KNOW.  People flock to topics on how to solve or resolve their dilemmas.  If you are writing fictional mystery stories, then maybe your talks will revolve around weapons.  Or say you are a romance writer, then your talk might be about the pros and cons or comparisons between online dating services such as,, or

5. Print up business cards.  These are handy and more professional than writing your telephone number or email address on a scrap of paper.

6. Offer a product.  Let’s say your book is about dogs.  What about selling t-shirts promoting you, your book, or dogs online?

7. Participate in online communities and forums.  Focus on building your writing platform by offering thoughtful comments and helpful information.  If possible, leave your website address under your name after your contribution.

8. Sell or donate articles or parts of your book to magazines and newspapers.  Writing for free can be a great way to getting noticed.  Remember to leave your email address or website address, if you can. At the very least get that byline.

9. Offer to teach classes or hold your own workshop.  You get some money for your efforts, while building your exposure.

10.  Depending on your niche and topic, get an organization to commit to buying 100 copies of your book.  Include that letter of commitment with your book proposal.  For example, if you wrote an inspirational story about a sales person.  Might not any large company like IBM think this would be a great book for their sales training…or to inspire new employees?

One word of caution.  All these suggestions will take time to implement.  And once implemented, you will have very little time for what you really want to do…and that is write.  So, guard your time wisely.  Think out your game plan…get your family to help…then, put it into ACTION.

Thumbs up for Noah Lukeman's New e-Newsletter

July 21, 2009 Leave a comment

I like Lukeman’s writing style.  It is succinct, content rich, and conversational in tone.  When his e-newsletter showed up in my email box, I was excited to see what he had written. 

If you are trying to break into publishing, Lukeman’s contributions are a must read.  He gives insight into why some books bubble up to the top of the slush pile and some crash and burn at the query level.  So, increase your odds of your writing being discovered; follow his suggestions.

 You won’t regret taking the time to read the advice in Lukeman’s e-newsletter. Also included is  a thumbs up free e-book on How to Write a Great Query Letter.  (As I read the e-book, I can only imagine some of the queries he has read over the years.  It must be the comic relief of his occupation!)

Chapter by Chapter

September 10, 2008 Leave a comment

When I first thought about writing a novel, I immediately thought not of character or plot, but how I was going to organize 300 or more pages and move through the scenes and chapters deftly.

My first thought is to use notecards.  This simple, old-fashioned way of tracking and moving scenes has been updated by computer notecards, but nevertheless, every bit as effective.  My next thought was using Adobe Pagemaker.  It is an excellent software package that enables the writer to see how the words will lay on the finished page.  It anchors images and can format the pages so the layout will stay consistent.  I had an old copy of Pagemaker and remembered that the extensions on the saved documents didn’t easily lend itself with sharing documents on other word processing software.  Realistically, buying the updated version was not cost effective.

So, I found the second best thing to notecards. Chapter-by-Chapter (CbC)is free.  Here’s the link:

CbC mimics the outlining style of Pagemaker.  It isn’t as robust, but who really uses all those features?
This is a simple but powerful program whose goal is to make writing your novel easier to write. You write the pages in a Word document and then tie it to a outline format, so you can visibily see how your story line unfolds.  It allows you to move sections of text to other pages and reformats changes.

I just discovered this tool, so I haven’t had a chance to use it myself. Check it out and let me know how this works for you.

Lucky Bamboo

August 7, 2008 Leave a comment

Lucky Bamboo

 I took a photo of three bamboo stalks a while back.  What interested me was the curling.  As I looked at the stalks, I realized that in its simpleness there is much symbolism. 

Bamboo is a Chinese symbol for longevity.  It earned this distinction because if you ever had bamboo grow in your yard and tried to get rid of it, you realize that bamboo is hardy.  It springs back even when you have pulled all the stalks year after year.  The bamboo root system is extensive and prolific.  Despite my efforts to eradicate the plant, every year the tender stalks poke their way through the underbrush.  Its endurance and adaptability are a lesson to us all that the secret to a long, happy life is to go with the flow.

It is significant that there are only three stalks in this vase.  You’ve heard people say that “things happen in three’s.” 

Three seems to have a completeness about it.  Many phases of life and other references exhibit how three is important in understanding higher concepts of life.  Take these for example:

  • child/adult/senior
  • mother/father/child
  • life/death/rebirth (meaning life after death).
  • birth/life/death
  • red, blue, yellow – the 3 primary colors with which all other colors are created
  • three phases of the moon
  • three wishes for a genie
  • three wise men
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • physical, mental and spiritual
  • thought, word and deed
  • animal, vegetable and mineral

In writing combinations of three also appear:

  • beginning, middle, end
  • creating a scene: goal, conflict, disaster
  • creating a sequel: reaction, dilemma, decision
  • three acts in a play
  • rising action, climax, denouement

If you are looking for some real insight, I don’t have any.  I’m just writing whatever comes to my head in the early hours of the morning (1:22 AM).  I could go on and make some connection to the fact that the stalks remain green all year round.  And maybe there is something symbolic in that the leaves, which are much more tender than an oak, are few and appear at the end of the stalk. 

This exercise shows what can happen when you let your mind wander, connecting the dots between the universal truths and that which is real and concrete.  Every writer needs the ability to dream, because that is his or her well of inspiration.


Embellishing the Simple Storyline

June 21, 2008 1 comment

You want to come up with something unique.  You want to find a subject or topic that will sustain you through the marathon writing process.  And whether you are a first time novelist or written 25 books, you are forever searching for that novel idea that will bubble to the surface and have universal appeal.

Every story has been told.  You know that…think.  How many ways can you write about a romance? 

Boy meets girl.  Boy and girl enjoy each other’s company eventually.  Girl gets annoyed, disappointed, or hates boy.  Boy finds a way to make amends.  Boy and girl get back together on some level.

Here’s what is going to make your romance novel different.  You are going to find two unique individuals.  They are in opposition in thought, ideals, careers.  Pick one that your readers will find interesting and will be able to identify.  Then, throw in some “what ifs.”  What if it were set in NYC?  How would it change if it were in Kansas? Or set in Alaska?  Or in Jakarta? 

What do we have so far?  Two unique individuals engaged in an opposing viewpoin and living in a locale embracing who these two are or completely challenging them.  The venue is like a silent character.  Bring texture to your novel by selecting a venue that will heighten the differences or be symbolic of the conflict betwen them.  For example, did the inclusion (like a jounralist’s sidebar) of a mother bear protecting her young, emphasize the nurturing characteristc in the female protagonist?  Or is the salmon’s run to its spawning place highlight a male protagonist goal? 

These examples are stereotypical of the male and female role.  What if you have the nature image switched?  What if you show the male bear protecting its cub and pair that up with the male protagonist?  How does that subtly change the message?

None of your stories will be originals.  What makes them unique and yours are the elements you choose to craft the storyline.  You also bring your unique viewpoint and personality.  These are the things that mask the underlying storyline and tug at the reader’s emotional heartstrings.  Think of all the possible combinations and permutations that are embedded in the simple storyline.  When there are too many similar combinations, we recognize that and think it was a ripoff of another more familiar story.  So use your unique experience and writing style to make the story yours.

A good story has all its elements intertwined and working to support other story elements.  If you are cognizant of why you choose what you decide to include in your novel, you will increase your storytelling power.  Like a large jigaw puzzle, there are pieces that almost fit and really look like they do fit because they are so close in color and shape. But upon closer examination you can tell they don’t quite fit.  The puzzle pieces are not pressed snugly against each other, a small gap along one curve.  To leave that one piece in the wrong place, will not change the result— a piece or many pieces left over; there will be unanswered story threads.   And therefore, under the critical eye of the reader, your novel won’t rate a “WOW!”  It will solicit an: “Oh.”



Stuck for an Novel Idea? Try this.

June 15, 2008 Leave a comment

If you are a writer…and even if you aren’t a writer, there comes a day when you face a blank piece of paper or the glaring whiteness of a blank computer page.  I’m sure you’ve heard the “write what you know about” and still find yourself scratching your head for a topic or theme. 

Why not start here?  Instead of trying to pick a theme or topic, another approach is to define who you would like to read whatever you want to write.   Is it for men?  Women?  Both genders?  For fishing lovers?  Baseball fans?  You get the idea.

Once you get the demographics down, think about what that group of people would like to read about, if you were one of the group.  Oh no, you don’t know anything about that topic?   It is easier to write about something you know, so now your task is to get to know something about whatever you’ve chosen.  Do the research.  Get to know people in the field.  Ask questions. People love to talk about what they know best.  And most people I’ve found are very generous with their time when they trust you.  (and in the process, you might discover a new best friend.  How cool is that?)

While you are interviewing, listen carefully, because the people will tell you stories and subtext, which you will convert into sidebars.  Since I am focusing on novel writing, these stories become your subplots.   You have a bunch of notes, story clips, venue descriptions and vocabulary (topic jargon) at your disposal.  This information is the basis for your skeletal outline.

If you didn’t find story lines in your interviews, you either didn’t ask enough questions, not listening hard enough, or couldn’t get the person to open up.  If this is the case, while you are honing your interviewing skills, find subplots from newspaper and magazine articles (things that happen in everyday).

Now you’ve got the bits and pieces.  Take what you now know and see if you can find a common denominator for a theme.  It could be forgiveness, courage, or love.  See how the main plot and the subplots highlight the theme.  Write it down because if you are like me, brilliance only strikes once.

Once you got this in place, you can start breathing life into your characters.  Do character sketches so you have a backstory and motivation.  Remember each major character must have a goal.  Since goal to me sounds so clinical, I prefer calling it a yearning, something that the character must have to make him or herself feel happy, satisfied or whole.

Whatever you call it, make sure the yearning is clear.  This is what is going to have the readers hooked.  We readers want the feeling of rooting for the character.  We can identify with that void and need to have it fulfilled.

Good luck and let me know how this works for you.


The Four P's for Success

May 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday I visited a psychic for fun.  I do that every so often.  I had never been to this particular person before and am always amazed at the range of intuition.  As I have mentioned in my blog, I have a problem with staying focused on writing projects.  I thought that maybe I had a problem with fear of the blank page, fear of success, fear of criticism, or fear of finding out the very thing I thought I had a talent for was wrong. 

Yesterday’s reading was not so much a look into the future, but a recap of what is here and now.  The psychic accurately described of me and my family in the present without much information from me.

What was most revealing was my inability to settle down and write took a new light.  The psychic said I have the interest, the talent, and the opportunity.  Apparently, what I heard was that my passion is anemic.  I am not passionless, but I do present to the world a more controlled feeling about me. The good thing was knowing I wasn’t suffering from all those common fears of writing.  My issue is unique.  I have passion for writing, but apparently, not enough. 

So the big question is HOW do I fix that  — Lack of Passion.  Maybe I shouldn’t refer to is as a lack of passion but more like a controlled passion.  How do I ratchet that desire up?  Let’s hold this thought while I back track to get to the meat of this blog —the four P’s for Success. 

In the 1980’s an article by Bill Cosby appeared in the Washington Post magazine about the four P’s for success  — passion, persistence, patience, and practice.   (see the word passion mentioned…)

If you are short of any one of these four P’s, you are not going to reach your potential, Cosby implies.  Cosby may be right.  When I think about successful writers —Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, and Ken Follett.  Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the list goes on and on.  They all possess the four P’s.

Bill Cosby pointed out that talent wasn’t necessary for success, but it sure makes the road to success a whole lot easier.  You have to admit that we have all read books that we couldn’t get passed the first page, much less 200 more pages of the same writing.  You wonder: “How did this person ever get published?  You think you could write a novel better than what you just read.  And maybe you can. 

Well, let’s look at that not-so-talented person in light of the 4 P’s and how this person  (Ms. Write) achieved her goal. 

PASSION: Ms. Write probably read a novel and said those very words “I can write a novel as good or better than the one I just read.”  Her characters start sharing their lives with her and she becomes engrossed in the conflicted emotional lives of her new friends.  She has no end, but trusts that she will know when she gets there, when the denouement plays out, when all the characters have resolved their conflicts for good or for bad.  Her passion swells directly proportional to her emotional investment on each page.

Passion for Ms. Write means sacrifice.  She has to finish the scene, the chapter, the story.  Despite her long hours at work, being a mother to her children, her husband, a myriad of other equally demanding events that pepper the day, she has to write.  She is compelled to sit at the computer between 11 and 2 in the morning. 

Suggestions to increase passion:

1. Get a mentor or join a writing workshop.
2. Start journaling – Write about your desires and hopes.  See if that amps up the motivation. 
3. Create a time line for a project.  Post the time line so that it is visible every time you sit at your computer.
4. Find someone who shares your passion for writing so that you can keep your writing in the forefront.
5. Start listing the items you have to do for the day and be sure that writing is on the list, but receives priority attention.  This means it is one of the top three activities you hope to accomplish for the day.  If your writing appears at the bottom of the list, you are more than likely never going to get to it, or maybe if you do, time, tiredness or something else will short out your efforts to complete your daily goal.

PERSISTENCE: Despite the unending interruptions, the not-really understanding family, Ms. Write keeps plugging away at her novel.  She sets goals for herself, tiny benchmarks to push her to the finishline.  She doesn’t allow herself to succumb to excuses, even when her novel doesn’t unravel as smoothly as she would like. 

Suggestions to improve your persistence:

1.  Reward yourself.  Be creative.  Shopping is not necessary.
2.  Talk about your writing and how excited you are about it to your family.  If you tell them you need time, they will surely give you space to create.  Just be sure that you don’t alienate them by ignoring their needs and feelings totally.  There will be times where you will have to make sacrifices, such as go to a school play when you would rather be writing a Broadway play. 
3.  When you set your goals, your timeline, make it reasonable.  You don’t want to get discouraged with unrealistic expectations.
4.  Persistence is finding alternative routes around obstacles to reach your goals.  Never quit.

PATIENCE:  Patience is necessary on two levels.  The first is that Ms. Write has to be patient with herself, because she hasn’t written before.  She will have to figure out how stories are told, how to strike a balance when juggling character information.  And secondly, she needs patience when she starts to submit her work.  She can’t give up with the first rejection.  She needs to learn something from each submission.

Suggestions for more patience:

1.  Sometimes taking a quiet moment and meditating on what is being asked of you will make a world of difference.  Learning how to channel the impulse to have things instantaneously will be quelled.
2.  If you make a mistake, or your editor says to redo whole sections or add an entirely new character, treat it as a challenge.
3. When you are frustrated with the way things are going, take an Eastern philosophical approach.  If you don’t like the way the storyline is going, get up from the computer and do something else for an hour.  If you aren’t liking the way your whole writing career is going, meditate and over a few days, what you need to do to fix things may come to light.  There is an old Chinese saying that the more you resist, the hotter the situation becomes, and the system shuts down until it cools down.  You need to address this before the overload, because you will see the answer more clearly then.
4.  Don’t give up at the first challenging sign.  It is worth the effort to see things through.

PRACTICE:  Obviously, the more you write, the easier it will become to write.  More reading and writing is the best way to hone your skills.  Bill Cosby included finding a mentor and/or studying how others who you consider have “MADE IT” did it. 

Suggestions: Practice makes perfect, as the old adage goes.  But actually the more you practice, the more you will find that the writing life becomes yours. 
1.  Set aside time in each day to practice, even a little.  Ideally, it will be the same time every day.
2.  Practice. Practice. Practice.

If you are wondering if the psychic predicted fame and fortune for me, the answer is no.  She wasn’t able to project too far in the future is my guess…but that’s not to say that I will or won’t make it in publishing.  The whole thing comes down to whether you believe this is what you were supposed to do.  If you were meant to be a novelist, you will be.  You have to trust and have faith that will happen if you give the four P’s equal attention.   

So obviously, I have some inner work to do.  I hope you will share my journey with me.  I’d like to hear what other people are grappliing with.  So feel free to comment.