Add Write With Excellence to your Writer’s toolbox

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I was good at grammar in school. Found it boring but did well. Remembering the fine points—not so much. As an organic writer, I have found that, something sounding right doesn’t make it correct.  When I got acquainted with other writers, I took their advice to heart. Jerry B Jenkins recommended The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s the classic go-to book of grammar for writers. He said he reads through it every year. I determined to do the same. The original bookmark is still there. Halfway through, my eyes blurred. Don’t get me wrong, the information is helpful.  But The Elements of Style is not a cover-to-cover read. Then again, Jerry read through a set of encyclopedias as a kid.

A few years later I met Joyce K. Ellis, grammarian extraordinaire at a writer’s conference. She has a witty way of explaining grammar. Her classes at conferences were always fun to attend. And her grammar column in the Christian Communicator helped me remember what I’d forgotten.

I asked her when she was going to write a grammar book. I promised I would buy it. And over time—and with others asking the same question—Joyce wrote Write with Excellence 201. The tagline is awesome: a lighthearted guide to the serious matter of writing well for Christian authors, editors and students. It is a fun guide through the sticky parts of grammar and some basics we’ve gotten a little sloppy about.

This book is an easy, entertaining read. Each chapter is full of examples of proper grammar use. Lots of helpful stories and examples. There is a quiz at the end of each chapter. No grades here. The answers are in the back of the book.  So, you’re allowed the cheat if you get stuck. The index is a quick, very thorough reference for problem areas.

Write with Excellence is engaging enough to read from cover-to-cover. She even made me consider using the dreaded sentence diagram as a tool. (Maybe) I recommend keeping her book handy for reference as you write. It’s awesome to have at your critique group when questions arise. No more doubts about grammar issues.

I highly recommended adding this great resource to your craft books.

How many of you struggle with the finer points of grammar? What is your favorite resource?

 

Conference Tip # 6 Practice Your Pitch

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Practicing your writing pitch until its smooth is another key to get attention for your manuscript.

Preparing and doing a pitch is probably my least favorite thing to do. I find it hard to memorize and say it smoothly. There. I’ve admitted it to everyone. I love being a character on stage. I’m pretty comfortable with public speaking, I am the one nominated on mission trips to break the ice with the natives. But giving my pitch. My mind goes blank or the pitch comes out anything but perfect. Why? No idea. Maybe unlike a play where I am another character, this statement is all about me and my work. Promoting myself is hard for me.

Parts of a pitch

First you need a hook—a sentence to grab attention. Characters or topic and a final sentence to bring out the response: tell me more. A pitch is a few sentences stating what your novel, non-fiction or article is about. Often referred to as an elevator pitch because it needs to be short enough to share with someone before the elevator doors open at your destination. A pitch is like an oral business card. You want to have it with you to give when you have an opportunity.

The pitch needs to encapsulate your story. It should evoke questions. It should cause the editor to catch your idea, be intrigued and toss around the idea with you for a while.

Personalize your pitch

Spend time writing your pitch. Use words you are comfortable with. If a fifty dollar word gets hung up on your tongue use a simpler one. It should sound conversational not like a commercial.

Practice your pitch

Look in the mirror and recite it to yourself until you can say it over and over again without thinking about it. If you stumble reword it so you don’t. Recite it to others—your spouse, critique group, even your dog. The more you recite it, the more natural it will become. While practicing your pitch in the mirror think of follow-up questions and how you will answer them. Formulate an answer to each one. It will boast your confidence.

When to pitch

You will need your pitch when you have an appointment. It’s a quick way to get the ball rolling. It can lead to sharing your first chapter.

When you sit at the lunch table with an editor you don’t have an appointment with, you can share your pitch. (Agents, publishers, editors expect you to pitch them at lunch.) Some will ask everyone at the table about their projects. If you stutter and ramble and backtrack, it reeks of newbie and it is rude to the others at the table who hope to share their pitch as well.

If you are having a meal with other writers, ask to share your pitch both for practice and feedback. They may share their pitch with you and together you can encourage each other.

Examples

Here are examples of my latest pitches. I change them every year trying to make them smoother. As I said, I struggle with pitches. I feel very vulnerable sharing them with you. They are not as stellar as others’ pitches, but perhaps they will serve as a guide to creating your own. I suggest googling writers’ pitches to find some really cool ones.

My Historical pitch

Secrets and Charades finds Evangeline Olson’s shameful secret catching up with her through an unwanted inheritance. Fleeing west as a mail-order bride seemed the best solution. Jake Marcum needs a woman to gentle his tomboy niece. A female doctor is more than he bargained for and exactly what he needs. Together they must wade through secrets and a few unexpected charades to save his ranch and her heart.

My Contemporary pitch.

New Duet takes the reader on a journey of healing. After the sudden death of her abusive husband during a worship service, Isabella is shrouded in guilt and desperate to find her pre-marriage self. Wounded warrior Dan is looking for normal in a civilian world with the help of his service dog. Normal seems impossible when he’s missing a leg, some fingers and PTSD brings on panic attacks. Isabella is startled by her attraction to Dan after her late husband stripped away every vestige of Isabella’s former life including her name. Dan hopes his new normal includes Isabella in his life.

My Article pitch

I am a sandwich. My life is sandwiched between helping with grandchildren under six and parents in their eighties. Both are childlike in their responses to life. Yet, neither can be handled the same. When my sandwich is slipped into a Panini press of trials, my heart struggles to seek God’s grace in the midst of it all.

None of these pitches are as perfect as I would like them. I’ll be working to make them better. But I hope the examples will help you. And if you stumble through your pitch like me, smile and hand out your sell sheet. Works for me.

After the pitch

If your pitch results in “Tell me more,” have your sell-sheet or summary ready to pass over. Be prepared to share your first page. Bring the entire first chapter just in case. Share the completed article.

Don’t ramble on about your subject. Don’t explain why it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Again it screams newbie and unprofessional. Only answer the questions asked. Smile, be as enthusiastic as you can.

If your pitch results in crickets don’t resort to filling the silence with rambling information. This rarely happens. If you get less than an enthusiastic response, move on to the next pitch if you have one. Otherwise thank him/her for their time and shake their hand. Remember not everyone is going to find your pitch intriguing. But if at the end of the conference you find your pitch wasn’t achieving your goal, ask other writers for input as to how to make it better for the next time.

If you have any questions about pitching your book or want to share your own success story please comment. I love to hear from readers.

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Conference Tip # 3 Preparing Clips and Samples

I carry my clips and samples in a three ring binder with plastic sleeves.

I carry my clips and samples in a three ring binder with plastic sleeves.

Clips and samples show the writing world what you can do. Appointments with publishers go smoother when you can show rather than tell what you write. Let me define the two.

Clips

These are articles, poems, stories, devotionals, editorials, whatever you’ve had published. The term clips refers to articles cut out of magazines and periodicals. Some of your clips might be copies of magazine pages or print offs of website articles. Your most recent publications are best. No need to show twenty year old newspaper clippings. (I really have some of those.) Be sure the date and magazine title are somewhere on the copy. If you have a link to your work, I suggest you share a hardcopy. Wifi access may not be available where you meet with publishers and you waste precious minutes of your fifteen minutes looking for specific clips on your site. If they are interested in your link, you can write the web address on the back of your business card.

Samples

Samples are unpublished work to show your writing skills. Editors want to see if your style is right for their publication. Some editors want unedited versions. (Not rough drafts, rather items not professionally edited.) They want to see how polished your best work is. Bring only your best samples. You might want to go back over selections and tweak as needed to make them your best. Be sure you do your research about the publishing house or magazine in advance. (I’ll be discussing that in another post.) Only show samples of things fitting the particualr publishers needs.

Presentation is everything

I carry my clips and samples in a three ring binder. Each article is in its own sleeve. I usually have multiple copies of samples. Some editors like to mark up my work. That way I always have a clean sheet to show at the next appointment. The sleeves keep the pages neat. Some people like to bring their laptop to show their work. I find that too cumbersome, and it can give the impression of being unprepared. You grabbed your computer at the last minute because you didn’t have time to print anything off. If disaster happens and your printer dies, it’s worth the cost to go to Office Depot to make copies or buy ink for a friend’s printer, but don’t go without samples or clips. Some like to paperclip their sheets together and keep them in a file folder. Whatever works to keep your papers organized.

What’s in your toolbox so far

Let’s see, so far you’ve made a business card, a one-sheet and gathered samples and clips. You’re well on your way to filling your conference tool box for success. In my next post we’ll define synopsis and proposals. So of you haven’t subscribed to my blog you might want to do that by using the options to the right. I plan on covering the how-tos for a successful conference experience before May is over, and I am on my way to the Write-To-Publish conference in June.

How do you organize your clips and samples?

 

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My Favorite Magazine for Serious Writers

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Often I am asked what I would recommend for writers to help them with their craft. I have a book list I give out. Today, however, I am going to share with you a magazine I love. When it arrives, I devour it cover to cover. Christian Communicator is my magazine of choice for those who are serious about writing. It is a monthly publication produced by American Christian Writers (ACW). The cover isn’t glossy but the content glows.

I contacted Lin Johnson, managing editor to tell me why writers should subscribe. Her answer was very insightful.

“Subscribing to Christian Communicator is like having a writers conference come to your mailbox each month. It helps you improve your writing craft and speaking ability, provides practical information about the business/publishing/freelance side of writing, keeps you informed about markets, and encourages you in your ministries.”

I love receiving advice and tips from well-established professionals. There are monthly columns by industry leaders. Dr. Dennis Hensley shares the many aspects of professional writing. Jerry B Jenkins keeps readers up-to-date on publishers’, agents’ and editors’ needs. He also informs readers of changes in the Christian Marketing Guide including the page numbers where the corrections can be added. There is a Q & A column by Sally Stuart. You’ll find book reviews, author interviews with a little poetry and humor in the mix. Lots and lots of helpful information in every issue.

Lin Johnson is always looking for content and you don’t have to be a best-selling, award-winning author to appear in Christian Communicator. She is open to consider well-written pieces on writerly subjects that meet the current need of Christian Communicator. Check out the guidelines here.

Ordering info, including a form to download and send and paypal link, is at acwriters.com. Follow this link and subscribe today.

Do you have a favorite writing magazine or resource you would recommend? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment.

 

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Emotional Thesaurus : A Great Writer’s Tool

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I have found a wonderful resource book that I want to recommend to all my fiction writing friends.

The Emotional Thesaurus, A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a great tool to help writers find the right gesture, description or inner feeling for any character. The book is divided into 75 emotions starting with adoration and ending with worry. Each emotion is broken down into definition, physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long term, cues of suppressed and a Writer’s tip added for good measure.

This book could be read from start to finish but is better used as a resource. As I am rewriting and editing my novel I ran across a section where I used the word nervous. I need to show that nervousness to the reader. Turning to the Nervousness section I found lots of helpful clues.

The list of physical signals was quite long. I found rubbing hand’s down ones pants, a lack of eye contact and scraping hands through hair as great suggestions. But one needs to go deeper so I looked at the list of internal sensations discovering nausea and an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach set my imagination in motion. The mental response that best fit my character was a desire to flee. I found panic attack in the cues of acute or long term nervousness and a pasted on smile under cues of suppressed nervousness.

The Writer Tip on the nervousness page was a helpful reminder. “Body movement and external reactions alone will not create an emotional connection for the reader. Pairing action with a light use of internal sensations and or thoughts creates a deeper emotional pull.”

I found reading thorough the list caused me to reexamine my whole scene adding the components that were missing. It stretched my imagination as I created a new more powerful scene. The lists are not designed for you to copy the words into your manuscript but rather expand your thinking regarding your characters. As I read the list I could see which qualities fit my heroine and which made more sense for my hero or a minor character.

The Emotional Thesaurus is a must have for your writer’s bookshelf. Keep it close at hand for easy reference.