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a: Passive Aggressive Christmas Gifts for Writers

Yesterday, 11:00 AM

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Writing has lots of rewards, most of which are worthless. You can’t pay rent with critical acclaim, nor will contributors’ copies finance your office-supply addiction. But as far as non-monetary rewards go, what’s more satisfying than giving a thoughtful present to your fellow authors? The ones who hated your latest manuscript, or the folks who have gone on to secure agents or sign deals or make a mint through self-publishing while you have to buy more Gmail storage space to fit all your rejection letters? Yes, some thoughtful gifts for these folks would feel fantastic, especially when you know how…helpful these gifts could be for them.

Here’s a few ideas:

  • For an unpublished writer: A new display shelf where they can put all their publications. Let the shame of an empty shelf motivate them to succeed! When this shelf inevitably becomes cluttered with junk mail and their kids’ homework, clear it off for them and say, “Got to leave space for all those best-sellers and cult classics!” Cost: $50
  • For your insecure friend: Breath mints, especially if they don’t need them. Cost: $2
  • For your hipster friend who still writes with a typewriter: A truly hideous paperweight for all their typed pages. Every time they feel the joy of completing another page, they’ll have to look at the ceramic monstrosity you gave them, thus slowing their momentum the tiniest little bit. Be careful, though—if it’s too ugly, your hipster friend will think it’s cool. Cost: $20
  • For someone racing to meet a deadline: Reserve space at your local bookstore for their book release party at the earliest possible release date. Mention that, to get the room, you had to promise at least fifty people would show up. Get a caterer, and put down a substantial deposit. You’ll be able to see your reflection in the sweat forming on your friend’s brow. Cost: $500

  • photo by cedwardmoran on Flickr

    For your friend who has writer’s block: The complete works of Stephen King. See, it’s just a matter of applying yourself and managing your time and prioritization. If they could just get their act together, they too could write a hundred-odd books. Cost: Like a thousand bucks, probably.

  • For your friend who just got a book deal with a big advance: Your bar tab the next time you go out. Cost: $0
  • For your editor: A dried-up red pen, which they should use when marking up your latest manuscript. Cost: $0 for the pen, $40 for the bespoke wooden box you’ll store it in.
  • For everybody else: Lots of books. In Iceland, they have Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood,” where people give each other books. Books are a meaningful gift, and a great way to send a message that someone needs to be more productive, ditch that dead-end job, or to stop sucking in general. There’s no habit so annoying that you can’t cure with a thoughtfully given book. They’ll be inspired to overcome any bad habit, or they’ll be so annoyed with you that you’ll never see them again. Cost: $60

As you see, you can experience the holiday joy of knocking your friends down a peg or two for only a couple thousand bucks and all of your human relationships. Merry Christmas, everyone!

What’s the most passive-aggressive gift on your shopping list this year? Let us know in the comments!

About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.

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a: Don’t Get Rolled by Bad Publicity

15 December 2017 - 11:15 AM

Image: Procter & Gamble, Business Wire, the 2017 Times Square holiday restrooms, a promotion for Charmin. The line too small to read in this image is: “The best seats on Broadway.”

This “media opportunity alert” arrived in my inbox:

Hi, Porter, Thought you might have interest in checking out this event spotlighting Mark Ballas and girlfriend BC Jean.
The singer-songwriter duo has teamed up with Charmin for the December celebration of restrooms in Times Square–an entire storefront of unique, unforgettable, state-of-the-art bathrooms free to the public (timely for the holiday season in NYC).
On December 19th, Jean and Ballas will perform singing and dance routines on-site.
Happy to have you there for a front row seat/interview with BC and Mark.
Please let me know if you’re interested?

I wrote back:

Hi, Nadia, I cover the international book publishing industry. Despite what many may think of books these days, our publishers do not believe we’re talking about toilet paper. Yet. Thanks, though.

With the help of AdWeek, I’ve learned that from 2006 to 2010, Charmin rented space in which to create bathrooms for seasonal shoppers in Times Square. It has revived this holiday tradition this year at 1601 Broadway between 48th and 49th Streets with 14 “themed bathrooms” open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for shoppers, through December 24.

The first thing we learn here is that if you work for a toilet paper company, you’d better love bathroom jokes. This is Procter & Gamble at work, squeezing the Charmin for every last available pun. All’s fair in love and advertising.

But the second thing we learn here–and the reason I’m subjecting you to this plumber’s view of American marketing–is how a publicity person/PR agent should not be operating. If you’ve got a publicist for your books or are thinking of hiring one, you need to know what this dynamic looks like from the journalist’s side of the stall door.

My provocation for you today comes in the form of three questions with which to quiz your publicity person.

PR Person Question #1 of 3

May I see the precise list of press contacts you’re going to send my book information to? I want to see what they cover and the media at which they work.

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

If the answer from your potential or existing publicist/PR person/press agent is no (“office secret,” “tricks of the trade,” “private information”), run away. They can withhold those journalist’s contact info from you. In fact, I’d prefer they did, for the sake of my inbox. But they need to tell you who’s getting the paper goods and why.

And this is because a bad “pressie” will tell you that the release about your book just went out to “4,000 high-quality, leading members of the press who are keen to carry your news” when, in fact, that release has just been flushed by all 4,000 of us, some of whom are now blocking your press agent’s emails for good. I cannot tell you how many wrongly directed press contacts I get per day. Remember, I’m editor-in-chief of PublishingPerspectives.com. What part of that title means fashion, climate change, vegan health, tennis shoe advances, or toilet paper? To a bad PR agent who wants to impress a client with her or his mighty “list,” I’m fair game on those and many more topics. You’d be amazed.

Don’t cry for me, I’m the fastest “mark as spam” athlete in the league.

What I want is to warn you about is that you can easily be scammed by this. I’d rather see a pressie hand you only 20 actual publishing/book-industry/literature-focused journalists’ names–and what each of them does and at which medium–than that list of 4,000 wrong contacts who now are wondering if there’s really such a thing as “the December celebration of restrooms in Times Square.”

PR Person Question #2 of 3

What do you do when a journalist says “not for me” to your request for coverage?

The correct answer is: “I say, ‘Thank you, I’ll update my list, have a great day.”

The incorrect answer is, “I fight for you darlin’, I go right back to that journalist and I point out 15 places in the last 35 years in which his or her so-called news medium has covered precisely the kind of Earth-shaking news your deathless prose represents to a world crying, crying for your book.”

I had one last week. First, he pitched me a piece about “how important millennials are to the US economy today” (as opposed to when, yesterday?). When I sent back my usual line–I do try to actually answer and thank them, in hopes they’ll update their lists–saying that “I cover business trends in the international book publishing industry”–he came back with three mentions of millennials we’ve made in recent years. He’s now blocked.

This isn’t a “fight for it” thing and Lena Horne’s advice to belieeeeeeeeve in yourself is far from this part of the game. This is business and wasting journalists’ time with arguments about what they should be covering gets your book absolutely nowhere–on your dime.

PR Person Question #3 of 3

Tell me about the best relationship you have with a member of the press. You don’t have to tell me who this is or what medium she’s at. Just tell me how it works.

The very best person to represent you to various media (still a plural word) operates on relationships. I have relationships with some press people I know to be so good that when their emails arrive, I open them first. They never bother me unless the story is right for me or at least well worth my consideration.

One in London is leaving the agency he’s been with for  years and I’m actually pretty sorry about that, antsy to find out where he’s going to land, because this guy is one of the ones who knows what I need, and how and when to get it to me. When I have a problem, need a photo, am flat on deadline (and five hours off his time zone), he’s right there on the other end, doing what in the distant mists of Times Gone By was called “servicing the media.” That’s not a noble phrase because we’re people who deserve to be coddled but because it means providing the press the resources we need to cover you well.

I was told by a Broadway press agent years ago when I worked that beat at the Village Voice, “Porter, the shows will open and the shows will close. But we press agents and you journalists will always be together.” And he was right.

My holiday gift to you is this advice: Your work deserves to be offered to the right media people the right way so it has the right chance to reach the right readers. The proliferation of “author services” means the rise of a lot of kitchen-sink operations that will tell you they’re doing the deed but (a) have no clue and/or (b) have no traction. Don’t pay for supposed media support you haven’t checked out correctly. When it comes time to find a PR/publicity/media agency for your work, buy the relationship, not the cartoon bear family who tell you they “enjoy the go” with Charmin.

What’s your experience? Have you been lucky enough to find a media person who knows her or his journos and can really “work the press,” with strong relationships and a track record? Or is your person sending out press releases by the roll?


About Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson)

@Porter_Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, the international publishing industry news magazine of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He and Jane Friedman produce @The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors. Anderson previously was The Bookseller’s Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, doing the #MusicForWriters series, often in association with Q2 Music. More on his consultancy: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+

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GLA News

14 December 2017 - 08:42 PM

Hi there writer friends!

Cris Freese, long-time editor for Guide to Literary Agents, is no longer with Writer’s Digest. Never fear, though: The great content you’ve come to expect from GLA will continue, and we’re excited to deliver brand-new agent information, query letter and proposal tips and much more. Stay tuned for news on a new GLA editor and agent expert, coming soon. And, as always, thanks for reading the GLA blog.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Jess Zafarris at jessica.farris@fwmedia.com.

Also, if you don’t own it already, be sure to grab your copy of the newest edition of The Guide to Literary Agents!


The post GLA News appeared first on WritersDigest.com.

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a: Bring Your Dialogue to Life

14 December 2017 - 11:00 AM

photo adapted / Horia Varlan

Do you strain to find little bits of action to enliven your dialogue that rise above “he ran a hand through his hair,” “she raked her fork through her potatoes,” or my favorite riveting action, “he leaned in”? This scene from Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, suggests we may not be giving ourselves enough to work with.

The set-up: Joe Cavalier has escaped Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City, where he hopes to create superhero comic books with his cousin. At an artsy party in a mansion belonging to the family of young Rosa Saks, he hurts his finger in an oddly heroic way. Rosa invites him upstairs to see her paintings.

The question tosses Joe into a quandary. Chabon then provides subtext that infuses the scene to come [portions excised for brevity]:

From the time of his arrival in New York City, he had never permitted himself to speak to a woman for pleasure…he had not come here to flirt with girls…he could justify his own liberty only to the degree that he employed it to earn the freedom of the family he had left behind.

Sounds like a no, right? But then Joe experiences an irritant that drives him into the very sort of scene he’s been trying to avoid: he overhears a German accent. Enraged, Joe says, “I would love to see your work.”

In excerpts from this long “getting to know you” dialogue between Joe and Rosa, which begins on p. 246, watch for two dialogue techniques that effectively bring to life this dialogue: misdirection and modulation.

Misdirection unfolds as if a deck of questions and a deck of answers have been shuffled together incorrectly. Because questions are not paired with their answers, the reader has to pay closer attention to understand what’s going on.

Modulation uses setting and narrative commentary to extend the scene’s complexity. Each spoken line invites the artful layering of meaningful detail or memory.

Yet Chabon isn’t all about craft here; he’s also using the nature of the dialogue to evoke the artistic process itself. Here are some examples.

“Speaking” is not limited to the characters

Watch as the room speaks to Joe of Rosa’s character.

In addition to her tiny, girlish white iron bed, a small dresser, and a nightstand, she had crowded in an easel, a photo enlarger, two bookcases, a drawing table, and a thousand and one items piled atop one another, strewn about, and jammed together with remarkable industry and abandon.

“This is your studio?” Joe said.

A smaller blush this time, at the tips of her ears.

“Also my bedroom,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to ask you to come up to that.”

There was something unmistakably exultant about the mess that Rosa had made. Her bedroom studio was at once the canvas, journal, museum, and midden of her life. She did not “decorate” it; she infused it.

The characters bring the setting to life as the setting brings them to life

We are told to use all of the senses; here Chabon offers good reasons to use them. Rosa goes over to the phonograph and switches it on.

The scratches on the disk popped and crackled like a burning log. Then the air was filled with a festive wheeze of violins.

“Schubert,” said Joe, rocking on his heels. “The Trout.”

The Trout’s my favorite,” Rosa said.

“Me too.”

“Look out.”

Something hit him in the face, something soft and alive. Joe brushed at his mouth and came away with a small black moth. It had electric-blue transverse bands on its belly. He shuddered.

Rosa said, “Moths.”

“Moths more than one?”

The moths offer a great example of modulation. That Joe encounters something “soft and alive” in this room is also lovely. Later, one of Joe’s comic book superheroes will be Luna Moth.

Misdirection sets up multiple layers of communication

Rosa points out that there are moths all over the bed, the walls, and the house, and the house before that as well. “That’s where the murder happened,” she drops in, then says, “What’s the matter with your finger?”

This opens the misdirected dialogue. It will be 2-1/2 more pages until Joe thinks to ask about the murder.

Instead, he tells her his finger is sore. She asks to look at it, delivering one of my all-time favorite lines of dialogue: “I was almost a nurse once.”

She examines the hand, telling him she had trained in Spain to be a war nurse. We learn she works at Life magazine. On the next page, she says she can fix his finger, warning that it will hurt “horribly, but only for a second.”

“All right.”

She looked at him, steadily, and licked her lips, and he had just noticed that the pale brown irises of her eyes were flecked with green and gold when abruptly she twisted his hand one way and his finger the other, and, crazing his arm to the elbow with instantaneous veins of lightning and fire, set the joint back into place.



He shook his head, but there were tears rolling down his cheeks.

All elements are eventually interwoven

When Joe gets around to asking about the murder, Rosa asks for a cigarette. The modulation (moths, war nurse) and misdirection (the murder) converge with the scene goal of looking at her artwork.

He lit one for her. She continued to kneel in front of him, and there was something about it that aroused him. It made him feel like a wounded soldier, making time in a field hospital with his pretty American nurse.

“He was a lepidopterist, Moses,” she said.


“He studied moths.”


“He knocked her out with ether and killed her with a pin. Or at least that’s what my father says. He’s probably lying. I made a dreambook about it.”

“A pin,” he said. “Ouch.” He waggled his finger. “It’s good, I think. You fixed it.”

Setting reflects a moment of indelible change

Joe let the dreambook comment drop, but a few paragraphs later, he asks what a dreambook is.

She set the burning cigarette down on a phonograph record that lay on the floor beside her and went to her desk. “Would you like to see one?”

Joe bent over and picked up the cigarette, holding it upright between the very tips of his fingers as though it were a stick of burning dynamite. It had melted a small divot into the second movement of Mendelssohn’s Octet.

 Turns out she can’t find the dreambook about the murder, but she shows him another one, and its collage of images, described in detail, inspire and embolden him.

He sat on the bed and finished reading, and then she asked him what he did. Joe permitted himself, for the first time in a year, to consider himself, under the pressure of her interest in him and what he did, an artist.

Sitting on Rosa’s moth-littered bed, he felt a resurgence of all the aches and inspirations of those days when his life had revolved around nothing but Art, when snow fell like the opening piano notes of the Emperor Concerto, and feeling horny reminded him of a passage from Nietzsche, and a thick red-streaked dollop of crimson paint in an otherwise uninteresting Velazquez made him hungry for a piece of rare meat.

Misdirected action creates a scene arc

Earlier in the scene, after Rosa fixed his finger, Joe thought, “This was unquestionably to moment to kiss her.” He considers himself a coward for not following through on the impulse. Now, three pages later, Rosa throws her arms around his neck and he falls backward on the bed. “The sateen coverlet brushed against his cheek like a moth’s wing.”

“Hey!” said Joe. Then she settled her mouth on his and left it there, lips parted, whispering an unintelligible dreambook sentence.

Not all dialogue should be misdirected. It would drive your readers mad. Yet here, it demonstrates the creative way Rosa joins concepts and images in her mind. It shows the way that Joe and Rosa are struggling to connect.

Not all dialogue should be modulated. Sometimes the urgency of a situation calls for a rapid-fire exchange. Here, it creates a slow, contextual build so that when Joe admits aloud for the first time in a year that he is an artist, we understand the way in which Rosa exerted a powerful influence on him.

Suffice to say: if your dialogue is about only what the spoken words are saying, it could probably do a whole lot more. Chabon shows us that great dialogue can convey information, deepen inner conflict, move the plot forward, and build characterization—all at the same time.

What could you add to a dialogue passage in your WIP that could deepen its impact? Could you add subtext? Amp up the setting? Would misdirection or modulation work? Why or why not?


About Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Her work as a freelance developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she leads writing workshops and retreats, and is a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. Learn more on Kathryn’s website.

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Pacing Your Plot: 20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace

13 December 2017 - 06:06 PM

[Don’t miss your chance to enter the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition! Impress us with your best story in 1500 words or fewer. Deadline Dec. 15.]

Illustration from “” by Beatrix Potter. | Image Source

By Jodell Sadler, founder of KidLitCollege.org
Editorial Agent, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency, JCLA

This year, when the bells toll that shift to a new year, the study I’ve been exploring hits its tenth year. It will be ten years of studying the craft of PACING. Ten whole years. It’s not a little thing. It’s been a constant rethinking and challenging what works to stop, speed, slow, pause, or halt or flip to art within a narrative. For me, it’s the careful unfolding of story that thinks as much about what appears on the page as youdo what does not. It’s about honing the negative space of good writing. From 2007 to today, the trifecta of good pacing, the 10 P’s, and 20 tools and 10 key considerations editors and agents need in order to take on a piece of writing. This study includes over 200 moves a writer may use to enahance your narrrative pacing: using the trifecta to connect to readers, supporting the story’s theme, enhancing emotional resonance, improving your effeciveness on a word-level, adding tension, suspense, and unexpected surprise—and so much more.

Pacing Your Plot: 200 Techniques & Insider Advice for Pacing Your Fiction, forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books (2018-9), will serve up a true insider view on pacing and its importance to the writing craft.

20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace

  • Pacing is action, movement, energy—and making the stars align in your writing.
  • It means paying attention to how you pause, speed, slow, and halt story as you unfold your plot in order to enhance the emotional arc.
  • Pacing is pause and cradling your reader in a clause, at times and considering all the benefits of diction, tone, and prosody as a means to so a more.
  • Pacing moves beyond that converstation of long and short sentences to consider syllables, syntax, sentence structure and all the poetic devices we can employ at any time within our narratives.
  • It’s about challenging each word and activating verbs, ousting adverbs, and infusing your story with specificity while keeping your direction and controlling and knowing the whys behind your editing decisions.
  • Pacing helps your connect to plot in a way that emotes the meaning and adds depth to your story, scenes, and characters.
  • It’s about “authenticity” and staying true to your narrative worldbuilding and really focusing in on interiority of your characters.
  • It’s about comedic pause, breath, and white space and what we call texture and a whole lot of voice because diction matters.
  • Pacing explores sharing that joke or conversation in an opening that flips and gets re-cast at the end in a way the reader needs no insight in order to appreciate it fully— because now they know these characters well and feel like family.
  • It’s about identifying key tools that allow you more control over the moments of your story—like seeing the use of a list as a pacing tool and understanding why it works and why parenthetical asides will add to it’s effectiveness.
  • Pacing reaches ever forward, and inward, adding interiority, to the spirit of your main character, celebrating his or her worldview, and about imaginings and creativityand play—that sense of letting go.
  • Pacing invites writers to get out of their own way and do more—dare more—and perform better.
  • It’s that ever upward, getting-ever-closer, of good writing that taps into what a story demands.
  • Pacing is that subtle shifts not-so-sure-what-to-edit moments into allowing your own playful engagement to craft because you have an insider view on why you are making certain moves.
  • It’s seeing more possibilities in every move on a word level, adding rhythm and repetition at key times, and really bringing more joy to our process.
  • Pacing beckons magic and remains the best part of writing—the icing on our proverbial publication pie. It’s truly delicious.
  • Pacing offers the potential to impact your work in the best, most postive way you can imagine.
  • When we pace, we incorporated tools, challenges and play with words.
  • It’s about really see pacing as that performance quality we bringto the page of good writing when really mess with your readers’ and present them with an unforgettable experience.
  • Pacing improve scenes and moments—halts or shifts them to allow the art and visual imagery—to rise off the page; it’s that interplay of art and words.

I’ve taken my pacing material into conferences and writing events and writer’s workshops at schools and presented as an agent, secondary educator, and professor. I’ve taken my pacing study through so many different scenerios. Tested it. Challenged it. K12 writer’s workshops, high school advanced placement, dual credit courses, collegiate open campus, first-year students on up to graduate-level learners and professional writers and writer-illustrators with unbelieveable results.

I’ve shared my pacing study as I launched KidLit College, which became my way of sharing craft and paying it forward to editors and agents while helping writers and illustrators make the connections needed to publish strong, so I know this material will rock your edits. It will rock it off the charts.

Today, in honor of my ten years of studying pacing, I am offering mentorship for the first-place winners in our KidLit College Writing Contest 2017. We are on the search for well-paced manuscripts in many genre categories: fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, chapter books, middle grades, graphic novels, young adult novels, and nonfiction proposals. Every entry receives the following: 1) Submission feedback, 2) A FREE pass to our first KidLit College webinar of 2018 ($30 value), and You can take 10% off until our Entry Deadline of December 31st at Midnight CST using the check out code: KLC-2017 (actually, you can use this code on everything on our website). First place winnners receive a free Crit-N-Chat (editor or agent chat of their choice: $125 value), Pace-Writing mentoring from me (a $1050 value), and submission to five publishers. To learn more, log in to KidLitCollege.org.

Writer’s Digest Digital Archive Collection: Iconic Women Writers

For nearly 100 years, Writer’s Digest magazine has been the leading authority for writers of all genres and career levels. And now, for the first time ever, we’ve digitized decades of issues from our prestigious archives to share with the world. In this, the first of our series of archive collections, discover exclusive historic interviews with classic women authors including Maya Angelou, Pearl S. Buck, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion—and much, much more. Featuring five stunning issues spanning more than 60 years, this collection is perfect for writers, literary enthusiasts, educators and historians. Explore what’s inside.

The post Pacing Your Plot: 20 Ways to Rethink Your Narrative Pace appeared first on WritersDigest.com.

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