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Monday, April 25 2011

I've started writing the second book in the Dana Lewis series. I couldn't put it off any longer. Okay, that's not true. I could stall for another three, four months easy, but I was becoming alarmed at how lazy I was getting about not writing. So I started slow, outlining the first few chapters. Baby steps, as they say.

Writers often discuss what the best outlining process is, and there're lots of methods to choose from. You can outline the entire book or just part, use flowcharts, sticky notes, or scratch paper to remember your ideas, or you can skip outlining altogether.

My usual method is to jot down ideas for the first three or four chapters and then start writing. As I flesh out the first couple of chapters, I can see where the story is headed and outline the next couple of chapters, then as I write those, I understand the direction of the plot and outline the next two, and so on. Voila, the book is eventually done. But using this method makes me worry about missing the big picture of the book. Is there an overall story arc? Do I want to have a recurring incident pop up throughout the plot?

Penny, from my writing group, manages to plot out her entire book first, so she can make sure everything is consistent, that the story moves in a cohesive fashion, and that all the subplots get tied up at the end. Seems like a nice, organized method, so I decided to give it a shot. And what happened? I made it to chapter six before my outline started to falter. I'm not sure if my mind naturally only works in chunks or if I've trained myself to only plot a few chapters at a time, but I simply could not guess how the story would progress after that point. While I could force myself to come up with some sort of plot to outline, I worried that the story would stop making sense, or I'd go down the wrong path and find myself stuck during the actual writing process.

So last week, I decided to write the handful of chapters I'd already figured out and hope that the others would come to me. But boy, is it slow going. I've lost that groove from the previous book, when I had put myself on a daily quota of fifteen hundred words. Now, I have to force myself to write fifteen words a day. It's this dreaded first chapter. I need to set the scene, introduce the main characters, and have something exciting happen all in the first ten pages. And my outline was a bit vague, as it turns out. Dana's sister's boyfriend is going to be murdered in this book, and Dana's sister is the last person to see him alive. In my outline, I put down that Dana is performing a silly task at the farm when her mom calls and asks her to come home because her sister's been brought to the police station for questioning. Only, in the outline, I didn't specify what silly task Dana is doing. And frankly, now that I'm writing the scene, I can't think of a thing, and definitely nothing funny.

But if I can just slog through this chapter, kill off the boyfriend, and get the plot moving, the process of writing will roll right along. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 01:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, April 18 2011

One of the women in my writing group, Carole, has received the response that all unpublished writers dream of, the big fat "Yes, we want to publish your book." We're all thrilled for her. She'd just about given up submitting her query letter, having grown tired of the standard rejection letter, the one that says "your manuscript doesn't match our needs at this time." That's a very pleasant statement, but too vague to be helpful. Was there some aspect of the book, as described in the query letter, that made the agent think it might be a hard sell? Was the query too weak? Too wordy? Or were they actually impressed by the query letter and honestly weren't looking for that type of book at this time?


No matter now. She's done with the rejections and ready for the successes. Now it's time to start marketing herself.


One of the nice things about writing your first novel is that you can take all the time you need. No one's pressuring you with a deadline, no editor's tapping their watch and asking how much longer. But that's all about to change. She's currently waiting for the editor to send over her comments and corrections so she can get cracking on the rewrite. Other published authors in the group say they have roughly one to two weeks to input all the changes. That's really not a lot of time, especially if you need to redo major plot points or character arcs. But the thrill of being published will no doubt give her the adrenaline rush she needs to get the changes done.


While she waits for the edits, she has to figure out how to create her online platform. Her daughter is currently designing her web page, and it looks fantastic. Once that's finished, Carole can start blogging and getting the word out about her upcoming release. Then come the writer's conferences, the book signings, and the blog tours. Once you get your book published, it's amazing how much of your time is spent not writing a book.


It can all be a bit overwhelming, but a fantastic aspect of the writing world is how supportive other writers are. They're more than happy to answer your newbie questions, offer tips on overcoming stage fright at your signings, and lend an ear when you voice your concerns about the current state of the publishing world. So as Carole counts down the days until her book hits the shelves, she knows that a whole team of fellow mystery writers is ready to cheer her on.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, April 11 2011

As my agent prepares to pitch my book in the coming weeks, she asked for one last thing: a mini-proposal. No problem, I can do that. One question. What's a mini-proposal? Aren't those for nonfiction manuscripts? (Okay, two questions)

Luckily, my agent listed out the four items I needed to include: an author bio, a media page, a complementary book list, and a synopsis.

I'd already written an author bio for my last book, so I could check that off the list immediately. One down, three to go.

Creating a list of all my media contacts made me break out in nervous laughter. Media contacts? What media contacts? But I am a member of the LadyKillers blog (, thank goodness. And Penny Warner, being the sweet person that she is, offered to promote the book in her newspaper column. Okay, so not the longest media list in the world, but it's definitely a good start.

Now for the complementary books. I needed to list cozy mysteries that were similar to my own and mention why mine was better, without insulting the other books, of course. And books published within the last five or six years were best. This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Every book I thought of had been published at least ten years ago, some even twenty! And I didn't have time to locate books that fit the criteria and read them. Fortunately, I remembered a 2008 cozy mystery with a landscaping theme (Weeding Out Trouble) that I had thoroughly enjoyed. For the others, I had to rely on a little research, which pretty much entailed my reading Amazon reviews and book excerpts.

That left the synopsis, which proved to be the hardest item on the list. I'd already created a synopsis, but this one needed to be brief, no more than five pages, and mine was a solid seven. So I tinkered and trimmed and still couldn't get it down under six pages. Not with so many important points to mention! Surely I needed to talk about the note on the nightstand that requested the murder victim meet someone behind the chicken coop for a tryst. And Tiffany's big role in Octogiant Meets King Crab. And the cook's fish-granule-coated tofu sticks that made the spa guests gag. These were all crucial to the plot. Okay, that's not entirely true. But one of the struggles of creating a great synopsis is showing an editor/agent/publisher that the book follows the traditional cozy format but still contains unique and interesting aspects. I have to convince them that I know how to write a book that will be familiar enough to the readers to make them comfortable but fresh enough that they're not disappointed. And all in five pages or less. I finally managed to cut the synopsis down to the required length, but I sure hope I didn't cut anything critical.

Guess I'll find out soon. My agent signed off on the mini-proposal and is getting ready to pitch. The waiting has begun. Again.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 04:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email