Friday, November 29, 2013

NaNo Day 29: Write-A-Thons

It's the end of NaNoWriMo! Are you putting the last few thousand words together this weekend and making it to that beautiful 50,000? I hope so! And hopefully I'll be right there with you. But if you feel like you are crazy behind in your word count (like I happen to be, yet again), then you can do what I did last week and have a write-a-thon.


A write-a-thon is just like those read-a-thons you had in fourth grade. You can load up on healthy snacks, grab a comfy pillow, and spend the day writing away. Last week, I was very behind in my writing. We're talking about ten thousand-ish words behind. I called my writing buddy (you all remember Katherine, right?), and she popped over for a few solid hours of writing. We wrote and wrote and blasted past those difficult blocks. Then, sadly, she had to go home. But did I sulk in the corner and watch Netflix for the rest of the night? NO! I kept writing. And writing. And writing! And the next day, guess what I did? I wrote some more! And by the end of that day, I was completely caught up in my word count and feeling great about life.

Of course, things happen. And you, like me, may find yourself off the high of being on track and back to thousands of words behind (think 17,500). If you're losing hope, you can join me tomorrow, Saturday, for a NaNo write-a-thon! You'll be writing with thousands of others because, well, it's Saturday, and it also happens to be the last day of NaNo. So if you really want to finish, you may have to spend some solid hours at the keyboard, pounding out all the words you need. Just don't give up. That's the key. Start early, take some breaks, don't give up, and try not to fall asleep!

photo credit here
You can make it! This is coming from a girl who is seriously far behind. But I can do it too! Use all of the tips you can think of and just finish that manuscript. Maybe by the end of the day tomorrow, we'll be NaNo winners after all.

Good luck!
Current Word Count: 32,685

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Interview with a Publisher

We're taking a break from our NaNo posts to think about the future of those NaNo manuscripts. Have you ever wanted to get the inside scoop on how to get your manuscript noticed? Recently, we were privileged to interview author, editor, publishing veteran, and Disney enthusiast Lisa Mangum about her publishing insights. Read our interview with her below.

What do you look for in a cover letter that pushes you to read the manuscript attached?
I like a cover letter that is well-written and professional. The best cover letters have a solid hook for the manuscript that is specific and engaging and that touches on the four main elements of the story: the protagonist, the main goal, the main obstacle, and the consequence of failure. (For example: Frodo must journey to Mount Doom, battling an army of evil creatures, in order to destroy the Ring of Power, or else all of Middle Earth will fall into shadow.)

What kind of information do you like to see in the short author bio?
When it comes to author bios, tell me the important details about yourself that relate to writing. I’m interested in if you’ve been published before, if you belong to any writer’s groups or attend any writer’s conferences, or if you have won any awards or honors for your work. For first-time writers, that can be tricky since you may not have a long writing resume to share. In that case, less is more; use the space you would have used on your bio to tell me more about your book.

In the first page or so, what are the first clues or triggers in a manuscript that make you know you won’t read more? And which elements do you recognize that make you want to read more?
The first page is so important when it comes to reviewing a manuscript, and yet the main job of the first page is to make me want to read page two. I think it’s important to present a problem on that very first page—it doesn’t have to be a big problem, but if there is something amiss right out of the gate, I’m more likely to continue reading. It’s also great if you can show your hero doing something heroic in the first couple of pages. Again, it doesn’t have to be him saving the world, but a small act of kindness, or a clever quip to showcase his sense of humor, or a moment of bravery can go a long way in establishing a character and making me want to read more about him. I’ll often stop reading early in a manuscript if there are too many grammatical or spelling errors, if the writing voice is flat, if the characters are two-dimensional, if there is too much info-dumping or unnecessary description.

How can authors get their manuscript to the top of the slush pile? How can they set their book apart from other submissions?
Easy—write the best book ever written. :) Seriously, though, often I’ll pay special attention to manuscripts that come in from authors who are active in the writing community, who have attended writer’s conferences, or who have clearly paid attention to the submission guidelines and who have done their homework. Your submission is essentially your job application. You want a publisher to hire you to write stories, and your submission is proof that you would be a good investment. You wouldn’t apply for a job with a company that you didn’t know anything about, so don’t submit your manuscript without doing some homework about the company beforehand.

What are some vital things you feel a manuscript needs before you’ll consider publishing it?
I love to find a great story told with a fresh voice and built on a solid foundation of excellent writing.

What advice would you give NaNoWriMo writers who want to submit their work for publication?
Wait! NaNo is a wonderful way to get words down on paper, but any time you write that many words that quickly, you’ll want to make sure you go back through it and revise it and polish it before you submit it. So enjoy NaNo. Write all the words you have. And then wait a few months to let it settle, then spend a few more months editing and revising. Wait another month just to be sure. Then submit it. It’ll be a better book when you do.

What's the most important thing a writer can do with their manuscript before submitting it?
I don’t know if this is the most important thing, but one thing I like to do is read the manuscript out loud. That will help slow you down and see what is actually on the page and not what you think is on the page. It will help you catch typos, missing words, and spots where the writing is awkward or uneven. And if you are brave enough to read it out loud to someone else, you’ll be able to gauge if you’ve hit the emotional notes you were aiming for. Did they laugh in the right places? Cry? Beg you to read just one more chapter? If not, then you know where to go back for another look at revisions.

Do you like it when authors attach photos of themselves?
Author photos are unnecessary at the submission stage. I’m sure you look very nice, but I’m way more interested in what you’ve written and the kind of story you can tell than in how you look.

Can you tell us a bit about the manuscript acceptance and rejection processes and about how long it usually takes to hear back?
At Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain, the process is essentially the same. An author may submit his or her work online at or Then it undergoes our review process, in which we look at every single submission that comes in and evaluate the overall idea and the strength of the writing. We look at our current publishing plans and see what kinds of manuscripts we need (or which genres are oversaturated). Manuscripts that show promise are passed around the review committee for additional feedback. When we find one we would like to publish, we contact the author and begin the next phase of the process: contracts and scheduling. If, unfortunately, we decide to pass on a manuscript, we email the author with that decision as well. Our review process takes anywhere between eight to twelve weeks.

What steps should authors take upon receiving a rejection, if any?
Rejection hurts, no doubt about it, so I think it’s okay to feel sad when you receive a rejection letter from a publisher—but only for a short time. After that, you need to move forward and submit your work elsewhere. There are a lot of publishers out there, and a lot of options for authors, and the best way to turn a rejection letter into an acceptance letter is to continue to practice your craft, improve your skills, submit your work, and never let a rejection be the end of your career.


The editors at Castle Editorial know how much you want your manuscript to shine before you submit it to publishers. We want to help you get your submission noticed by any acquisitions editor as well as help free your manuscript from those tangles that prevent a publisher from picking your book. Those subtle issues, as Lisa mentioned, include "too many grammatical or spelling errors, if the writing voice is flat, if the characters are two-dimensional, if there is too much info-dumping or unnecessary description." When we get a chance to point those elements out to you with our guaranteed two sets of experienced eyes, we help your polished manuscript rise to the top! If you have any questions, leave a comment below. We can't wait to read your work!

Many thanks to Lisa for all of her great tips and information! Her wisdom and experience never cease to amaze.

Lisa Mangum has worked in the publishing department of Deseret Book since 1997 and is currently the Acquisitions Editor and Product Development Assistant. She specializes in editing fiction for the Shadow Mountain imprint and has worked with several New York Times best-selling authors, including Ally Condie, James Dashner, and Jason F. Wright. While fiction is her first love, she also has experience working with nonfiction projects (memoir, educational, cookbooks, etc.) and some children’s picture books.

She loves finding that “diamond in the rough” in the slush pile, and she is particularly skilled in the developmental editing part of the process. Lisa is also the author of four national best-selling YA novels (
The Hourglass Door trilogy and After Hello). She graduated with honors from the University of Utah and currently lives in Taylorsville, Utah, with her husband, Tracy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

NaNo Day 15: Writing Buddies

Hello fellow NaNo writers! Another Friday is upon us, and guess what? It's day 15! You know what that means? The month is halfway over. Can you believe it? Do you have 25,000 words? I know I don't. Man, this whole NaNo thing is way harder than I thought!

Anyway, remember my last post when I talked about eating an elephant? About writing 500 words and then doing something else (like laundry)? Well, let me just say, that toooootally saved my word count that day! And I've never done so much laundry in my life!

The problem was that I did that for a total of one day. And here I am, back to thousands of words behind schedule. A few days ago, I was really upset about my lack of words. Yes, upset enough that I cried (though I blame that slightly on the pregnancy hormones). After my dear husband comforted me and then went off to work, I did the only thing I could think of to help me get over this block: I sent a whiny text to my writing buddy.

Writing Buddy

Well, she's more like my writing coach. Her name's Katherine, and she's one of my fellow Castle Editorial editors, and she is one of the best developmental editors I know. She was there while I wrote my manuscript over the summer, and she helped get me through the rough patches of that project. She does three very important things for me and my writing:

1. She reads as I write.

Basically, after I write a few thousand words, I throw them all up on a Google doc for her to read when she has time. And she reads them soon after they're posted.

2. She asks me for more.

Whenever I haven't posted chunks of manuscript for a few days, she asks me to send her more. If I tell her that I haven't written more, she asks me to write more for her. How can you say no to someone who asks you to write more because they want to read it?

3. She never talks about the bad stuff.

She is constantly making comments about how great the story is. She'll say things like, "I love this character!" or "That description makes me so hungry," or even "This is so intense! Ahh!!" She rarely, if ever, says things like, "Your dialog seems incredibly forced," or "The setting needs some serious work." Of course, those types of comments are valid and helpful. But during a first draft, they are more inhibiting than beneficial. So instead, she says all the nice, happy things to keep me writing.

Once the manuscript is finished and we start going through revisions, that's when she pulls out the red pen and starts going after the flaws. The point is that we both know there are flaws (it's a first draft, people!), so why focus on them when there is still story to be written?

If you are feeling like you just can't do it, if you think you have the NaNo blues, then find yourself a writing buddy. Your significant other, your mom, your crazy uncle in Jamaica, anybody who you trust and who cares about you. If they push you in a positive way, then you can lean on them during the rough patches. That's what I did! And after her pep talk, I wrote over 4,000 words! So it works. I'm telling you, it does.

photo credit here

Happy NaNo!
Current Word Count: 21,178

Friday, November 8, 2013

NaNo Day 8: Losing Steam?

It's day eight of National Novel Writing Month! Are you losing steam? Well, grab some fruit snacks and a mug of cocoa and just keep on keepin' on.

Okay, so I should probably take my own advice. At the beginning of NaNo, I was totally rockin' it. My word counts were thousands of words above my goal for each day! I was feeling so accomplished. The words were flowing, the outline was moving me along perfectly, and the writing wasn't laborious.

But then life happened.

For some people, this could be having to work overtime or needing to study for a midterm or even, hopefully not, dealing with some kind of tragedy. All of these things can throw you off and make you forget that NaNo is even happening. And who could blame you? But then, there are also positive things happening in life that can distract you: a family member coming to visit for the weekend, an awesome party thrown by your roommate, or, in my case, a happy doctor's appointment followed by hours of shopping for little pink onesies. When life happens, NaNo can really just slip your mind.

And so here I am. Fifteen hundred words behind my goal word count. With dishes piled in the sink, laundry taking over the bedroom, and who-knows-what molding in the fridge. And I have no idea how to prioritize any of it. Is anybody else in this boat? I have an inkling that I'm not alone. . . .

When I was younger and would get overwhelmed with school and things, my dad would say to me, "How do you eat an elephant?" And I would sigh and mumble, "One bite at a time." I can eat today's elephant! And so can you. So here's the one-bite-at-a-time plan: 500 words. That's it! I'll write 500 words then put in a load of laundry. I'll write 500 more words then start the dishes. You probably have different tasks you need to worry about. But you can divide them with 500 words. We can do it! I mean, what's 500 words? Just a little bite of the elephant.

Good luck!
Current Word Count: 10,537

photo credit here

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNo Day 1

Hello, NaNo-ers! (NaNo-ers? NaNoWriters? NaNoWri-ers?) And welcome to day one of National Novel Writing Month! The crowd erupts in applause. Hooray! How's it going? Are you feeling good about things?

What's your word count? I just hit 2,102. Starting off strong! Do you have a writing plan or schedule that you're hoping to stick to? I know I do, and I wouldn't be able to succeed without it.

photo credit here

My Plan

This is how I broke down my schedule. There are 30 days in November. Of our 30 days this wonderful year of 2013, there are 4 Sundays. Personally, I don't want to write on Sunday. For some people, Sunday is their only day to write. But for me, that's my day with the hubbans. So now I'm down to 26 days. I previously decided that 2,000 words a day would be a good goal because, in my writing style, that's usually half of a chapter. So I thought, What if I wrote 2K every day for 26 days? That gets me up to 52,000, and you know what that means: wiggle room! In case I don't hit 2K every day, I have two thousand words to spare by the end. So that's my goal. That's my plan. You can make a plan, too. You can choose to go the math route, or just write your brains out every single day. For me, I needed to know what my smaller, daily goals were.

Anyway, I know the day isn't even close to being over. And there's no reason to stop writing (except for the fact that I'm starving—where'd I put that Count Chocula . . .), but I figured I'd post early to help motivate those who are struggling. I exceeded my goal by 102 words! Are you on your way to hitting your goal on Day 1?

Happy NaNo!
Current Word Count: 2,102