TIP: Don’t feel ashamed about asking your prospective agent lots of questions openly.
Getting an agent was a
tiring, emotionally draining process. I wanted to make the right move for my
career, but how was I supposed to do that? I did some research and went through
all of the steps you’re supposed to. I looked over the contract my agent sent
me and asked a lot of questions. That was good, but now that I’ve had some time
to develop relationships with other authors at different stages of their
careers and heard the stories—good and bad—I realize that I’d missed some major
I’m fortunate that I
lucked into a good agent whom I trust, but if I could do it all over again, I
would tell myself to ask the following questions before signing just to make
sure we were on the same page. • How does your agent-to-be handle non-compete
and option clauses? If she doesn’t tell you straight off the bat that she will
do everything in her power to fight them or change the language so that it is
less restrictive on you, you might want to look elsewhere.
• How does your
agent-to-be handle rights? Not only do you want to make sure you can get your
rights back if your publisher folds, she also should know how to handle
digital, foreign, movie, and merchandizing rights. If she works with another
agent or lawyer in those negotiations, who is that person?
• What if you want to be
a hybrid author? For many writers, a clear delineation between traditional and indie
publication doesn’t make sense for their careers. They do both. How does your
agent-to-be feel about you working on indie projects? Would she want a cut of
an indie book that she does not represent? Is she supportive of you going solo
for part of your career?
• Can you break up with
your agent if you need to? No one wants to think about an agent/author
relationship going south, but sometimes it happens. Read the clauses of your
contract dealing with separation very carefully. If you have any doubts about
your ability to understand contract language, get a lawyer. You do not want to
wind up stuck in a contractual relationship that’s soured.
• What is your
agent-to-be’s style, and what do you want from her? I think this is one of the
most important questions to ask yourself. Some agents will do serious, line-by
-line developmental edits. Others would rather you work with critique partners
to get your manuscript in shape so they can focus on selling. Some are very
friendly with clients while others keep clients at a more professional
distance. You don’t have to be best friends, but you should be working with
someone whose style fits yours.
Don’t feel ashamed about
asking your prospective agent lots of questions openly. You’re doing what you
need to in order to help protect the health of your career. Be polite, but also
And when in doubt, talk
to your friends. There’s a good chance that someone in your chapter or in your
personal network of authors knows someone else who is represented by a
particular agent. Be discrete and gracious, but make sure to get the answers
you need before signing.♥
Julia Kelly writes sexy
historical and contemporary romances about smart women and the men who love
them. When she’s not writing, Julia is a
TV news producer who bosses reporters around and chases breaking news stories.
Her first book, One Week in Wyoming, came out this past September. Visit her at
TIP: Ignore the fact that
you need to fix a full-length novel, and concentrate on the baby steps required
to get there.
Post NaNoWriMo, you’ll
be in one of two positions: (1) You have part of a draft written but still have
to finish your book. (2) First draft is done.
If you’re at (1), go
forth and write more! Enjoy. Have fun. Write on to The End. If you’re at (2), yay!
Congratulations. Celebrate. Do a happy dance.
Then it’s time to get to
Like the blank page of a
first draft, starting the editing phase can be daunting, especially if you’re a
writer like me who believes in the shitty first draft philosophy—that first
draft is the raw clay of your story. Editing is when you take that clay and
form it into something readable.
Now some of you edit as
you go and write a much cleaner first draft, but NaNo is about writing fast
without taking the time to stop and edit along the way. This means you’ll have
a draft that will need at least a little work. After the deliriously creative
binge of NaNo, switching your brain to edit mode can be tough. Getting started can
take a little effort. Just like getting that word count down every day,
returning to the story to craft and sculpt it will take determination on your
part. And maybe a little bribery. Here are some tips to get you to the page for
(1) Take some time away from your story.
Write something else. Read a few books from that ToBeRead pile. Go to the
movies. Enter the world again and interact with other people who aren’t
writers. Whatever gets your head out of your story. This has the duel benefit
of giving you distance from the work so you can approach the edit with a fresh
eye, and giving you time to get excited about reading the story again. If you
got all the way to The End, you liked the story you were telling. It’s fun to
go back and read it again, revisit those beloved characters, remind yourself
what they got up to. That old saying “distance makes the heart grow fonder”
works really well with your Work-In-Progress. If you’re excited to see the
story again, opening it up to begin editing will be a lot easier.
(2) Make a plan to tackle the edits. This
will be individual to your style, effort, and time constraints, as well as what
the story needs. There are as many options as there are writers. For example,
you could start by doing a full read through and taking edit notes, then go
back to implement the changes you need to make. You might want to go in looking
at the “big picture” stuff first, then do another draft to tackle the little
details. You might start with getting the spelling and grammar sorted, then diving
into story issues. The plan itself is entirely up to you and should fit the way
you work best (and this can change for each and every book you write). The
point is to have a plan. Just the process of figuring out how you’ll tackle
edits makes it easier to open the manuscript and get started. Knowing where and
how to start takes away the anxiety of facing the book.
(3) Break the task down into small
“bites”. It can be pretty daunting to think about writing 50,000 words in a
month, all as one big effort. But if you break that down into the daily word
count you need to achieve to make the 50,000 words in 30 days, that 1,667 words
seems a lot more doable. The same applies to edits. Break it down into little
chunks you can achieve every day. Give yourself a certain number of pages, a
single chapter, a few paragraphs, or even one scene to finish each day.
Whatever breakdown works best for you and keeps you from feeling overwhelmed,
that’s the one to use. Ignore the fact that you need to fix a full-length
novel, and concentrate on the baby steps required to get there.
(4) Bribery. I was serious when I
mentioned bribery above. This is the technique I use most often to get my computer
on and my head into my edits. One of the things that makes editing hard to
start is that it takes a different kind of concentration from first draft
writing, often more concentration, and definitely a lot more critical thinking.
So bribe yourself to open the manuscript. “If I edit for fifteen minutes, I can
watch the new episode of Walking Dead.” “If I get that one scene finished, I
can go out for drinks with my friends.” “As soon as I finish this paragraph, I
get a cookie.” “Once I edit that sentence, I get to read a for-fun book.”
Whatever it takes. Use the bribe of your choosing. It just has to be motivating
enough to make you accomplish your editing goal (so no “If I get this scene
done, I’ll do the dishes. That is not a good bribe. Well, unless you really
really enjoy doing dishes.)
Turning the initial
burst of creativity that spilled onto the page into a fully fleshed out story
is as rewarding as reaching The End on your first draft. Using these four tips
can help you start, and once you get going on the second draft, you’ll be off
and running, making that story not only readable, but un-put-downable.♥
Isabo Kelly is the
award-winning author of multiple fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal
romances. She accidentally won NaNoWriMo when drafting her latest release, WARRIOR’S
DAWN (FIRE AND TEARS #3)—she hadn’t actually meant to do NaNo, but the story
spilled out. For more on Isabo and her books visit her at www.isabokelly.com,
follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly, or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly.
Conflict is the heart of
fiction. Without conflict there is no story. In times past, most genre fiction
was considered to be dominated by external conflict, while literary fiction was
the playground of internal conflict. Times have changed. Most modern commercial
fiction utilizes both internal and external conflict to deepen a story, add
tension, give depth to characters, and add layers that make a story hard to put
So what’s the difference
between the two?
Simply put, internal
conflict is the main character in conflict with some inner demon. This conflict
is emotional and psychological, an inner struggle between the protagonist and
herself. External conflict revolves around the story goal. It’s essentially the
plot. Your protagonist wants something and is prevented from getting it by
external forces. This external force doesn’t have to be a conscious opponent
(for example, if that force is nature). It just has to prevent the protagonist
from achieving their goal.
The most engaging
stories ensure these two types of conflict revolve around and interact with
each other. If the internal conflict doesn't affect the character’s pursuit of
their goal and knock up against their external conflict, readers will feel like
they’re getting two, disconnected stories. Weaving the two types of conflict
together gives layers and punch to your fiction.
The external conflict
will push the protagonist into action, requiring her to make decisions and
The internal conflict
will affect which choices she makes and the way she feels about her decisions.
A good way to understand
this interweaving is through a simple example:
Jane is left her beloved
aunt’s ranch when her aunt dies. Jane wants to sell her aunt’s ranch because
the life Jane has always dreamed of having is in NYC, but the only person
willing to buy the ranch is her aunt’s worst enemy (EXTERNAL CONFLICT). Jane wants to honor her aunt’s wishes and
memory because she was the only person in Jane’s life who didn’t make her feel
like a selfish petty person, but to do that will require Jane giving up her
dreams and risks her growing bitter and resentful (INTERNAL CONFLICT).
Dean wants to buy his
neighbor’s land because he needs to expand his ranch (a ranch his family has
owned for generations) or risk the business failing, but the person who could
sell him the ranch refuses to (EXTERNAL CONFLICT). Dean has failed in other
businesses—something that resulted in ridicule from his father. He needs to
make this family business a success because he’s desperate for his father’s
approval, but to succeed he’ll have to take actions he considers unethical and
immoral (INTERNAL CONFLICT).
demonstrates several things. First, the external goals of the two main
characters are in conflict, which creates the plot. They both want something
but the other person is preventing them from getting it. Jane wants to sell her
land to someone her aunt would approve of (not Dean). Dean wants the land
desperately enough to run off any other buyers (leaving Jane with few options).
Their internal conflicts complicate how they deal with this external conflict.
In fact, if these were two different types of people, there would be no
external conflict. If Jane didn’t care about her aunt’s memory and wasn’t worried
about living up to the “selfish” title bestowed on her by others, she’d just
sell the land to Dean and be done with it. If Dean didn’t care about his
father’s approval and wasn’t terrified of failing at yet another business—this
one his family’s business—he wouldn’t bother running off other potential buyers
of his neighbor’s land.
But because of who these
people are, and because of the inner conflicts they struggle with, their
decisions and choices affect how the story progresses, essentially creating the
plot out of their character.
Now, if we’re talking
about a romance novel, even more conflict will arise when these two people fall
in love. Most of this conflict will be internal because this is their emotional
journey. But the way they deal with the external conflict will affect how their
internal relationship conflict unfolds: Dean is a country boy whose dreams
require him to live on his family’s ranch. Jane’s dreams revolve around living
in a big city, and she hates country life. Dean’s actions in preventing Jane
from selling her land introduces distrust on Jane’s part and guilt and regret
on Dean’s part—internal conflict affected by their external goals and conflict.
In the end, one will
“win” while the other “loses”, or they’ll find some alternate compromise that
allows them both to leave the situation satisfied—and if this is a romance,
you’ll want to work toward that compromise ending because readers expect the
characters to end up happily together!
Either way, you’ve given
your readers enough conflict to create doubt that you can pull off a happy
ending and that’s what will keep them reading.
One final note: In her
superlative craft book GMC: GOAL, MOTIVATION AND CONFLICT (a book I highly
recommend!), Debra Dixon provides a very useful sentence to define GMC: The
protagonist wants a (GOAL) because of a (MOTIVATION) but is prevented from
getting this goal by (CONFLICT). This same sentence applies to both internal
and external GMC and is very handy in helping to define your internal and
You’ll notice I used
this sentence structure above in my example. I did this for the very specific
reason that it makes both internal and external conflicts crystal clear when
set against a character’s goal and their motivation to achieve that goal. Creating
an external conflict which is complicated by a strong internal conflict will
add layers and depths to your fiction. Knowing how to weave these two types of
conflict together makes your story impossible to put down and will ensure
readers stay on the edge of their seats until they reach the end.♥
Isabo Kelly is the multi-award winning author of numerous fantasy,
science fiction, and paranormal romances. Her latest release, WARRIOR’S DAWN
(Fire and Tears #3), utilizes both external and internal conflict to create an
intense and compelling fantasy romance. For more on Isabo and her books, visit
her at www.isabokelly.com, follow her
on Twitter @IsaboKelly or friend her on Facebook www.facebook.com/IsaboKelly.
Harrison’s “May You Always” has become a holiday tradition for me. In the
spirit of one of my favorite recordings, I would like to present my wish list to
you get that one hour each day you need to write your work-in-progress.
you sit in front of the computer and your writer’s block disappear.
that wonderful plot twist that came to you before you went to sleep at night be
with you when you wake up in the morning.
you find the inspiration to complete the work-in-progress you had been putting
off for years.
you find a critique partner who offers you constructive criticism that helps
strengthen your work.
you get a rejection, may you find someone who’ll offer you a shoulder to cry on
as well as give you the push youneed to get back out there.
your dream editor love your manuscript and offer you a contract.
your edits go smoother than you expected.
that stressful day, when nothing seemed to go your way, may you get a five-star
last but not least, may you experience good health and happiness during the
holiday season and throughout the New Year.♥
Ursula Renée is the President of
RWA/NYC. She is the author of SWEET JAZZ, a historical, interracial romance.
When she is not writing, she enjoys photography, drawing and stone carving.
Visit her at www.ursularenee.com.