Sunday, February 20, 2011

EPIC Double Helix CONTEST!!

Hi Everyone!

I hope everyone is having a fantastic week! Well. We have reached 100 followers!!! YAY! Thank you so much for following us.

We think that it's about time to have an EPIC contest! Just fill out the form below to enter for your chance to win one of these great prizes! And we're giving extra entries for spreading the word and/or following our individual blogs. So you have the chance to score some mega entries!

  • Brenda: Free $25 Amazon gift card.
  • Shelley: Free book from the Book Depository under $15.
  • Erica: Free book from the Book Depository under $15.
  • Cassandra: Free 10 pg MS critique or 4 pg synopsis critique ($35 value).
  • Diana: Free $15 Starbucks e-gift card.
  • Janelle: SIGNED paperback of Lisa McMann's WAKE.
GRAND PRIZE: Full substantial edit of 80k or less (MG or YA only) from Kari!

  • Must be a follower of this blog.
  • Fill out the form below.
  • Contest ends at midnight EST March 6th.

Thanks again and GOOD LUCK!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

WRITING JOURNEY TOURNIQUET - Avoid shooting yourself in the foot

 Happy Valentine's Day!!!

And we have a winner! First order of business is to announce the winner from my blog contest. The one where I said I was going to pull a follower from this site during my contest It Was a Dark and Stormy Blogfest Contest . So I pulled names from DNA's blogger followers list and the NetworkedBlog list and after random selection the winner is ...

Melissa at Chasing the Dream 

She wins a $35 dollar editing gift certificate or a ten page critique or a synopsis critique (up to four single spaced pages) from CA Marshall, literary agent intern, freelance editor, writer extraordinaire. Melissa, DM me your email address on my twitter account @brendadrake and I'll send you the gift certificate.

And we have more winners! On Thursday, we posted a contest to write a story using a writing prompt, with the prize of a query critique by Shelley Watters. But rather than having one winner, she picked two!  And the winners are...

Patricia Lynne
A.L. Sonnichsen

(Please email Shelley at SWattersWrites (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize. )

More prizes to be had - Before we get to my scheduled post, DNA Writers will be holding a contest with fun prizes such as critiques, books, and an amazon gift card soon, so check back for the contest deets coming soon! 

And now back to my scheduled post...

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot!

Last post we talked about the query letter and my second mistake of sending it out before it was ready and critiqued by someone other than myself, like other writers and not my mom, sister, husband, or dog. Well, once you have that query all sparkling and ready you'll want to send it out to every single agent listed on QueryTracker or Agent Query, right? Before you cock that gun and aim at your favorite agents, hold on. There's  a better way other than shooting blind and hoping you hit the bulls-eye with as many bullets as you can fire at once.

Start by sending out just a few queries, let's say anywhere between eight and twelve at a time. Wait. See what response you get back. If you only getting rejections than you need to rework that query. If you're getting requests for more pages than you've got a good query. If the requests for more pages start coming in as rejections than you need to edit your manuscript more. Really tighten up those sentences and try to figure out why those pages are generating nos.

After you've done a revision from the responses don't go all postal and fire off your query to all your potential agents. Again, only send out eight to twelve more and wait for responses. Keep doing that query a few and then revise until you start getting full requests. When you start getting requests for fulls than you know that your query and your sample pages are working. Now, hopefully you'll get an agent from one of those fulls, but if you don't, maybe you'll be lucky to get some agent feedback on what's not working.

If you get agent feedback, or if you don't, this is when you need to stop submitting the manuscript to agents before you run out of ones to query. Have some new eyes critique it and then revise again. When you're done repeat the steps listed above. Oh, and while you're doing all of that querying and revising, you'll want to be writing that new story because the one your querying might not be the one that gets you an agent. It may well be a future manuscript that will get you into the coveted world of being an agented writer.

Well, that's it until next time. Thanks for stopping by.

Brenda Drake is usually a stay at home mom with kids that are now ghosts. She's temporarily closing houses for her old company on a part time basis in Albuquerque for a few months. She writes young adult novels so she doesn't get bored since the kiddos are off running around doing their own thing now. She's currently querying one manuscript, revising another, and has a couple that she's buried in her back yard someplace where only the dog can find them, if he could still smell and see, that is. 
You can find Brenda on her blog

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Not Send Your Story Into a Cinderblock Wall- Making Every Scene Count

For the past few days where I live, the wind have been howling. Gusts blow strong enough to knock down our metal patio furniture and send our garbage cans halfway down the block. So when I heard a major crash outside, I figured it might be anything. It turns out it was our new firepit. The thing is HEAVY, and it went from one end of our yard to the other. The insert slammed into our cinderblock wall and folded in half like a taco. 
I stared at the damaged firepit, noticing the tree beside it, and how frantically the leaves blew in the mad wind. Some of the weaker leaves had blown off, but most of them clung to the branches and would survive the wind. I thought to myself, how strange that those frail leaves hang on, when something as large and strong as a firepit goes flying.
My husband thought that was a strange thought to have. Leaves? What about our new ruined firepit? And did the thirty day warranty cover smashed-into-cinderblock-wall damage?
So here comes the writerly part of the post... it occurred to me as I helped lug the firepit to the garage (did I mention it’s HEAVY?), that story ideas can either be like that firepit, or like leaves on a tree. Maybe it isn’t wise to treat a manuscript as one massive entity, but better to understand that each scene is its own part of the bigger picture. Like those leaves, the strongest ideas hang on and survive the crazy wind. And in the end, rather than a story that’s flattened like a taco, you’re left with one in which only the very best ideas flourish.
It can be hard to let go of our carefully crafted scenes though! But sometimes a beautifully written scene doesn’t do anything to move the story forward. How can we know for sure if what we’ve written is weighing our story down, and threatening to send the whole thing into a cinderblock wall? 
Here are some things that help me... (oh my-- another Diana List!!)
1. Send it to critique partners.
Do they mention that a particular scene doesn’t feel necessary? Or drags? Ask them to look at the story and help you make sure every scene matters.
2. Wait a week or so and look at the story again with fresh eyes.
With fresh eyes comes perspective, and distance from my work. I’m more willing to look at a scene and be willing to see it for what it’s worth to the story as a whole. The longer you wait before re-reading, the easier it will be to cut what isn't necessary.
3. Try removing the scene-- does the story still stand? 
If so, it might not be necessary to your story. Every scene should not only character-build, world-build, and add layers and dimension, it should build momentum and move the story forward to its next plot point. 
If we tighten up our manuscripts and make sure every scene counts, we’re more likely to end up with a page turner. And who knows? Those deleted scenes might end up as fun extras on our author websites someday ;)

~ ~ ~

Diana Paz is a web content writer and aspiring YA author. She grew up on Miami Beach, moved to Los Angeles in high school, and went to college in San Diego. Basically, she's a beach bum, but she did graduate from California State University, San Marcos with a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts. She loves old movies, epic fantasy, all kinds of music, and heading to the beach with a good book. Preferably sipping a caramel frappuccino. Find her at her blog: or on Twitter @dianapazwrites

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Prompts to Help Get Your Muse Going

While everyone else is giving you great tips on writing, querying, etc. I thought I'd take a day out to talk about writing prompts. They are a fun way to give your muse the kick in the butt that sometimes it needs to get going. Writing prompts can be anything from a situation, an object, or a picture. I particularly like using pictures as writing prompts. I've found that anytime I'm stuck, I start searching the internet for pictures to inspire me. Then I use those pictures as writing prompts. The trick with writing prompts is to securely tape the mouth of your internal editor shut and just write.

Here's today's writing prompt picture:

Here's what I came up with from this picture:

Rain splattered against the foggy windows. The dim light filtered in through the curtains and cast the scene in somber shades of gray and blue. I knelt down beside the chocolaty brown smudges on the carpet. The mask over my face did little to dampen the putrid stench that filled the room. The flash from my camera exploded in the dim light.
I got up from my crouch, my knees creaking in my old age. I was getting too old for this.
Officer Maloney winced and dropped the sheet back over the body. “So what do you think?”

Let's have some fun. Write a story using the photo prompt with 100 words or less. Enter them into the comments below. Its fun to see how different people's imaginations are when looking at the same picture. And for one lucky commenter, I'll do a query critique! The winner will be announced on Monday!


Shelley Watters writes romance for young adults and adults. She lives in Arizona with her husband, two kids and two dogs. She loves listening to music, reading good books and letting her imagination go wild as she creates new worlds and torments her characters in delicious ways. She is an active member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is currently seeking literary representation. You can find Shelley on her blog at and twitter @Shelley_Watters .

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Go Ahead, Judge These Books by Their Covers

This post is pretty much dedicated to some of my favorite covers of 2011 upcoming books. Sure, authors don't get a say in what their cover looks like, but looking at these babies, I think that's not such a bad thing. There are some covers of upcoming books that would make me pick the book up in store without ever having heard anything about the book, that might even make me buy the book whether I like it or not just for the cover.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma: I adore the blue, and the contrast of the red into it. This one is just downright gorgeous on so many levels, and I get the sense that it's one of those covers that actually really fits with the book, once you've read it.

A Need so Beautiful by Suzanne Young: In a world of dark colors for paranormal/supernatural books, the gold on this is just stunning. I seriously cannot wait to see the final hardcover bound version. I love the font for the title, and the intense look on the girl's face. So. Pretty.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire: This one is honestly just a mind meld. It takes you a few seconds to really see it before... oh, she's on the wall. I love the initial interest in the way her hair and dress are falling forward, before realizing the why of it. The colors are catchy and simple, too.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin: I love the dark colors. I love that there is actually a guy behind the girl, holding her closer... maybe saving her, maybe dragging her under. This one is just so intense in such an inexplicable way.

Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey: Gorgeous. If ever there was a cover to say nothing but gorgeous about, it's this one. The muted, simple colors are appealing, the way the dress flows into petals is just so pretty, even for someone who isn't really into flowers.

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey: This one totally appeals to the boy side of me. It's creepy and makes me wonder what's in the pages. The red building, set in a murky green, with the freaky eye thing going on above it? Why yes, I do want this book. Not to mention, this is another one where the font of the title itself is just... awesome.

So there you have it. Some of my favorite 2011 covers of upcoming books. Make sure you check these out when the time comes, even if some of them are far off. I certainly will be.

Kari is a querying YA writer and book blogger who currently works a day job with a radiologist group and lives in Dallas. She enjoys badgering her dog Toby, meandering around the internet, and reading lots and lots of books. Currently juggling three manuscripts, she’s dreaming for the day she can stay at home and write full time, preferably with a charming boy to cook and clean. You can find her at

Sunday, February 06, 2011

When the Truth Punches You Like a Load of Bricks.......

Be honest. That's a really bad title. I can hear you now... Really, Janelle? A load of bricks? That's just so cliche!

And you, my friends, are so right! So go ahead and tell me.

'Cause I love the truth.

Even when it hurts.

Especially when it hurts.

Because when the truth hurts, it means I'm too close to it. It means I need to take a deep breath. Take a step back. Wait. (Take another deep breath.)

And look again.

Then I can see it.

Usually. ;o)

It's taken a loooooooong time for me to get to this place. A year ago, I may have been a little hurt if you told me that title was cliche. Three years ago, I probably would've run away and cried...

But a lot has changed over the last few years. And today? Tell me the truth!!! Even if you think I won't like it! Because the truth is the only way I'm going to grow. And trust me when I say that I want to grow.

It was probably about a year ago when I first heard the truth about my ms (well, part of it). It had been a while since I had written that part, but it was still hard to hear that I should cut about 20 pages. 20 pages. I died. I died again. Then I waited. I read it again.


That's why.


Now I have to cut (well, cut & rewrite) closer to 150 pages. Yes. 150 freaking pages. But you know what? They need to go. It took me a while to be able to hear that, but I can. *takes deep breath* And it's gonna be a lot of work, but in the end, my book will be so much better because of it.

That said, how do I get myself to a place where I could hear the truth?



And learning about writing.

The more distance I have from what I write, the less attached I am to it. I am able to look at it and see past the "brilliance" I thought it was. I can see the true brilliance it can be. Time works in much the same way. The more time that passes, the easier it is to see what needs to go. As well as what needs to stay.

And despite the fact that rules are made to be broken, when it comes to writing, twenty pages of inner dialogue are Just. Not. Necessary. Learning about writing, honing my craft, is necessary to improve it. Because how can I break the rules if I don't know or understand them? And to be quite frank with you, it takes skill to break rules when it comes to writing.

I also have good, honest critique partners, people I trust, people who will tell me the truth, no matter what. For example, Di will draw hearts and happy faces and squiggly lines all over places she likes and write NO, THANK YOU on things that need to go. I need both. I need to know the stuff that doesn't work so I can fix it and make it better. Because I don't just want to have written a book with some good parts--I want to have written a GOOD book.

As one of my critique partners (and really good friends) once told me, there is a difference between a talented writer and a good writer; a talented writer can write, but a good writer is willing to listen so they will grow and learn how to write well.

I want to be a good writer. I want to grow and change and be the best I can possibly be. (No. I don't want to be in the Army. Wait. I am. I'm in Dumbledore's NaNo Army. Sweet. Okay. I want to be the best I can be.)

In order to do that, I need to be able to hear things that I don't like. To hear that even though I love certain scenes, they just have no bearing on the plot. Really. None. They just need to go. (I keep these in a file so when I'm a hugely famous writer, I can have an outtakes section on my website. What? You don't have dreams?)

And I am able to see it better. I can now go through my ms and cross stuff off and write "Really, Janelle? Really??" and just laugh.

There are two things that go with this: you must have critique partners and betas you trust. Yes. Plural. You need more than one opinion. People who will tell you the truth, both the GOOD and the BAD. (If you are not sure how to find a critique partner, try Or maybe that's what I'll write my next blog on......)

And this does not mean I have to listen to everything that everybody says about my writing! People will have different opinions and tastes and will tell me different things, but only I know what is right for my story. I have the right to say no and keep it the same.

I just keep in mind that if I have five people telling me my dialogue is stiff and unnatural, I may want to look at it again. And again. And again. Then wait, and read it again. I will probably find some (okay--a lot of) truth in their feedback.

I'll leave you with this: it's never easy for me to hear something "bad" or "negative", especially when there is nothing positive to balance it out (which, again, is why it is important to have GOOD critique partners), but there is always something I can take from it. Always.

There is always something I can make better.

So, tell me the truth. Always. It's all I ask of you. (Yes, Di. That reference was for you.)

Have you had to take any rough feedback? Did you learn from it?

And.......... Mini-contest time!!! See? Those of you who put up with my rambling now have a chance to win something!! (Not sure exactly what you will win, but it will be signed... Probably a bookmark or bookplate!) Your task? Re-title this blog in the comments. A good title, not a trite, worn-out cliche like I used. I will pick a winner Monday at 11:59 pm PST. (If I am still awake.......) Make sure you leave your twitter or some way for me to contact you!! The winner is purely subjective on my part.

PS - I asked my crit partner to check this for me before I posted it, and she pointed out a sentence that didn't read right. I couldn't help myself--I texted her back, "But but but!!! It's perfect!!! *wails*" Yeah. I was kidding. We laughed. Then I fixed it. 'Cause she was right. Love you, Di!!!


Janelle Alexander hates writing biographies. So just know that she loves to read and write, especially YA. And she loves her critique partners. And she is as jealous of all of you in your fabulously cold snow as you are of her in her stupid, hot sun.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Here a Crutch. There a Crutch. Everywhere a Crutch, Crutch...

Hi Folks!
I hope you are keeping warm and aren't buried under a snow drift (like me) ;o)

So. I completed my NaNo novel '10! (no applause, it's really such a mess still)

But. I realized something while revising... I repeat words. A lot. So-called crutch words can bog down your story. I know it does mine... So. Let's break out that magnifying glass and see if we can find out why we use these words and how we can change it...

Let's explore this conundrum together through bullet points, shall we?

Why do I use those pesky crutch words?

  • You're comfortable with them, in a pinch they always give you a warm hug and make you hot cocoa to sip on.
  • You can't think of anything else to use and you're about to fist pound the next thing you see out of your peripheral vision if you have to transform another sentence into the same thing, then back again, then back to what it was in the first draft... then...[insert scream or barbaric yawp]
  • Sometimes your crutch words may actually work in the sentence. Wha? Yes. Sometimes your crutch words will work in a sentence. I'm saying it twice 'cause that's important to note.
  • You tell yourself. "It's only a first draft. I'll get rid of all three hundred in the revision." Uh. No.
  • It's okay my character loves to say "uh, and like and um," that's what she does, it's her personality. Okay. Don't cheat. Make sure if you use your crutch it's only a few times and spread it throughout your story.
What can I do if a crutch word suddenly crosses my path for the twentieth (or fiftieth, let's be honest) time?
  • Don't panic. All words can be changed to be less crutchy. Just use them less.
  • Read the sentence again or have someone else read it. Can they spot your crutch word? If the answer is yes, then change.
  • Think outside the box. Transform that sentence using that brain and voice of yours!
  • Find new crutch words by using that handy dandy thesaurus thing.
  • Use it anyway. Rules are made to be broken ;o)

Okay... so you may be wondering, or not. What are mine? *poke, prod* I'll go first...

Like is a huge one for me (please refer to the blatant and embarrassing display of my crutch words above) also, lookedknowget, head, face, know and apparently eyes. Who knew?

A cool way to figure out yours is to use Wordle
I'm sure many of you know of this awesome site, but for those that don't... it's pretty cool. You take a bunch or words (or your blog url) and paste it in a box and poof, it spews out this cool looking shape thing that has all your lovely crutches to display for the masses.

Try it, then come back and tell me your crutch words ;o) Any other ideas on how to stop using those pesky overused words?

Okay, gold stars (virtual only, sorry) go to the one that tells me how many times I said crutch in this post!

Ha ha, crutch is my crutch word for this post.

Oh, it's National GO RED For Women day today, so be sure to wear your red and support awareness for women's (& men's) #1 Killer - Heart Disease.

Have a wonderful weekend!

<3 Er

erica m. chapman is a YA writer by night, workin' for the cause by day. Fan of football, especially Lions and Michigan. She loves alternative music, animals, reading, golf and playing her guitar. She resides in Michigan, AKA the frozen tundra, where she sits quietly typing her next story on her macbook in her Detroit Lions Snuggie. You can also find her at Crutch. Crutch. ha ha, do you ever read these bios? 

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

How to write a bio for your query (And happy Groundhog Day!)

First off,
Happy Groundhog Day!

Insert awesome segue... (How can you segue from a groundhog, eh? C'mon! It's a groundhog!)

B wrote an excellent post on Monday, and I was particularly interested when she said that she didn't have a bio section in her query because she didn't have any credits. That got me thinking... So many people have trouble with their bios. So here are some tips on how to make this often-overlooked bit shine.

Writing a bio for your query letter can be tricky. You want to showcase your accomplishments, but you don't want to come across as a jerk, either. 

  • Formatting
    • Keep it short - a single paragraph is best.
    • Write it in first person. Third person bios are creepy.
  • List major writing credits
    • Self-publishing doesn't usually count. Don't bother including that info unless you've won major awards or have recently sold a TON of copies. Like thousands.
    • If traditionally published, include the year and publisher name.
    • If you've got short story or journal credits, only list the ones that will be familiar to the agent/editor. Rinky-dink places that no one has ever heard of won't really help. Use that space to say something else that will.
  • List writing associations
    • RWA, SCBWI, etc.
      • If you're secretary for one, treasurer for another, and member at large for six more, that's all fine and dandy, but keep it short. List two or three of the bigger ones and leave it at that.
    • Don't list small things, like podunk library patron, bogus who's who's, or published in that poetry mail-in book thing that you pay to be included in. Those peg you as an amateur and lessen your credibility.
  • Personal stuff
    • If you've got five kids and nine cats and stories about how each of their names came about... don't include that. Save that "getting to know you" stuff until later.
    • Places of work - If you're a lawyer and you write legal thrillers, then include that. It adds to your credibility. If you're a mom of teens and you write for teens... eh. That doesn't really set you apart from all the other moms that are querying. 
    • You don't need to share your story about how you've been writing since you were five and that you like to make up stories.  Stick to stuff that's relevant to THIS book.
    • If you've got a writing/publishing MA/MFA, list it. 
What To Do If You Have No Writing Credentials:

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, DON'T PANIC. We all started out with nothing to show for our passions, and that's perfectly ok. It's perfectly acceptable to not include a bio if you don't have anything.

If you want to include something though, try saying something like: 

"I blog regularly at and on twitter @WriterMcWriterson. I'm also working on another book about a half-vampire/half-toaster."

Those two sentences show that you've got an online presence going (Yay marketing!), and that you're serious about writing because you're already hard at work on another book.  Win-win.

C.A. Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agent intern, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She is currently single. And unagented. She can be found in Emmett, MI and at