Creating Dynamic Characters

Well-developed characters make for great reading, but also for fun writing. It's such an amazing feeling when a character wakes up and starts doing stuff without a lot of direction from me.

As you've probably noticed, there are a thousand-and-one approaches to character development. A lot of writers use work sheets that ask for details ranging from eye color and shoe size to favorite song and which high school the character graduated from. I think these sheets are awesome, but since I am not  detail oriented and get easily distracted, I have yet to complete one. Inevitably I get bored and wander off to write something more exciting.

I honestly don't have a conscious process for creating my characters. Usually, when I sit down and start writing they kindly show up and start talking. I don't consciously sit down and plot out what kind of character they are going to be.

But, I have a background in mental health and I suspect my subconscious is in on the game and kindly supplying me with information. When I stop to think about it and try to analyze my process, I realize that I am relying on a few basic principles.

  1. I make sure the character has a cohesive personality. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Somebody who is intuitive and flexible, or somebody who likes rules and structure and routines? Do they talk a lot, or prefer to keep things to themselves? Then I make sure that they stick to this, unless there's a damn good reason for them to break away from their usual behavior.
  2. What is the character's defining life event? Here I am talking about those experiences we go through that change us forever. Most of us have a number of these, but there is often one particular occurrence that changes everything. Pay attention to your friends and family, really listen, and you'll often hear it. Look for the "before" and "after" type words for your clues: Before the divorce … After the accident… Ever since I was diagnosed with… People tend to mark everything in their lives by this one defining event.
  3. I also pay attention to core values. What is most important to your character. Family? Independence? Success? Belonging? Individuality? Once you know what these are, you can really up the stakes in your plot by throwing your character into a situation where there most deeply chereished values are threatened and tested.

For example, in my paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying, (releasing Feb. 9 from Diversion Books) Paranormal Investigator Maureen Keslyn's top value is independence, followed closely by a love of personal challenge, and pursuing justice. In this story she's about to turn sixty, has recently been injured on the job, and is physically vulnerable for the first time in her life. She's also facing a situation where someone or something is killing off elderly people in a nursing home. This set up makes it easy to set up suspense and emotional tension and keep it going throughout the book.

I'll be talking more about character development at the workshop I'll be co-presenting with the Heather Webb at the Colorado Gold Conference. Hope to see you there!


What’s Your Plan for 2015?

By Kerry Schafer

planGod knows I'm a pantser by birth and inclination, but I've learned that sometimes I need a plan. In writing as well as the rest of my life, there is a time for pantsing and a time for planning and it's important to get this straight.

Do you need a Writing Plan for 2015?

That depends.

Do you want to just have fun and create stuff for pleasure? Great. Kudos to you. No planning required and I hope you have a lovely time. (I might be a little bit jealous)

But if you want a writing career, you need a plan.

Stay with me here. A plan doesn't have to involve flow charts and spread sheets and hours of tedious details, although it certainly can. Some of you organized minds out there totally get off on this sort of thing. My crit partner, I know, has a spreadsheet that includes detailed timelines of not only WHAT she plans to accomplish this year, but WHEN each component will be completed.

This just makes me shudder. And want a nap. And ice cream, chocolate, and a bottle of wine. Or two.

On the other hand, I know that if I don't set some goals and some timeline markers, I'm not going to accomplish everything I want to do. Time is not linear for me. It expands and shrinks according to its own irrational whims, and if I don't pay attention I'll suddenly look at a calendar and it will be November and I won't have moved any closer to my ultimate writing career goals.

In case planning is not your forte, I've included pantser-friendly steps to help you get this done.

1. Start with the big picture. Think about what you want to have accomplished by the end of the year. Pretend it's New Year's Eve and you're looking back on all of your accomplishments. What do you want to be able to say you have done at the end of 2015? Finish that novel you've been working on? Write ten short stories? Find an agent? Get published?

I like to write this up as if I've already accomplished it all, something like this:

"It's been a fabulous year. The draft of XXX came out awesome and is on my agent's desk, ready for submission...." That sort of thing.

2. Figure out what is actionable. Okay, I sort of hate the word actionable, but it makes its point. There are things YOU can do, and things you can't. For example, if one of your goals is to get an agent this year, you can't actually force an agent to sign on with you. You CAN write a good book, draft an awesome query letter, research agents, and send out queries. So take a few minutes to break your goals down into smaller steps of things you are going to do this year to get you where you want to go.

3. Set deadlines. I don't know about you, but I can get a hell of a lot done when I've got an impending deadline. If you don't have an agent or a publishing contract to do this for you, it's tricky. This is the position I was in this year. It's much harder to make myself get up at 0-dark-thirty to write when there is no deadline. Who cares? says the voice in my head. It's not like there's anybody out there waiting on your words.

The solution - or at least a solution - is to set your own deadlines. Choose a weekly word count goal, number of revision pages, how many queries you're going to send, whatever. Pick a date you're going to do this by. Write your deadlines on a calendar or sticky notes or your bathroom mirror. Tell a bunch of people. Broadcast it on Twitter.

I have to confess that I did not meet my self imposed deadlines for The Nothing. In fact, I was at least a month behind where I wanted to be when I finally finished the sucker and flipped it over to my freelance editor. But you know what? Without a deadline and a goal I'd still be writing it. Or maybe I wouldn't have bothered with it at all, because that book was a struggle for me.

4. Celebrate Everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. This is so important I consider it part of planning. This writing business is hard. It chews writers up and spits them out on a regular basis. Part of motivation and sticking with the plan comes from marking milestones. So live it up. If you made your weekly word count or your daily word count even, reward yourself. Sent out queries? You ROCK. Give yourself a cookie or a piece of chocolate or at the very least a pat on the back. You didn't just sit there, wishing. You did something to make it happen.

5. Recalibrate as needed. Things change. If it looks like your original plan is a bust, revise it. If you're a pantser, you're already good at this. The whole point and purpose of a plan is to be looking down the road a little so you know where you're headed.

Kickstart This, Reprise. Five Lessons Learned.

By Kerry Schafer

Last month I blogged on Kickstarter basics. At that point I had just hit the launch button on my Kickstart Nothing project for the third book in my Between trilogy and had no idea how things were going to turn out. Thanks to a lot of support from friends, readers, and total strangers, I am happy to report that the Kickstarter campaign successfully funded!

I've used the word "happy" but let me shade in relieved, exhausted, elated, and maybe even vindicated. The fact that there are people out there who want to read The Nothing enough to put money behind the unfinished book feels incredible to me. It makes me want to be a better writer, because it feels like this book belongs to everybody who backed it and not just to me.

So now that the campaign is over and done, let me tell you a little more about what I've learned, just in case you're inclined to attempt this venture on your own.

1. Pick a launch date and build some momentum This is a tip I got from Jeff Seymour, and I'm glad I took his advice. Once I finally got my video done and the project written up I wanted to just click that little button and end my pre-launch anxiety. Thing is, it's better to have a few people excited about the project in advance. Just like anything else online, a few excited people backing the project from the beginning and tweeting and/or face booking about it can go a long way toward getting other people buzzed. An initial surge of momentum to get the project underway is hugely important, so talk to your friends and readers in advance and make the launch an exciting event. Just as you would with a cover reveal or book release.

2. Kickstarter has an algorithm.  What exactly this algorithm is remains a secret, possibly involving the blood of rare chickens found only in the Amazon Jungle. Okay, it's probably (slightly) more accessible than that, but I never figured it out. There were hints dropped (mostly by strangers popping up in my inbox offering to solve this riddle for money) that more backers and more people leaving comments on the Kickstarter project raises its visibility at the Kickstarter site. Sort of the same idea as favoriting authors on Amazon, I'd guess.

3. Kickstarter is a time suck. Be prepared to spend a month funneling much of your time into updates, social media, and staring at the Kickstarter page, willing the funding amount to rise. Unless, of course, you are the Potato Salad Guy. And then, I'd guess, you just snack a lot and laugh every time you look at your screen. Because, apparently, people will give thousands of dollars to help you make potato salad.

4. People are incredibly generous. You will be touched and humbled by the unexpected backers. People you know just a little (or not at all) who will drop a hundred dollars on your project (or two hundred, or more) and the people who you know are tight on money who still share two, or ten. This, more than anything, makes me want to be a better writer.

5. Add some excitement midway. There's a plateau at the middle of a Kickstarter where nothing seems to be happening. I felt for a bit like maybe I'd inadvertently murdered an albatross. You know, the old, "idle as a painted ship; upon a painted ocean" thing. I thought maybe it was just me, but since I got a formulaic email from Kickstarter at about this time letting me know it was normal for things to slow down here, I figure it's a common trend. Fortunately I had a brand new cover ready to reveal at this point and started splashing that around. People like covers, and this got the momentum rolling again. If I was ever inclined to do another crowd sourced project I would deliberately have something big to reveal about half way through.

And that is about it for my lessons learned. Now it's back to the writing cave for me, because with this success comes the towering responsibility of getting a damned good book out to my readers on time.

You Have the Power

By Kerry Schafer

Okay, writers, time for a show of hands: who among you has ever engaged in a pity party related to your writing career (or lack thereof)?

My hand definitely goes up. I've just dusted myself off after a particularly difficult little stretch where it seemed that everything was going wrong. And not just for me - for a lot of great writer friends out there.

The writing business is a tough one. It eats unwary writers for breakfast and smears the leavings over computer screens and scraps of paper for the wind to blow away. A writer's world is full of politics and trolls, reviews and rejections, market trends and genre crashes, not to mention the self doubt and despair involved in trying to transform that brilliant but elusive idea into reasonably coherent prose.

So what is a writer to do?

Well, keep on writing, obviously. But here are a few other tips that I find helpful in keeping a firm hold on my own personal writer power.

If You're Going to Have a Pity Party, Go Big. Hey, it's inevitable that you're going to crash at some point, and there's no shame in the occasional meltdown. No matter how optimistic you are by nature, you can only take so many hits before a little self pity catches up with you. One too many rejections, one too many bad reviews, one too many days of beating your head against a wall with a manuscript determined to prove that I SUCK AS A WRITER  writing is really hard work.

If this should happen to you, I say let's make it a real party. Bring in ice cream and chips. Chocolate. Alcohol. Invite friends. Weep big fat tears of failure and despair. Rage. Rant. Eat and drink things that provide an illusion of comfort. Just be sure to keep the misery offline and out of the public eye.

Also, set a time limit, say maybe 8 pm to midnight on Tuesday night. Parties that last too long suck and turn into something ugly. When the clock strikes twelve you know what to do. Clean up the mess. Dry your eyes. Let go of the anger. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on.

Remember, You are Here by Choice. That's right. If you're involved in this crazy rat race, then it's because you chose to be here. Nobody is holding a gun to your head to make you write (unless, maybe, you're a character in a Stephen King story). If you don't like it, if you think the rules aren't fair and the heartbreak too frequent, you are always welcome to pack up your computer and your stories and betake yourself elsewhere. If you choose to stay, do it with your eyes wide open. Acknowledge the reality. Sometimes great writers are passed over. Nice guys and gals may not win. Books that you consider not nearly as good as yours might make bestseller status while your work of art languishes, unloved and unappreciated.

If you continue to choose to be here, suck it up. Write anyway.

Take Responsibility. This is your writing career. Nobody else wants it as much as you do. Sure, maybe your significant other is supportive and wants you to be successful. They also want you to clean the house and make dinner and be available for sex and childcare and possibly even random conversation. And your agent? She's got a lot to gain from your success, it's true, but let's face it. There are millions of writers out there, clamoring at the gates. If you decide not to play anymore she might miss you, but she'll find another author to take your place.

Focus Your Energy Where You Have Control.

You don't have control over whether an agent or editor accepts or rejects your book.

You do have control over writing the best damn book you can and taking the time to craft a great query or pitch.

You don't have control over whether or not readers go crazy for something you write.

You do have control over writing a damn good book and learning some marketing strategies.

See the trend here? Nothing happens unless you write. And that means working on craft and structure and plotting and making every book better than the one before.

If you've already written a damn good book (and this has been confirmed by honest beta readers and editors and not just people who love you) maybe it's time to self publish. Or try a kickstarter.

You, my friend, are not powerless. In fact, all of the power is yours. Claim it, wield it. Don't let people walk all over you or make you believe that you are somehow not as worthy as some other writer. Only YOU can tell your stories. Only YOU can write the world through your eyes. So pick yourself up. Brush off the cake crumbs and the chocolate smears.

And get yourself back to the page where you belong.


Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part I

A few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors have submitted their best advice for an enjoyable and educational conference experience. These suggestions work for any conference, of course, but will be especially meaningful for those who plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section.

Kerry Schafer

1. Talking to writers at a conference is easier than talking to "normal" people, because you can drop the small talk. If you don't know what to say, just ask, "So what are you writing?" Even shy writers are generally happy to start telling you about their latest project, and this helps to break the ice.

2. Have a business card or bookmark you can pass out with your name, email address, and social media contacts. This allows people you connect with at the con to find you again later. You can get inexpensive business cards at or Vistaprint, or even make some yourself and print them on cardstock. Definitely worth the time.

3. Agents and editors are people. They don't like to be spammed any more than you do, but they are looking for the next wonderful book and it might just be yours. Treat them with respect and let your enthusiasm shine through.

Kevin Paul Tracy

1. Don't necessarily attend all the same workshops/classes as all your friends. Split up, then come together later and share notes.

2. The hospitality suite is great, but explore, there are all sorts of impromptu gatherings all over the place all weekend.

3. Listen more than you speak. You'll overhear so much more that way and learn all sorts of interesting things.

4. Don't go to bed early - stay up past your bed time. Some of the best conversations come after 1am and everyone is well lubricated.

5. When you make a new friend, get their "deets" right away, so you can stay in touch. You will forget later.

Robin D. Owens

1. There is no "one true way" to do things. What the seminar speaker is telling you works for him/her. Take what works for YOU from the workshop and use that.

2. Sometimes you have to hear a concept several times or phrased in different ways before it sinks in and is useful for you.

3. Stop when you get overwhelmed.

Susan Spann

1. Set specific, and reachable, personal goals. When I go to a conference, I try to meet (and remember) three new people every day. I used to feel shy about approaching strangers and introducing myself, but that became much easier when I replaced “Meet lots of people” with “Meet three new authors every day of the conference.” I usually end up meeting many more, but focusing on initiating three conversations made the goal more personal and reachable.

Jeffe Kennedy

Don’t over-schedule in advance, particularly regarding panels and workshops. Leave room to talk to people and go to panels and workshops as the opportunities arise. Connecting with other people is the one part of the conference you won’t be able to replicate some other way.

Please come back on Friday for Part II of Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers, featuring Liesa Malik, Pam Nowak, and Katriena Knights, and Jeanne Stein.

The Sane Writer Goes To Conference

By Kerry Schafer

Most of us head off to writing conferences with enthusiasm and great expectations. We plan to learn, meet with like minded people, and get our creative batteries recharged. We expect to come home brimful of energy, all ready to conquer new and wonderful writing worlds.

But just maybe you've headed off to a writer's conference in the past all full of hope and expectation, only to come home feeling like somebody sucked your soul out through your eyeholes and then used it for target practice.

If so, you're not alone and there's nothing wrong with you.

Writer's conferences are big, busy, and supercharged with emotion, information, and expectation---exactly the sort of environment in which an extrovert thrives and grows. But most writers are introverts. We get recharged home alone in the quiet with a good book and maybe some good tunes on the playlist. Crowds drain and exhaust us.

So should you just keep your introverted little soul at home then, swilling coffee or booze and watching the cons all unfold through tweets and pictures and Facebook posts? Because this isn't very good for sanity either.

Part of the problem is the fear of missing something that most of us still carry around from when we were little kids. If I take a nap right now, what am I going to miss? Maybe the ice cream man, or the Easter Bunny or a big purple dinosaur riding a tricycle down the middle of main street. And if we don't nap then we get crabby and tired and if the dinosaur does show up we're in the middle of an exhaustion induced tantrum at the time and miss him anyway.

Right? So I think conferences become much more manageable (and enjoyable) if we are able to give up on the idea of  experiencing everything and are able to focus in on one primary purpose.

There are a lot of possible options. Maybe you want to learn more about craft, or need to explore new strategies for marketing. Maybe you're searching for an agent, or want to place a manuscript with an editor. Or your intention could simply be to network, have fun, or get as drunk as possible every night at the hotel bar.

Setting a primary purpose doesn't mean you can't involve yourself in other things. It does give you a focus, an ability to turn down the static and not be overwhelmed by trying to pay attention to All Of The Things. It means you can skip a session of classes and hang out in your room. Maybe even take a nap.

There are three steps to creating a mindful goal.

1. Define for yourself what is your primary reason for attending this conference at this time. (Hint: this may be different for every con you go to)

Ask yourself, "If I get only one thing out of this conference, I want it to be _________."

If you're struggling with this, stop and make a list of All The Things you want to accomplish. Tell yourself you have to give one up. What will it be? Cut that one out. Repeat, until the primary goal is left.

2. Make sure your goal is something over which you have control. Look at your statement of purpose from step one and see if this is true. For example:

"At this con I will get an agent," is a fabulous goal, but not one over which you have control. Your agent--the one who is out there looking for you--may not even be at the conference. Or maybe you're not quite ready to meet her yet.

Consider modifying the goal to, "At this con I will focus on connecting with agents."

3. Tailor your conference experience toward this goal. If your purpose is the example above, then sign up for pitches. Go to the classes that teach pitching, or that talk about premise and synopsis. As other writers to help you practice.

Once you're pursued your primary goal for the day, If you have the energy and the inclination to do other things, perfect. If not, also perfect. You'll come home feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do. Sure, you'll still be tired and might want to avoid people for awhile, but hopefully with your self and soul still intact.

Curing a Case of the Shoulds

By Kerry Schafer

Yesterday I relapsed with a bad case of The Shoulds.

For those of you who are not familiar with this disorder, it is pervasive, dangerous, and can be lethal to the creative process. Unfortunately, medical science has yet to come up with a vaccination and there is no known permanent cure. It's one of those diseases you have to live with and manage - like diabetes.

I know I’m not alone with my affliction, because I see signs and symptoms that the rest of you have also caught this disease. My evidence? Posts on Facebook and Twitter that look a lot like this:

“I should be writing.”
“Oops, yeah you caught me. I should be working on that synopsis.”

See the word “should” in all of these examples? Yep. That’s a dead giveaway, one of the more blatant forms of a case of The Shoulds. Note the following more sneaky manifestations, again of the type often seen in social media:

“Ugh. I’m supposed to be working on my word count.”
“I’m meant to be writing. But you know. Talking cats. Hahaha.”

Note the clever use of “supposed to” and “meant to be,” which really mean the same thing as should.

I pulled a definition from Google, just for fun:

“Should: verb, used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone's actions.”

Criticizing is such a nifty word, isn't it? And criticism of self or others is one of the debilitating effects of the Shoulds.

Still, the above examples are relatively harmless cases. Probably you won’t die from the disease in this form, although it is still likely to affect your creativity and productivity.

The Shoulds are much more dangerous when evidenced by the following types of statements:

I should be published by now.
I should have finished this book months ago.
I should be writing in a different genre.
I should write faster, better, bigger. I should be a best seller. I should be able to quit my day job. I should be a perfect parent, lover, house keeper and writer and manage a day job all simultaneously while smiling and having a good time and always being nice to everybody.

Let me ask you this - what good does this sort of talk do you? It smacks of guilt, self disparagement, hopelessness and helplessness.

Should is not an action word.

Now, take a statement like this, which was probably written in the recent past by me:

“I should be writing, but I’m hanging out here instead.”

Words carry a great deal of power. Should implies that I believe I’m doing something wrong, but am too weak willed to walk way from this social media screen that has somehow magically opened in front of me. That I’m too morally bankrupt to be able to go write the words that I say I want to write. It also carries an underlying message that there are others out there - my mother, society at large, maybe even God - looking over my shoulder and making sniffy noises at my lack of discipline.

But if I switch out the should construction with an action verb, something like choose, everything changes:

“I choose to write now,” is a statement of an entirely different flavor. Or, alternately, “I choose not to write now. I’m going to hang out on FB with my friends.”

This is a significant thought shift. Either I have just set myself up to go get some word count in, or I’ve made an active decision to keep doing what I’m doing - guilt free, and by choice.

One version is vaguely self critical, helpless, with a victim-of-fate sort of feel to it. The other is strong and leads to either a change of action, or an acknowledgement that the action you are already engaged in is undertaken by choice, not because somehow you drifted into it. This allows you to assume the responsibility for your own behavior.

The same sort of shift works for the more complicated should constructions as well, they just require a little more finesse with the reframe.

“I should have an agent by now” becomes, “I choose to start looking for an agent,” or “I choose to wait.” Maybe it gets refined into something like, “I will send out ten queries this week, and a replacement query for every rejection.”

“I should have finished that book by now,” becomes, “I will write 500 words a day, five days a week.” Or even the much simpler, “I’m going to spend the next hour working on my book.”

Speaking of which, I have frittered a lot of time this morning so far. It’s time to get some writing done. Not because I should, but because I choose to.

Look Who is Coming to Colorado Gold: A Conversation with Agent Sue Brower

By Kerry Schafer

Last month I had the privilege of posting an interview with Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. Today, I'd like you to meet Sue Brower, another fabulous agent, who works with the Natasha Kern Agency.

suebrowerSue Brower loves finding and developing authors and connecting them with the reader. Book publishing has changed dramatically over the past several years and it’s no secret that the novels that create buzz through their unique writing or concepts are the ones that become bestsellers. Over the past 25 years in publishing, Sue has done marketing, editing, story development and acquisitions for Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. Most recently, she was Executive Editor and had the privilege of working with New York Times bestselling authors Karen Kingsbury, Tim LaHaye, Stephen Carter, and Terri Blackstock and was named ACFW’s Editor of the Year in 2010. And now she is fortunate to partner with Natasha Kern at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. Sue’s been an avid fiction fan since childhood and loves the way stories are able to change lives, heal hearts, and bring joy to readers. Today, she wants to read and acquire women’s contemporary fiction, any kind of romance, suspense, mystery and historical novels. She would love to discover the next breakaway author in any of these genres.

Kerry: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Sue. I'm looking forward to meeting you in Colorado! But first things first. Your bio tells us that you are interested in acquiring women's contemporary fiction, and also romance, suspense, mystery, and historical novels. Could you tell us a little bit more about what gets you excited?

Sue: I like stories with strong characterization and a well-paced plot.  One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: “…fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.” I want to be so engrossed in the story that I am disoriented when I close the book. I do not acquire based solely on genre because publisher and consumer trends change so quickly.  But give me a well written book and I think I can pitch it anywhere, anytime.

Kerry: What was the last book you read for pleasure and what did you love (or not) about it?

Sue: I have been on an odyssey the last six months or so to read beyond my normal  favorites. Unfortunately, that left a lot of books unfinished. Probably the most memorable book I’ve read recently is Reconstructing Amelia.  It was a little dark and had some themes that put me off, but it was compelling and I still remember many of the characters.  The best book I’ve read that feeds my love of romantic fiction was Julianne Donaldson’s Blackmoore.  I loved that it drew me into an era that I read a lot about, yet this felt new and refreshing.

Kerry: Now that I have a couple of new books to add to my towering To Be Read pile, could you talk a bit about how you view the author/agent relationship? This seems to be a hot topic for writers these days.

Sue: I view the author/agent relationship as a partnership.  As a former editor and marketer, I tend to be very opinionated, so the writer needs to be open to input on their writing, where they should be spending their time, and how they should brand themselves. Notice I said “input.” I want to be available to help an author to succeed at building a writing career.

Kerry: I think that input is one of the things that makes an agent so important to a writer. Things have changed a lot in publishing over the last few years, and it gets overwhelming trying to figure out where to spend your time. Another question writers often have involves what you see as your role in publishing, and how do you help your clients navigate the slippery territory spawned by Amazon and self publishing?

Sue: I see my role as coach, career counselor, advocate, listening post, and biggest fan.  Editors today do not have time to acquire projects that just have potential. The editorial staff has more and more to do and there are fewer of them doing it. It’s my job to make sure that what I send out truly represents the writer's best abilities.  With regards to the various ways that a writer can be published, I think we, as agents, should be aware of the pitfalls of self-publishing and coach the writer to make the best choices for their career goals.

Kerry: I see that your agency is closed to unsolicited manuscripts—do you have any advice as to how a querying author could still get your attention?

Sue: There are a number of ways that a writer can get their manuscript in front of me.  The best ways are through referrals from current client authors and through conferences.  I would also say that if you respond to a blog or online class that I am a part of, I would be open to talking with you about your manuscript.

Kerry: Could you tell us a little about what happens when writers pitch to you at a conference?

Sue: When a writer pitches to me at a conference, they need to have a completed manuscript ready to be reviewed.  I want the writer to tell me what their story is about and anything about their research or background that supports why their book is fresh or unique. I will look at a one-page, but I want to hear the writer to engage in conversation with me. If I am interested, I will ask for a proposal, synopsis, and three sample chapters to be emailed to me. If that looks good, I will ask for a full manuscript. Writing conferences are a great way to reach your preferred agent or editor since most will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.  I would absolutely ask for anything that interests me.

Kerry: If you are considering a project that doesn't immediately shout "pick me pick me" – what tips the balance toward acceptance?

Sue: I don’t usually consider projects that don’t shout “pick me up.” I have too much to read and too many queries to follow up on.  The things that tip the balance for me are usually in the writing. If I am intrigued by a project, but the writing isn’t quite there, I will look for possibilities. Are they willing to revise? How much work will it take to get it ready for the publisher? If I am interested in an author, I usually want to have a phone chat before making an offer. If I see that they are not open to constructive criticism, or are reluctant to do the work, I will pass on the project.  Also, if there is just too much work that needs to be done, I will have to put it aside. I usually make a few recommendations including finding a critique group or editor and I offer to look at it one more time.

Kerry: Are you open to authors pitching their books to you if they see you out and about in the hallways or the bar?

Sue: No. The worse pitch I ever received happened when I was leaving a dinner on the last day of a conference and I was obviously worn out and sick with a cold, but the writer wouldn’t let me politely decline a conversation. It’s never good to approach an agent when they are heading to a meeting or relaxing with colleagues after a long day. It’s absolutely forbidden to approach them in a restroom!

Kerry: I've heard horror stories. Personally, I can't imagine the desperation that would drive a writer to the bathroom pitch, but I know it happens. Would you prefer writers keep to the boundaries of scheduled pitch sessions entirely?

Sue: I think that depends on who the agent is.  If I am sitting in a common area (lobby, for instance) and not already talking to someone, I am open to a writer starting a conversation.

Kerry: Last and most importantly, what is your beverage of choice? Just in case we do find you hanging out in the bar and would like to show our appreciation for spending time with us at Colorado Gold.

Sue: My favorite drink is Diet Coke. I am particularly open to this approach when the venue is Pepsi only!

Kerry: Excellent. I'm a Coke fan myself, so if the venue happens to be misguided I will try to snag you a drink from somewhere. Thank you again for taking the time to answer my many questions.

Looking Who is Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Meet Super Agent Lucienne Diver

Interview by Kerry Schafer

luciennediverMeet Lucienne Diver, agent extraordinaire at The Knight Agency. I've had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and I'm here to tell you that besides being a highly successful agent, she's also very lovely and approachable in person. Before we begin with the questions and answers, here's her bio so you can start by already knowing all sorts of wonderful things about her.

Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years with Spectrum Literary Agency in New York. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over seven hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, and young adult fiction. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice, Golden Heart, Romantic Times and Colorado Book Awards, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Clients include such bestsellers as Rachel Caine, Chloe Neill, Faith Hunter, Susan Krinard, Rob Thurman and many others.

She’s also an author in her own right with her Vamped young adult series for Flux Books and the Latter-Day Olympians urban fantasy series for Samhain (Bad Blood, Crazy in the Blood, Rise of the Blood, and Battle for the Blood, which is forthcoming. Her short stories and essays have appeared in the Strip-Mauled and Fangs for the Mammaries anthologies (Baen Books), in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperTeen) and the anthology Kicking It (Roc Books). Further information is available on The Knight Agency website and her author site.

Kerry: Lucienne, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my gazillion questions! I know from experience that a lot of writers are nervous about talking to agents, and sometimes it feels like a hopeless proposition to ever find the right agent match. You have an impressive list of clients and I know you're a very busy lady. So what are the really truly chances of a newbie author having the good fortune to sign with you?

Lucienne: I think I’ve signed at least one debut author every year I’ve been in the business—and that’s 21 years now! Some years I’ve signed more than one, of course. I don’t have a quota. It’s all about how much I love the work and how successful I’ll be in marketing it. My blog has a sampling up, since just last year I did a shout out to new voices, and I’ve sold at least one debut since then (but I have to wait for the ink to dry on that contract before I can do a big announcement…and it will be big!)

Kerry:  Very cool, and good news for debut authors looking for an agent. Just to clarify what you're looking for, your bio says you're primarily interested in commercial fiction in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, and YA. Could you tell us what really gets you excited about these genres?

Lucienne: I love three things—psychology, suspense and the paranormal. The books I represent don’t have to have all three, but as the song goes, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” I love voice—truly unique characters dealing with real issues and feelings that are as authentic for the reader as for the person living the story. And that’s the important thing: the character should be living the story, not telling it to us. Readers want to live vicariously—travel the world, love, take risks, become action heroes, sacrifice ourselves or have someone sacrifice for us. In order to do that, we need to be swept along for the ride.

Kerry:  Just to clarify your taste a little more, what was the last book you read just for fun and loved?

Lucienne: In a way that’s two different questions. The last book I read for fun was THE KILLING WOODS by Lucy Christopher. It’s a wonderful, dark, intense, suspenseful novel. Loved, though…that’s a difficult thing to say here because I did live it, and I felt changed by the experience as the characters were. In some ways, it reminded me of THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. I was impressed; I was absorbed. Time ceased to have meaning while I read it, but for love I might want a little more light with my dark. (Not to take away from the book in any way, shape or form.) Barry Lyga’s IN HUNT KILLERS is a perfect example of that—very dark, but with some comic relief to break things up from time to time. This is also something I love about Joshilyn Jackson’s work.

Kerry: So if a project catches your interest but doesn't immediately shout "pick me, pick me" – what tips the balance toward acceptance? Away?

Lucienne: I find that if I’m on the fence, usually it’s best for me not to offer representation because I won’t be enthusiastic enough to keep on believing even when the rejections mount. I want to believe in something so wholeheartedly that I’m in abject disbelief when anyone doesn’t love a novel the way I do and I want to work three times as hard to sell the book and “show them.” What usually tips the balance for me is voice and the originality of it.

Kerry: You bring a special mix of experiences to agenting, being a professional writer as well. Do you think this makes for a different relationship between you and your clients? Does it create any special challenges?

Lucienne: Being a professional writer as well as an agent gives me special insight into the frustrations and feelings behind the process, which makes me better able to understand and plead my author’s cases to publishers. But since I’m the agent and not the author in the situation, I’m also able to take emotion out of the equation and shoot right to how best to present things to the publishers and to focus on the solutions rather than the problems. Challenges? The biggest challenge is finding the time to write. It’s so much easier to read or critique than to write. Some days it’s so much easier to do anything besides write. But it’s harder to give up the writing entirely. Any day I don’t write feels wasted, no matter what else I’ve accomplished.

Kerry: I asked the writer community on Twitter and Facebook what they would like to ask an agent, given the opportunity. There were a lot of questions about the shifting landscape in publishing and how agents fit in to that. What do you see as your role as an agent, what with Amazon and self publishing?

Lucienne: Wow, talk about an essay question! Luckily, I tackled it in a post just recently, so I’ve got the full answer here.

Kerry: What are your thoughts on the agent/client relationship? Is it a long term partnership or do you provide sort of menu of services?

Lucienne: Generally when an agent takes a client on, they’re doing it for that author’s career. It’s a long term partnership geared toward building the author’s brand, momentum, readership and all that good stuff. We do provide a variety of services, but it’s all toward the goal of boosting the author to success; it’s not a la carte.

Kerry: How do you feel about writers pitching you if they catch you in the bar or the hallway at the conference? Do you prefer that they stick to scheduled pitch times or are the random moments okay?

Lucienne: I love impromptu conversations. That said, I don’t love impromptu pitches. If you see an agent in a line or in the bar, striking up a conversation is a great thing. That’s part of why you’re there —to network, to learn. Often the agent will ask, “What do you write?” which is an invitation for you to do a short (elevator) pitch. But without the invitation, it probably means the pro has been pitch overloaded and you’re best keeping the conversation more casual.

Kerry: Last and possibly most important question: If we do catch you in the bar, what will you probably be drinking?

Lucienne: Oh, that depends on my mood. Wine, rum and diet coke, margarita, sometimes whiskey or bourbon… Not all at once, of course!

Kerry:  Thanks again for taking the time to chat! I'm looking forward to seeing you again in Colorado!

Going to the Garden to Eat Worms

By Kerry Schafer


"I'm a failure."

"I suck."

"I wish I were a better writer."

"If only I were smarter/had more talent/had a different brain…"

Sound familiar?

Most of us humans are really good at beating ourselves up.  As writers, I think we are even more adept at this fun and dangerous pastime than the average denizen of the human race. We say things to ourselves that would be considered abusive if we directed them at our partners or our children or our friends. And yet we say them to ourselves, over and over and over again.

Conjure up some of the things you routinely say to yourself when you haven't lived up to your own (or somebody else's) expectations. Even better, actually jot them down. I know time is precious and it takes a minute, but it's worth the time to gain the awareness of the soundtrack playing out in your head.

Here's one of mine. Every single time I check my email and there isn't any (or there is only spam), or if nobody is talking to me on Facebook or Twitter at a given time, I catch these words running through my head and heart:

"Nobody loves me."

If there's no publishing news, this turns into, "My agent doesn't love me. My editor hates the book." Now, this is untrue and I know it. A lot of people care about me and have shown this over and over again. My agent is awesome and my editor is a dedicated professional who has done wonderful things for my novels. The truth is that the people in my world—family, friends, and publishing people--are busy doing many and varied things. They have lives.

The lack of activity on social media or in my Inbox has no direct association to the number of people in my world who care about me and my career. I know this. And when I catch those words running through my head I've learned to take immediate corrective action.

When I tell you I say this to myself, though, it's sort of acceptable, right? A little human quirk. Yep, writers are like that. No big deal. We tend to sort of shrug and smile and acknowledge that yeah, we're not as nice to ourselves as we could be. And then we keep right on with the self abuse.

Make no question about this: it is abuse.

Picture this. You and I are out for a  drink or a cup of coffee, and I look at you across the table and say, "Nobody loves you." As soon as I say these words out loud and direct them at another human being I've stopped being quirky and turned into a bitch. Especially if I follow up with some other gems like, "You've got no talent. I don't know why you're trying to write this novel because it's totally beyond your grasp. Why don't you just give up? You're never going to succeed in publishing…"

At this point you'd be justified in throwing your drink in my face and never talking to me again.

Abuse is destructive. It does nothing toward inspiring creativity, motivating us toward goals, or becoming better human beings. And yet we go on, day after day, indulging ourselves in this litany of hateful commentary towards our selves. It's time to stop it, people. We've gone on long enough. We need to be kind to ourselves, encourage ourselves, motivate ourselves to be the best writers we can be.

For some of us that's a very difficult thing and some time talking to a good counselor might be in order. Since I actually am a counselor and have spent a lot of time working with clients on this issue, I'm offering five tips to get you started on changing the way you talk to yourself.

Try this:

1. If you skipped the opportunity to write down your negative self talk, take a few minutes to do it now and then come back here.  Done? Good job.

2. Now imagine that you are talking to somebody you love and value. Choose somebody who matters to you. A writer friend. Your child. Your lover. Image their face as clearly as you can, and now picture yourself saying these things to them.

3. Shift the self talk into something positive that you would actually say to somebody you were trying to encourage. (I suggest that you do write this down. There is something in the physical act of putting those words on paper that helps us rewire our brains.)

Example: "If only I had more talent…" might change to "I am working every day on mastering my craft and learning new skills."

"I'm never going to succeed in publishing" might shift to, "I'm going to write the best book I can. And then I'm going to write another one. The more I write and the more I hone my skills, the more likely it is that I will succeed."

Take the time to shift every one of the abusive self statements you wrote down earlier.

4. Monitor your thoughts. These patterns of self talk are engrained and don't just magically go away. Watch for them. When you have a sinking feeling of doom and gloom, check what's playing in your head and change the station.

5. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for self abusive thinking. Just don't allow it. When you catch yourself doing it, make yourself stop. Make the shift to something positive. Have some compassion for yourself, as you do for others.

Remember: you are stronger and braver than you believe yourself to be.



Kerry Schafer loves to hang out where the weird things are—in the space where reality and fantasy meet. She is the author of The Books of the Between, published by Berkley Press. Her bestselling debut, Between, is available in mass market paperback, Kindle, and Nook. The second book in the trilogy, Wakeworld, releases in April 2014. For more about Kerry, visit her website.