Ten Things Teen Writers Should Know

John Scalzi (NYT bestselling author) writes a good blog, with occasional writing advice.

This is one of my favourites articles (you’ll have to click through to see the picture of young John Scalzi.

Hm. It keeps crashing my computer when I try to cut and paste a section. Here’s the address again anyways:


And here, as always, is a cat pic from the files:



Is your writing good?

Literary agent and all-around nice lady Rachelle Gardner blogged an article today that asked the question, “How can you tell if your writing is any good?”

Here is the link to that article.

How do you learn to write?

We talk so much about the business of publishing on this blog, but it always has to come back to the writing, doesn’t it? I can’t overstate the the importance of taking the time and effort to master the craft. So how does an author objectively know the quality of their writing?
People are constantly telling me how frustrating it is. They send their work out to editors/agents and get rejections but no feedback. How do you know if you’re headed in the right direction?

I think the answer is that you have to learn any which way you can. You piece it together. You take the lessons where you can find them. This could mean:

→ You read books on writing, and books in the genre in which you write.

→ You’re a member of writers’ organizations and online forums.

→ You take workshops offered whenever and wherever you can find them.

→ You take creative writing classes, such as at a local community college (although I’ve heard these can be a waste of time).

→ You have a critique group (this may or may not help, depending on the qualifications of your critique partners, as well as your own personality).

→ You submit your project to agents and editors, hoping for scraps of feedback.


Read the rest here.

Or just gaze at this kitten (yes, that’s a sword under her paw).


Writing Historical Fiction

Depite its many gleeful anachronisms, steampunk is one form of historical fiction (which is why I wouldn’t recommend it to people who refuse to do research*) – so here’s a post by Glass Cases on doing it right.

The full article is here.

When You Should Go Back to the Future

Some of you may have heard me say (via the Twitter) that I don’t like historical novels, particular in YA. Then, as if by a miracle (or sheer hypocrisy), I may have tweeted last week that I had requested a historical YA manuscript. I surprised myself with this, and asked myself why this particular query stood out where the many, many others did not. Here’s what I came up with. (Editors note: For the purpose of this blog post, “historical novel” will mean any novel that takes place in the past, not necessarily centered on a specific event.)This Story Can’t Be Told in Any Other Time.
The triumphs and struggles of human beings on a personal level transcends any decade. When deciding when to set your story, ask yourself if this story could be told just as easily in present-day. The Diary of Anne Frank, for example, cannot. The Vampire Diaries, however, can. It wouldn’t matter if Elena is a young hippie from the ’60s, a tech-crazy gamer in the ’90s, or (as it stands) fairly popular former cheerleader in present-day Mystic Falls. Likewise, it wouldn’t matter if Stefan and Damon were turned into vampires in the 1400s, 1800s, or last week. The plot is independent from personal attributes.

Read the rest here.
In the meantime, here’s your Saturday cat pic (and yes, the table is a working clock).

In the next VERY short while (within two weeks, I promise), I have three particularly cool awesomenesses planned:

1. Eurovision party

2. Steam train!

3. Something even more awesome than those two. . . but I’m not telling what it is!!**

*or writing in general, for that matter.

**I use two exclamation points wisely. This awesomeness is the biz, big time.

Why your first book sucks

I follow Rachelle Gardner‘s blog. She is a sweet, selfless literary agent*. I was quietly surprised to see her post on four reasons you shouldn’t even bother submitting the first novel you write. Given that, shortly afterwards, she posted an entry that mentioned her gentle surprise at meeting many writers who don’t even read books in their own genre, I think it’s been a bad-slush week for her.

Kids, don’t cause nice agents/publishers to burn out by being a moron.

Today’s post is unusual, because I disagree with the gist of her argument. I think writers SHOULD submit the first novel they write (my own first novel did rather well in a contest, and I later sold it for actual money – although nowadays I’m deeply grateful that the publisher never actually produced it), with the following caveats:

1. They have edited it, then left it for at least a month, then edited it again. At least one person (who is not a relative or in love with said writer) must also help with editing – you can tell a good editor because they make the writer cry and/or consider deleting the whole book at least once. After the crying/giving up, the writer must then fix 90% of the problems the editor has pointed out. You can find critique partners all over the internet, including at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp.

2. The writer has read at least three books that are in their genre and published within the most recent five years (look on actual bookshop shelves – and if you’re too poor to buy them, go and get the exact same books from the library for free).

3. The writer has helped to edit at least three opening sections (chapters 1-3) of other people’s unpublished novels, and has also edited one full unpublished novel. You can find heaps of critique partners online, eg at http://www.critiquecircle.com/default.asp

After the horror of reading someone else’s book (which will almost certainly be deeply awful), the writer must have another honest look at their own book, and do one more edit (or more if needed).

Congratulations! You are now ready to submit your first novel.

Was it a mistake? Here’s how to know:

If three publishers (who produce the right genre!) have rejected the opening chapters without requesting the full manuscript, it’s probably worth setting that book aside and writing a new one (which you’ll probably begin while waiting for your responses – which take 1-6 months each). The new book should NOT be in the same series – it should be something genuinely separate. (Otherwise you may find yourself dragging the corpse of a bad book around, because it’s part of a series – been there, done that.)

Here’s Rachelle’s article:

There is a cliché in publishing that by the time a writer finally gets published, she already has a whole stack of novels completed and hidden in a drawer, never to see the light of day. No writer gets their first book published, right?

Well, there are exceptions of course, but mostly, it’s true. Nearly all successfully published authors will have written two or more books before they get their first contract offer. Here’s why:

1. Practice. It takes most people a few tries to write a viable and saleable novel. Like it or not, this is true for the overwhelming majority of writers.

Read the rest of the article here. I definitely agree with #1.

Don’t forget to glance at the comments of the article – the second person has FIFTEEN unpublished books. Most of the people there had four or five unpublished books.

And here’s my cat, who has a thing for styrofoam:

* If that sentence surprised you, you’ve probably never met a literary agent.

How to be awesome (here)

Today’s article is written by Nathan Bransford, who is a writer, ex-agent, and social media expert.

It’s called “How to write a good blog comment” and I can heartily confess to rampant self-interest in sharing it here.

Let’s begin:

The art of writing blog comments may at first blush seem like a frivolous and unimportant one, but that is not actually the case!

Writing excellent blog comments is perhaps the very best way to build your own blog and/or social media presence. Consider a blog comment an audition to show off your own personal awesomeness.

Not all blog comments are created equal. Here are some good rules of thumb as you work your way up to becoming a blog comment ninja.

Read the Post You’re Commenting On, Then At Least Scan it Again

Yes, this takes time and the careful suppression of twitchy fingers. But there is no quicker way to leave an ineffective blog comment than to miss something in the actual post or to accuse the poster of saying something they didn’t actually say.

Accuracy is important. Good blog comments take into account the entire post and then come up with a good and original response. So not only take the time to actually really read the post, keep the comment on topic rather than bringing in an outside and unrelated agenda.

That said……

Get There Early

The most effective and influential comments are near the top of the comments section.

Read Nathan’s other four excellent points here.

My own personal tips:

1. Always assume everything you post online will be read by your mother, your boss, your worst enemy, and your best friend.

2. Never, ever express anger online (see # 1) unless you are fighting for a cause outside yourself.

I’ve also discovered that writing about where your manuscript is at with agents/editors/publishers (or how long they take to reply) is also a no-no. Unsurprisingly, they don’t like to be publicly discussed.

Perhaps more importantly, proudly reporting – or weeping over – your dozens of rejections has the effect of making you look unpublishable, which can put professionals off – because they definitely do look at your blog and google you before offering representation (see #1). Which is why you won’t be hearing any more about the publication process until I have an offer (and permission to talk about it here).

3. If you’re young, invent a fake last name that you use everywhere online (if you’re a writer, it can become your pen-name, so make sure it’s distinctive but easy to spell).

I also recommend you visit Nathan’s blog and/or his top-notch writer forums.

Here’s an Easter-themed cat picture – this is Indah pointedly ignoring the Lindt Bunny bell I tinkled and then threw at her.

#57: Speed Writing

Want to write a bestselling novel? There are three basic things you need to do:

1. Write a novel.

2. Write a good novel, probably by much editing of #1.

3. Sell a lot of copies of your novel.

(Or alternatively, become a celebrity and ghost-write a novel. But I digress.)

Today’s all about #1, which is surprisingly difficult. Personally, I almost always write extremely fast first drafts (my realist novel was written in three days). I recommend every beginner uses a similarly manic method in order to finish that first book. Later on, you’ll know your own endurance better and can develop your own equally peculiar habits. (It also helps to split it up – I think of each 2000-word chapter as its own short story.) For your first book, the hardest part is physically writing it. So don’t worry; you can make it good LATER.

That means you DON’T re-read from the beginning every morning (you’ll get caught up in either how fantastic you are or how horrific you are, and both will slow down the actual writing), you don’t obsess over individual sentences, and you definitely don’t give the first chapter or first fifty pages to someone else to read and comment on.*

Today I’ll be taking my own medicine and speed-writing a 2000-word chapter in the next two hours. My computer says 11.42. See you at 1.42.

Here’s the notes I’ll be working from (divided into 500-word sections):

***search for Mrs Sweeton [who was recently abducted by the baddie]. They walk the grid, in pairs, in the nearby bushland. Yol and mr Johnson are left behind minding kids. Amy [that’s the hero] is paired with another character, Mrs banks [new character],

who is poking rudely at her mind.

They mentally fight, and go deep enough to satisfy amy that it wasn’t mrs banks who took mrs sweeton.

Is danny [amy’s boyfriend, who just publicly fought with her] planning to propose? What would amy say? Amy’s only just getting the hang of him, and is afraid. Mrs Banks comments on their fight.


Hi again. It’s 1:26 and my chapter reached about 2005 words. I have a wonderful buzz of achievement, and I’ll come back later and probably find one or two good bits that I never planned. That’s the magic of getting words on paper – good stuff is bound to spill out with the bad.

*Partly because it’s just cruel to that person, and partly because your creative and editing selves are located in different parts of the brain, and simply don’t work well together. Write now, edit later. Trust me on this.

S#11: Paper Hat

Last night I took the entertainment section of the paper and made it more entertaining.

CJ was kind enough to also model for me.

The heading reads “Disney’s Last Princess”. It was quite an interesting article, saying that little girls no longer want to be princesses (unless they’re under five). Apparently “look pretty and find a man” (or its corollary, “look dashing and find a girl”) is no longer considered a universal goal.

I can think of one obvious exception to that rule (in which “look pretty” becomes “have extra-tasty blood”) but let’s ignore that and be encouraged.

To my fellow writers: Please, for the sake of all that is good in the world, write interesting, active protagonists.

Your homework: Read “Sabriel” by Garth Nix (PG/M for gore and violence). In my opinion, it is the best book ever written.

Three Things You Need to Begin a Novel

 Some people believe you should write an outline of every scene before you begin. Others believe you should flow with the tale as it happens. I think that plot is important enough to deserve conscious thought – but I also believe that almost anything can be fixed by editing. And if you’re writing your first novel (or any novel), too much thought will kill you*.

There are only three decisions you actually need to make before you start.

1. If you’re writing for children or young adults, your main character needs to be a couple of years older than your target audience – and they need to stay roughly that age throughout the book. So your ten-year old won’t be driving a car, and your sixteen-year old won’t be getting married. Not if you want to one day sell the book. You also need to keep your themes relevent to the age group – so redemption isn’t a good theme for a ten-year old, and dealing with old age isn’t a go either.

2. If you’re writing for children or young adults, your length is relatively restricted – Ages 9-14 tend to read books around 30,000 words, and young adults read books around 60,000 words. More importantly, those are the lengths publishers buy. Give or take 5000 words, so don’t worry TOO much. Here’s a great post on word length by genre (including YA and children): http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html

3. You’ll need to choose if you’re writing in first person (“I saw the duck. . .”) or third person (“She saw the duck. . .”). You probably do it automatically one way or the other. First person is much better for getting into the main character’s voice and head (or the narrator’s head, if he/she is a different person**), and for preserving a mystery (if the narrator doesn’t know something, neither does the reader – but it’s cheating to make the narrator not tell the reader what they know). Third person is less personal, but more flexible.

And that’s all you really need! Everything else can be fixed in editing.

But it’s useful to keep basic story structure in mind.

Basic Story Structure: An interesting character has a serious problem/goal and attempts to overcome it. It gets worse despite their efforts, and finally there is a crucial action-packed moment in the book when all is decided (for better or worse).

Fantasy example: An interesting character (Harry Potter, an orphan with magic powers) has a serious problem (defeating Voldemort, who killed his parents) and after many fights and more deaths and pain. . . he does.  

Romance example: An interesting character (a charmingly quirky Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan or similar) is lonely, and meets a guy (probably Hugh Grant). Her serious goal is to get the guy (it’s serious because it changes their lives). After feeling her loneliness more keenly than ever and having at least one major fight or embarrassment, the pair get together.

In order to get words on paper (that’s the hard part about first drafts), I recommend you treat each chapter as a short story that is relevant to the main plot (ditto your sub-plots, but you can always put them in later).

For example, if your main goal is to destroy an evil ring, some of your chapters could involve walking across a field and meeting more characters, running away from evil wraiths that want the ring, pausing to get advice from Cate Blanchett, and fighting a Balrog while taking a short cut. Each one of these has its own tension (will the farmer/wraiths/Balrog get them? Is the elf also evil/turned evil because of the ring?) and resolution (one step closer to the goal – but the main characters have a more complex or vulnerable situation to go on with, eg their powerful guide is dead or we have a greater understanding of the ring’s evil).

Here’s a funnier version of how to write a novel:


And since it’s Steampunk Earth Day later this month, here’s a pretty steampunk picture for you (from friedpost.com):

*Er. . . your novel. Whatever.

**Not recommended for your first book. Why makes things harder for yourself? Don’t challenge the establishment until AFTER you’ve proved you can write within the rules (say, after you’ve sold your first book to a major publisher).

Advice for Beginning Novelists

I’ve decided to start posting writing advice whenever I feel like it. Here’s the beginning:

1. Successful writers generally make around $10,000 a year (see #2).

2. Around 1 in 10,000 slushpile manuscripts get published (at a conference recently, I discovered that a large publisher hadn’t accepted a single slushpile book in three years – and they receive hundreds every week). Meeting someone at a conference and using their name/email changes the odds to about 1 in 200. (You still need to write a brilliant and polished book – unless you’re famous, of course.) On several occasions I’ve walked up to a publisher at a conference and said exactly this: “Hi, my name’s Louise Curtis and I’d love to send my children’s adventure fantasy book to the right person at [name of that person’s company]. Could you help me?” It works every time – all they want to know is length, genre, and age group – not the fact that I had the idea in the bath or that I really like their hair. When I write to the contact person, I mention the meeting – so they can either remember me, or talk to someone who does (proof of personal hygiene is worth a lot).

3. Publishers. . .
(a) are all friends with each other, so don’t ever be rude to/about anyone.
(b) actually make a loss on 90% of the books they DO produce, so cut them some slack.
(c) usually take 3-6 months to reply to the opening chapters, and just as long again for the full book. The longest I’ve heard of is four years, and the longest I’ve experienced is 18 months (and counting).
(d) are quaintly optimistic about their response times (if they were realists, they’d quit and get a better job).
(e) are nice – but they don’t like being hassled. So wait at least three months before contacting anyone, ever – and don’t be surprised if they haven’t started reading your book yet.

(f) will not work with someone who is too lazy to read their submission instructions and/or use decent English. http://murderinthemail.net/2010/10/28/how-to-talk-english-like-more-gooder/

4. If an agent or publisher charges you money, they’re a scam.

5. Manuscript assessors are useful, especially when you’re starting out, but their recommendations of your work are worth only slightly more than the fact that your mum thought it was super good.

6. For kids and young adults, your protagonist should be a couple of years older than your target audience, and your length needs to be right (check a publisher web site for length details BEFORE you write). Your characters won’t get married or raise kids, because your readers won’t be interested in that experience (not while they’re still at the age they started reading your book, anyway). Other than that, you can do almost anything – see # 8.

7. It generally takes around 10,000 hours of focused practise to get good at writing. Most writers throw away several books before they get good enough to be published (I’ve thrown away three and rewritten three others – so far).

8. Reading books in your genre is essential. If you don’t read, why do you think anyone will read you? How do you know what your market likes?

9. If you get published, you still need to sell the book to the public. This means travelling, interviews, etc. You definitely need to rent a crowd wherever possible – the average number of participants at book readings in the USA is four.

So, in conclusion, don’t write unless you enjoy writing for its own sake.

PS Some funny posts on writers (and how unpleasant we are, mainly because of stuff outlined above) – be warned, there are naughty words and one adult joke.




The best way to cope with rejection is to already have another book happening (ideally a stand-alone book in case you later find out the first has fatal flaws).

Also, chocolate.

Also, writing forums.

Also, getting another job – one where you’re paid by the hour. It sounds cold, but it’s the most useful thing you can do to stay afloat psychologically (and financially).

Here’s a list of 50 well-known writers who faced plenty of rejection:


And here’s a conversation that will make you laugh, think, or both (in Australia, you don’t necessarily have to have an agent):