Category Archives: Resources

Are You Ready for NaNoWriMo? To Outline or Not


shutterstock_225367318Happy Halloween, Word Café readers!

With apologies for a necessary blogging hiatus, I’m back with a vengeance just in time for NaNoWriMo. I’m excited to kick off a series geared to that awesome event, but if this isn’t your year to participate, never fear. I aim to make the content useful for authors at whatever stage of the writing process you find yourself.

Today, I’ll focus on strategies for preparing to dive into that exhilarating first step of novel writing. Have you got your outline ready? Or are you dead-set against that kind of formal planning?  Regardless of which writing style you go with, some type of targeted brainstorming and planning is indispensable; it’s just a matter of which kind gets you stoked. Here is a list of helpful resources to give you a boost and help you decide which camp you fit into.

For those who like to outline (and helpful tips for those who don’t): An excellent guide to outlining by Kiki Sullivan, debut author of THE DOLLS, a thriller set in Louisiana. Kiki guides you through outlining an already published novel as a template for planning your own book. This guide to outlining includes sketching out of key scenes, with lists of questions to help you through the process and spark ideas. This article from Writers Digest presents informal outlining as a way to avoid dead ends and frustration—a good argument during time-crunched NaNoWriMo!

For those who prefer Seat of the Pants spontaneity—“pantsers” (and a jolt of creativity for those who don’t): This article from the New York Book Editors blog argues for the writing process as art, where the science of outlining may get in the way of unfettered inspiration. The take-away: just write! Bestselling author Steven James gives a helpful list for looking at the novel writing process with fresh eyes and plenty of flexibility. This is an article from author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford. It offers a bit of a compromise, with helpful prompts for planning the core of your story, whether you decide to make an outline or not.

Whether you’re an outliner or a pantser, wear your badge with pride as you charge into this amazing adventure! I look forward to sharing the NaNoWriMo journey with you here on Word Café.

Do you use a different method for preparing to write your novel? Please share any helpful strategies here!

Great Resources for Writers


Two questions agents frequently are asked via the slush pile are “Could you give me some feedback on my query letter/sample pages?” and “Sorry my project wasn’t right for you, but could you recommend another agent?”

Unfortunately, agencies receive such a high volume of submissions that they can’t give personalized feedback on every query letter, and only limited feedback on partials. Although they will occasionally do a referral, in general agents aren’t comfortable referring unfamiliar work to a colleague (that is, when they’ve seen only the author’s query letter).

So, since I hate being unhelpful, I keep a handy list of resources to send to authors looking for advice. Here, a handful of my favorites:
A great one-stop spot with a directory of agents, editors, and helpful resources by topic.
An agent directory that you can search by genre—use this to make sure you’re not getting turned down for targeting the wrong agents.
A site containing hundreds of critiqued queries—find one that resembles yours and take the advice to heart. Or if you’re lucky, your query could be chosen for a free critique.
A free online critique group. You earn credits by critiquing others’ work, and then use your credits for the opportunity to submit your own work.
If you think your query problems might have to do with grammar or style errors, this online version of the Chicago Manual of Style is a great investment at $30 for a one-year subscription. Or you can buy a hard copy of the 16th edition in bookstores or online.

Do you have favorite websites to add to this list? I welcome your comments and suggestions!