Thursday, February 5, 2009

Great Incantations: Abracadabra – The Magic of Publication

Last year, I was mailing off a manuscript to a publisher when my neighbor crossed the street and asked what I was putting in the mailbox. I told her. The next day, while I was picking up my mail, she came over to me and said, “Are you published yet?” And I actually think she was serious.

If only it were that simple. If only we could wave a wand over the publication process and whisper some mystical incantation and our books would magically appear in the bookstores (and fly off the shelves). Didn’t my neighbor realize that even if the manuscript did get accepted it would be more than a year until the book was released? In the years I’ve been writing I’ve learned that while the writing process itself can be magical, there’s no magic bullet, no quick fix, no hocus pocus to publishing. Trying to get published is a lot of hard work.

Learn from My Mistakes

Today’s daily menu is supposed to offer A Taste of Romance, snippets of our works in progress. Instead of giving you a sample of my writing, I’d like to pass on some great advice from my 2008 Maggie contest entry evaluations that apply universally, not just to my writing, but to your works in progress as well.


“You do an excellent job of the synopsis, though you may want to consider working in specific ‘turning points’ that develop the romance between your heroine and hero. When do they first kiss and why, etc? What are their feelings after they make love, what barriers are left, etc? What is the hero’s internal conflict?”


“Start with some action or life changing event. Use dialogue and interaction.”


“Trim back some of the narrative and backstory. It slows down the action. Weave it in subtly in other places.”

“Backstory can come out as the story flows little bits at a time. A general rule of thumb for a beginning writer is that you should have the hero and heroine meet/speak within the first two pages. It’s not dyed in wool, but it grabs the reader’s attention much quicker. Focus on the romantic development between the characters or how they resolve their difficulties together.”

“Don’t over inform the reader. Decide what’s important, use that, and cut the rest.”

“Decide what information the reader absolutely can’t understand the story without, and then decide where those slivers of information can be inserted in the scenes and chapters as your story progresses. Dole it out to us bit by bit. The mystery is part of what keeps readers reading. Also, give as much backstory as you can through dialogue.”


“Your dialogue is great but at times is bogged down by too many tags. Your heroine’s introspection and your tendency to add action only serves to drag the reader out of what could be a nice back and forth between the two main characters. Each time I got pulled out, I lost the emotion of their interaction. Try not to overdo the action. One motion is enough to give the reader the seed they need to let their imagination grow the rest of the picture. Trust your dialogue, you do it well.”

Character GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict):

“What do they want? When do they want it? Why can’t they have it? And for romance – how are the hero and heroine going to HELP each other achieve their goals. It’s often best if the H/H have opposing goals – that gives you built-in conflict between them – but it isn’t necessary. Sometimes it’s enough if their mutual goal is extremely difficult to achieve and it’s only internal conflicts that keep them apart (fear of commitment, fear of losing self, etc.)”

“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to introduce your characters to us in a situation that shows their greatest strength and/or greatest weakness (often these are the same). Secondary characters, in particular, should be introduced this way – it grounds the reader quickly and vividly.”

Hope this advice helps with your writing. I’d be interested to hear about the best writing advice you’ve ever received.

Okay, ladies, here’s my concession to the Hunky Heroes monthly theme.

Where is a Good Woolly Mammoth When You Need One?

I recently heard a TV interview with a genetic scientist who was involved with trying to bring woolly mammoths back to life, 10,000 years after they became extinct. Next thing you know, scientists will be trying to bring back the Cave Man. While witnessing a shaggy-coated Pleistocene Epoch creature from the Ice Age stomping around in the 21st century is an intriguing idea, hopefully we’ve evolved enough not to want to resurrect that kind of a Hunky Hero.

Marilyn Baron


Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks for sharing the comments you received--the advice is universal but sometimes it just feels so personal.

As for cavemen, unless they all look like Johnny Depp, I think we should leave both them and the woolly mammoths alone.

Tami Brothers said...

OOOOOHHHHH! I love this. I'm actually working on my Workshop entry and will keep this in mind. There are several things I need to write down and STICK with!!!

Also, I agree with Sally. Johnny Depp can stay and Brendan Fraser from Encino Man back in 1992.... (loved that one) And as funny as they are, I really don't like those Cave Man commercials. They really don't do it for me...

Tami Brothers

Sandy Elzie said...

Loved your piece. Great advise is worth repeating over and over until we "get it".

Loved the sub-title: Where is a Good Woolly Mammoth When You Need One? What a vivid picture THAT painted. I glanced over at hubby who was sitting in my office with his mug of everywhere, not shaven...well, you all get the idea. My woolly Mammoth is Alive and Well in 2009!!!

Great read today...I plan to print it off and stick it up where I can keep reminding myself of these most important aspects of writing.


Marin Thomas said...


Everything you mentioned *seems* like easy, basic, no-brainer stuff but it's not. It takes hard work to get it right--not just in the first book a writer attempts to sell but in every book.

I find the first two-three chapters the most difficult to write--so much info has to go into those chapter to set up the story and the first turning point that it takes a lot of revision to get it right.

A Cowboy's Promise (April 09)
*Men Made in America*

Anna Steffl said...

Thanks Marilyn. Some of that advice is new to me and heaven knows I can use it!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Such simple advice and so much work to apply!

CiCi Barnes said...

Great advice. Definitely a print-and-file goody. Thanks for sharing.

Cavemen? I don't think so. I want the strong, silent type, but not the hairy, macho, hit-you-over-the-head-and-drag-you-off type. Let's leave them where they are. I like the way our men of today have evolved.


Linsey Lanier said...

Great post, Marilyn. You are a brave soul for sharing those comments with us, but I'm glad you did. They are jewels. I, too, will print them and put them near my computer.

I think the Cave Man commercials are hysterical, but you're right. Ice Age man would be a hard sell as a romance hero. Table manners, for one thing. On the other hand, Beauty and the Beast is a classic, so you never know…


Marilyn Baron said...

Over the years I've developed a thick skin about my evaluations and I'm glad to share. I really appreciate my Maggie judges. They're the ones we should thank.

Even though I know what I have to do, sometimes it is hard to implement,

Thanks for your comment. I'm looking forward to your guest blog in April. I find that the first three chapters are easiest for me. You're right so much information has to be included, which is why I need to take my own advice on backstory.


Now I have to get that image of your unshaven, coffee-drinking personal Woolly Mammoth out of my mind.

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Marilyn Baron

Joyce J. said...

Like your neighbor, I never realized how long it took to actually get a book published and on the shelf. I am amazed at the thick skin writers need in order to keep at it and finally (hopefully) get something accepted. I'm awfully glad they do! On another note, as a reader, I want to be "grabbed" in the first few pages and care about what happens to the characters. I have to like them or really hate them, I can't be indifferent to them.
Thanks for letting me share!
Joyce J.

Marilyn Baron said...

That's what we strive for. Writing stories and characters that readers will love.


Cyrano said...

I loved, loved, loved this post.
I speak to my grandmother about once or twice a week and she always asks, "So are ya published yet?" I've told her many, many times that it takes forever. I've also made a point to tell her that the second I get published, she and the rest of the world will know, because I'll be screaming like a lunatic!
I loved that you added your judges comments. I read each one and then read them again for good measure. And like many of the other ladies, I plan on printing them too.
One of the best bits of writing advice I've gotten was on this blog. Darcy Crowder wrote, "Writing is messy. And ambiguous, and subjective, challenging, fluid, wildly creative and wonderfully unique to each and every one of us. There’s no place for perfection here." I have to remember that I'm not perfect, never will be, and shouldn't hope to be. Good advice.
Thanks for the post Marilyn and thanks for sharing words of wisdom with us all. Have a brilliant evening,

Susan May said...

Great advice, stuff I will use and keep in mind when I write.

Marilyn Baron said...


That's so funny about your grandmother. If I had a penny for everyone who said, "Are you Published Yet?" I'd be rich. And yes, like you said, when it happens everyone will know! But I guess everyone means well.

I'm glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for commenting.


Ana Aragón said...


You're a brave soul! Most of the judges' comments I got when I was submitting to contests contradicted themselves...on the same piece and in the same contest! I can't tell you how many times I rewrote those first three chapters/twenty-five pages of my first manuscripts trying to get it right!

All of those comments are valid; but sometimes you just have to break the rules. They're good things to think about...especially those that suggest doling out information on an "as needed" basis. But I'll bet if we each threw in books in our personal libraries that didn't do as suggested, we'd have a bonfire of major proportions!

When I stopped thinking about what was potentially "wrong" with my story and just wrote it, it's amazing how much closer I was to meeting those expectations.

No woolly mammoth or cave men for me!

Thanks for the great post!


Marilyn Baron said...


Great perspective and advice. Thanks.


Mary Marvella said...

Hey, Marilyn! I love it when people ask how my writing is going and glaze over when I start to tell them. I forget it's a "fine, thank you" question.

Judges' comments can make me wonder if they realize what they're saying.

Nicki Salcedo said...

Marilyn, thanks for sharing your Maggie comments. I love that good advice can be applicable to many writing projects.

People don't ask me if I'm published, they just say, "Where can I buy your book?" Next time I should ask for $20 and hand them my flash drive.