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When I started compiling a list of online writing resources, I soon found myself in the middle of an organizational nightmare. For purposes of clarification, I've broken them up into sections based on different hypothetical questions.

Also, please note if you're coming from somewhere other than my main page, most of these links are primarily for fantasy fiction or children's fiction writing. Hope you find something useful.

 

Q: I've just started my book/short story, but I'm having a hard time coming up with a plot I like.

A: Talking with your critique partner or another writer can help you come up with ideas or work through bugs in the ideas you already have. In his book, Creating Short Fiction, Damon Knight wrote a great article on plot that I found very useful. As a bonus, he explains the origin of the phrase, "waiting for the other shoe to drop." Diana Wynne Jones wrote some very calming tips on the process of writing a story.

Also useful (especially prophylactically) are John VanSickle's Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés.and AmethystAngel's similar list of fantasy clich├ęs. Some writers also find it useful to make outlines.

Marilyn Byerly wrote an interesting article on how she used index cards as part of plotting.

 

Q: I've just started my book/short story, but I'm having trouble fleshing out the world.

A: Some people do a lot of worldbuilding before they begin writing, while others plan their worlds along the way. It should be noted that planning along the way generally results in a lot more re-writing. For insights into the process, take a look at Patricia C. Wrede's article on fantasy world building. It will terrify and amaze. S. John Ross's demographics for pseudo-medieval fantasy settings is a useful place to start. You might also take a look at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

For the most part, however, fantasy (and science fiction) worldbuilding, insofar as possible, should be based on history, anthropology and astronomy more in-depth than that available online. For example, if you are expecting warfare in your book, you could look at John Keegan's The Face of Battle. In addition, reading primary texts from the historical period your books are based on provides invaluable insights. For example, if your world is based on a pseudo-medieval setting, you might try A Medieval Home Companion. If you are using a feudal Japanese setting, you might try The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. And so on.

 

Q: I've just started my book/story, but I'm having trouble fleshing out the characters.

A: James Patrick Kelly gives a good overview of the types of characters and some advice in his article "You and Your Characters." There is a good list of character development questions at Writers Write, and there are many similar helpful questionnaires floating about the internet.

And be sure to take a look at Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Evil Overlord pages on the Viable Paradise site to make sure your evil overlords, heroes, and henchman have learned from their predecessors.

 

Q: I need some help naming my characters. Are there any sites for this?

A: Absolutely. Baby name sites aside, there's the Medieval Names Archive and Behind the Name. The coolest is probably Kate Monk's Onamastikon, which has lists by region for the sole purpose of naming characters, but is sometimes unavailable.

 

Q: How do I know if I'm writing a middle grade book or a young adult book?

A: Laura Backes attempts to define the categories of children's publishing on her great site Write4Kids.Com. Take a look. One caveat is that while these page counts might be accurate for much of YA, fantasy books for teenagers seem to be getting longer and longer. At this point, teen fantasy can be as long as 400-500 pages.

 

Q: How do I know if I'm writing a young adult book or an adult book?

A: Does your book have a teenage protagonist? Does it address the concerns of being a teenager withough condescention or didacticism? If so, you may well be writing a young adult book. However, remember that what will really decide whether it fits in the young adult category is how it is packaged by a publisher. Many formerly adult books (such as Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Jane Yolen's Briar Rose) have been repackaged for the young adult shelves.

 

Q: I'm almost done with my story, but I don't have a title!

A: Brenda Clough wrote the definitive article on titling. After reading it, you'll need to go to Bartlett's.

 

Q: I just finished my book/short story, now what?

A: Now you put it in the proper format, check for grammar and spelling mistakes, and take it to your critique group or critique partner. Get his/her/their comments and make revisions. If you've made major changes, you might want to send it back to your partner or critique group. Once you're all satisfied, send it out for publication.

 

Q: What is the proper format for submissions?

A: William Shunn has an excellent article/example both for short stories and novels.

 

Q: How do I find a critique group?

A: There are several groups online, including Critters, Holly Lisle's Forward Motion crit circles, and the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy (formerly the Del Rey Writing Workshop).

Finding local critique groups is somewhat more difficult. Check your local library, bookstores, and the local arms of any groups of which you are a member. SCBWI has a lot of local critique groups and there are places on sff.net to post looking for local groups. Local conventions are also a place to get in touch with local writers, some of which may be in groups or willing to found one with you.

Before you join, you might want to look over the Turkey City Lexicon, a collection of common (and funny) critique terminology that is specific to speculative fiction (although the definition of slipstream is pretty dodgy). To see the inner workings of one (perhaps fictional) critique group, check out Brian Plante's Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers.

Remember that a large critique group is not always superior and may be in many ways inferior to a small group where everyone gets to know each other and can spend a lot of time on each piece. Even two people can be a highly successful writing group. The most important thing is that the critiquers have a similar enough aesthetic to be helpful and to appreciate what is genuinely good about each other's work as well as able to see the flaws.

 

Q: Where can I send my book/short story?

A: Please beware when you select a publisher for a novel. A good rule of thumb is that if you've never bought a book by a publisher, chances are that not many others have either. Be especially wary of publishers that don't have distribution to physical bookstores and never, ever pay to be published. The Washington Post had a nice artice about the perils of publishing with the wrong press. Remember Yog's Rule: Money flows toward the writer.

For novels, Locus has an extensive list of sf/f book publishers. For children's book publishing, try Kay Vandergrift's list of children's book publishers is a great resource.

For short fiction, Duotrope seemed to have the most extensive listings of good markets for science fiction and fantasy. Ralan is also a good source too. For horror, you can also look at Goblin Markets.

Justin Stanchfield maintains a market listing for children's literature, although the market for children's short fiction remains relatively small.

 

Q: Do I need an agent and how do I get one?

A: With more and more publishers unwilling to accept unsolicited manuscripts, agents are becoming more necessary. While I know several successful writers that have managed to do without one, the advantages of having an agent are many: they know editors and their tastes, they can get a book read quickly, and they can get a lot more money for a book because they can get competing offers.

Before you start looking for an agent, check out SFWA's Writer Beware pages, listing some of the more egregious agent scams and giving tips on deciding if an agent is dishonest. If you are still unsure, the Bewares and Background Checks area of Absolute Write has threads on lots of agents and you can always post to get opinions. The important thing to know about a good agent is that they take a 10-15% commission on the money they make for you. They never charge you anything and you should never have to pay an agent out of your pocket. You should also not be shy about asking your agent for names of his or her other clients. Looking up their books online should tell you a lot about your agent's success rate.

Most of the online sites listing literary agents aren't as comprehensive as going to a bookstore or library and looking in a Guide to Literary Agents book, usually found in the Reference section. And for agent-related questions, bloggers Miss Snark and Rejector (both at agencies themselves) have very good (although sometimes not identical) advice.

 

Q: How do I write a query letter? What about a synopsis?

A: Many publishers and agents will ask for a query letter with a synopsis and (sometimes) sample chapters. If they like what they read, they will request the full manuscript. For this reason, writing a compelling query letter has become a highly prized skill.

Lynn Flewelling wrote an article on query letters, complete with an example. YA author Robyn Schneider has an excellent method of writing plot summaries for query letters- she considers them in terms of flap copy on the finished book. Also worth looking at are the excellent (and hilarious) query critiques done by Evil Editor.

 

Q: I've sent out my book/short story to a publisher and been waiting for a reply for a long time. How long should I wait?

A: To get a general idea of response times, check out Andrew Burt's Submitting to the Black Hole. And to keep track of your response times, markets, and what is where, you might like Sonar, a nifty little program from SpaceJock.

Generally, each publisher has guidelines regarding how long their reponse time is and at what point it is appropriate to query them. A nice article by Andrew Burt summarizes the issue and offers a sample follow-up letter.

For novels, a minimum of six months is probably reasonable. Some publishers say that their response time may be up to a year. For this reason, querying with sample chapters is better than sending a whole manuscript to any one place.

 

Q: Are there any ways to up my chances of being published?

A: You might also look at Slushkiller, a post on Making Light that talks about the whys and wherefores of rejection.

Moreover, while it's not at all necessary, getting out to conventions and conferences and meeting agents, authors and editors is a great way to get to know the industry and who is interested in the kind of fiction you are producing.

 

Q: What should I be reading to keep up with the industry?

A: If you are a science fiction or fantasy author, you want Locus. You might also want to try the SFWA Bulletin, which is available to non-members and is specifically concerned with writing. Science Fiction Chronicle and Speculations are also great sources.

If you are a children's book author, you might want to try School and Library Journal, Horn Book, or Kirkus Reviews, all three of which you can find at your local public library.

Authors of all types will be interested in Publisher's Weekly. Those wanting to keep up with deals will like Publisher's Lunch as well.

 

Q: Are there any organizations I can join?

A: Professional authors of all sorts can join The Author's Guild. For children's book writers, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is the main professional organization. For science fiction and fantasy writers, it is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). To join SFWA, you must have at least one professional sale. For more associations, try the list on the Preditors and Editors site.

 

Q: What about classes?

A: The most well-known program for speculative fiction writers is the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Workshop. Other programs include Clarion West, Odyssey, and the Viable Paradise Writers Workshop.

The Highlights Foundation offers workshops for children's writers and illustrators (although I have never heard details about them). You might also want to take a look at the two annual SCBWI conferences on writing and illustrating for children as well as local ones. Other conventions, particularly sf/f ones, may offer short writing programs during the convention.

In addition, almost all colleges and universities offer "creative writing" classes, although the quality varies according to the instructor(s). There are a few colleges and universities that offer undergraduate degrees in creative writing, such as Carnegie Mellon and The University of California Riverside, although it's unclear how open they are to sf/f work. There are also masters degree programs, such as the one at The New School in New York (which offers a focus on writing for children) and one in Vermont offering a Masters in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Be careful when selecting a program that they appreciate the kind of work you are interested in creating.

 

Q: I just sold my book! Now what?

A: First of all, congratulations!

Now, there are a few landmarks you should know about the process between acceptance and publication. Once the contract is signed and processed, you should have a conversation with your editor regarding any anticipated revisions. There will probably be a deadline for you to turn in the final revised copy of the manuscript. At that time you can also turn in any front matter, such as dedications and acknowledgments.

You should receive back a copyedited manuscript for you to check. Then, the last time you see your manuscript will be when it is in final layout form. Check carefully each time to keep the errors to a minimum (you might want to try reading it out loud). If you are adding more than a few words of additional text at any time, check with your editor to see how he or she wants it handled. Handwriting will drive everyone insane, but each editor may have their own method. My first editor wanted me to print out the additional material and tape it on the page. My second editor hated that method and wanted the new text on a new page following the one with the correction.

Close to your publication date, you will see Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) or "uncorrected proofs" which are bound and can be sent out to reviewers and booksellers. The back copy and flap copy of this will not be written by you, although you may be able to give some imput. You should furnish a short biography of yourself for the publisher to use both on the back cover and other promotional places (such as their catalog and website).

Do try and go in at least once and meet the people working on your book. This is not just the editor, but many, many other people in the marketing, publicity, production, and art departments. Your editor will probably not be responsible for sending out review copies, so once you get about 3-4 months before the publication date, find out who is in charge of publicity for your title.

There are a lot of long stretches between the stages of publication where the author will hear nothing. This is normal. The best thing that you can do to distract yourself is work on your next book.

To read one author's tale of the publication process, read Scott Nicholson's Virgin in the Church column series. For children's books, you might want to take a look at the National Library of Canada's Page by Page series.

 

Q: Do I have any control over the cover art?

A: Er, no. But don't despair. You can always politely ask your editor what he or she has in mind. Your publisher doesn't want you to hate the cover. Use your influence wisely.

 

Q: What are blurbs and how do I get them?

A: Around the time that the book is in final layout form, you should start thinking about getting blurbs. Blurbs are those endorsements across the top or back of a novel from a famous author. They say things like "fantabulous!" or "the best thing since sliced bread!"

Make a list of all the authors that you really like. Then, make a list of well-known authors that write in the same subgenre that you write. If you are lucky enough to know a well-known author in any genre, add him or her to the list. Then, once you have the list, contact your editor and see if they want you query these people and ask if they would be willing to consider blurbing your book or if they want to handle the queries themselves. If you are looking for a blurb from someone uber-famous, you can send the query along to their agent.

Then, make sure the galleys or ARCs get sent to those that want them as quickly as you can and wait. Most will not reply, but one or two might and their words will grace the back (or front) of your book.

 

Q: How to I get reviews?

A: Your publisher probably has a list of standard places that they send books for review. What you can do is add to that list, highlighting periodicals your publisher may be unfamiliar with. For example, if you have a book about trains, you may seek out special interest train periodicals. If you are publishing a genre book with a mainstream house, you should make a list of genre publications and contact information. You might also want to list local papers, or the newspaper for your college/university. Once your list is complete, pass the list on to your publicist.

 

Q: How should I promote my book?

A: You can and should promote your book by attending conventions, doing book signings, sending out (or having your publisher send out) review copies, joining special interest newsgroups, creating a website, and by generally doing everything you can to make sure that interested readers can easily find your book (and once they've found your book, find out what you're doing next).

Patricia Simpson offers tips on self-promotion for the new romance author that will apply to most authors of genre fiction. You might also want to consult Cecilia Tan's article on being your own publicist.

 

Q: How do I make promotional materials?

A: Aaron Shepard has a wonderful article (with samples) on promo pieces for children's book authors that are applicable to authors of all kinds.

 

Q: How do I make my own website?

A: You can use a HTML generator program such as Dreamweaver or code the page yourself. For a basic HTML tutorial, check out WebMonkey.

You will, of course, need a domain name and a web host. Most hosts will register a domain name for you for a slight fee. For a comparison of hosts, look at Hosting Review.

For tips on making your page search-engine friendly, check out Robert Woodhead's site.

 

Q: What conventions should I be attending?

A: WorldCon, World Fantasy and World Horror are three important genre conventions. In addition, there are many regional conventions. For a listing by region, state and month, try Alexander von Thorn's convention listings at the SF site. You might also look into DragonCon and San Diego ComicCon, two very large conventions not focused on books, but still useful for promotion.You might also want to consider SCBWI conferences.

You might also want to consider the American Library Association conference. Even if you miss the main one, there are often local chapter conferences you can attend.

There are also the bookseller conventions, such as Book Expo America, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association trade show, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show, and the New England Booksellers Association trade show.

 

Q: I've never been to a science fiction/fantasy convention before. What do I need to know?

A: Read John C. Bunnell explanation of the nature of SF conventions. You should check out Gandalara's newbie guide to conventions and a list of con-related terms. You might also want to look at Aynjel's description of her trip to a World Fantasy Convention.

 

Q: I'm travelling; how can I set up a booksigning where I'm going?

A: To find local independent bookstores where you might be able to hold a signing, you can check the American Booksellers Association page. You can also try the big chain stores. To get a hold of the booking person (called the community relations manager [CRM] or the area marketing manager [AMM]), call your local store and inquire about setting up a signing. If you are writing genre fiction, you should take a look at Debra Doyle and James Macdonald's list of sf/f/h bookstores to see if any are local to you.

 

Q: How do I know if my book is doing well?

A: One early way is seeing the sales rank of your book on amazon.com. Morris Rosenthal attempts to decode what sales rank means here. There are also the bookseller lists, most notably the New York Times Bestseller List (you may have to register to see this), the BookSense Bestsellers List, and the PW Bestseller List.

 

Q: What about awards?

A: As an author, it is important for you to know what awards you are eligible for and to make sure that appropriate copies have been sent to the appropriate places. This is especially true if you are writing in more than one genre. David K. Brown maintains a list of children's book awards on his Children's Literature Web Guide. Locus Online maintains a page of science fiction, fantasy, and horror awards.

 

Q: I'm under the age of 21; are there any resources just for me?

A: Yes, there are. For one thing, you should check out David Kirtley's collection of resources for teen writers of speculative fiction. It is a great page that I wish I has access to as a young writer.

In addition, several colleges and universities offer summer programs for young writers. Here are a few: Iowa Young Writer's Studio, , and the Northern Virginia Writing Project Student Summer Institute. There is a directory to some other programs provided by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth, including New York State Young Writer's Institute

You should also take a look at Alpha, a workshop just for teen writers of speculative fiction.