Sunday, March 9, 2014

Publishing Sense from Alice Orr: Celebrating the Next Thing

Publishing Sense from Alice Orr: Celebrating the Next Thing:   I made a start on my next novel yesterday. Not because I’m finished with the last one. Just because I knew how good it would feel. And ...

Celebrating the Next Thing

I made a start on my next novel yesterday. Not because I’m finished with the last one. Just because I knew how good it would feel. And how encouraging it would be – and is.

I’ll finish revising the predecessor but I’m on to the next too because I’m into this writing thing for the long haul. I’m also now over the hump of dreading where the next one will come from. Or if there will be a next one at all.

There's a typical writer’s experience – a dark night of the writerly soul – where the next book is a source of dread. It starts happening for me a few chapters before the end of the story I’m currently working on.

This dread has actually been niggling at me for some time by that point but I haven’t yet truly acknowledged it. The general substance goes something like this. “Do I have another book in me? Is there another full long story I can get through all the way to the end?”

I already know the beginning of an answer to this because I have already taken notes and collected research – bits and pieces stashed in a file somewhere that attest to the bare bones at least of the dread next thing. So “Do I have it in me?” isn’t the real niggler here.

I do anticipate some separation anxiety. A deep relationship has grown and flourished between my writer self and the characters I’ve created and the world  I’ve summoned into existence in the thing I’ve been working on for what feels like a very long time.

My writer’s heart doesn’t really want to leave all of that behind. But I’ve said goodbye to beloved story people and scenarios before and the creative spark hasn’t guttered inside me. So that’s not the true dread either.

I believe that the questions flummoxing us – or at least me – at this delicate juncture are as follows. “Will my next story – or article or book or whatever I’m planning – be good enough? Do I still have IT? And if I do – is my version of IT still adequate and relevant?”

For a novelist the fine tuning of these flummoxers may sound something like this. “Will I be able to fall in love again with another bunch of fictional folks and their predicament? In love deeply enough to spend several months and 300 or so pages with them?”

That is a deskful of doubt if I ever heard one. So what do we do? What do I do?

Some of you know me already. Feel free to shout out if you do. You’ve been in my classes or you’re a Facebook friend or a real world friend. If so you may be able to guess what’s coming. I’m about to make a favorite shout out of my own.

DO IT ANYWAY! This is my mantra forever. Hold your nose and leap right in. Do not listen to your doubts. Do not avoid the next piece of work by distracting yourself with – well uhh – distractions. We all have a cartload of those to trot out when we think we need them,

DO IT ANYWAY! The thing you dread. Do it because that is how you discover you have nothing to dread after all. Do it and there it will all be. The spark and the wonder and the quickening of your imagination – the high that makes writing the positive addiction it is.

I promise you that when you stop looking and leap the most beautiful vistas will appear to you. How can I promise this? Because I just did exactly that. And there isn’t a dread in sight. And I’m celebrating!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins of Suspense Writing

Do you write suspense novels or hope to write one? Then you need to be aware of the Seven Deadly Sins of Suspense Writing. Deadly – because they kill your chances of success.

Here they are. The seven biggest reasons agents and editors and readers could be left cold by your suspense novel.

1.         The terror in your story is not terrifying enough.

2.         That terror, or jeopardy to your protagonist hero or heroine, does not begin immediately, at the story opening – preferably page one, paragraph one.

3.         That terror does not escalate steadily and maddeningly to a bite-your-nails-to-the-bone climax.

4.         That climax is not a truly dramatic clash between good – your hero or heroine – and evil – your villain/antagonist.

5.         That villain/antagonist is not adequately formidable and plausible to make his defeat truly satisfying.

6.         This final confrontation is not drawn out sufficiently to let the reader savor the triumph of your hero.

7.         There is not enough story action and complication to sustain the length – approximately 80,000 to 100,000 words – of the novel.

Does your story avoid every single one of these deadly storytelling sins? Ask yourself this question. Be extremely hard-nosed and objective when you answer. Your future as a suspense novelist depends on it.

I’ll be talking about these seven deadly sins and much much more this coming Saturday February 22nd at my two-hour seminar workshop WRITE THE THRILLER-MYSTERY NOVEL TO DIE FOR: How to Make Your Story a Page Turner.

My presentation is sponsored by New Jersey Sisters in Crime and takes place in Monroe NJ. Contact Daria Ludas at to find out more. I’d love to see you there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Idea from Heaven

I don’t know about you but I can get bogged down at this time of year. The weather is challenging where I am. It’s tax season where everybody is. The doldrums before spring have many of us waiting for the active part of life to catapult us into motion again.

For a writer that can mean the idea engine feels like it’s running on empty. Meanwhile there are lots of ways to avoid writing. We can simply not put our butts in our seats and write. We’re not only out of idea engine fuel – we are out of inclination too.

What we’re really out of is access to the idea from heaven. The flash of inspiration when a bolt comes straight out of what we think of as nowhere and knocks us flat with the force of its brilliance. The gift from the universe that says “You must write me right now!”

First of all let’s make one thing very clear. The heavenly universe that generates the perfect gift of the perfect writing idea is not out there somewhere. It is in here inside of each of us. It is your imagination – the most powerful idea engine of all ever. Please don't forget that.

But sometimes – like at the winter doldrums of the year – we feel like we don’t even have access to our own imaginations. That’s when the idea engine needs a kick start – a jolt in the pistons that will give us just enough boost to get up out of our down places and write.

My two favorite kick starts are eavesdropping and rubbernecking. My two favorite venues are coffee shops and public transportation. In coffee shops I listen in on conversations. On public transportation I watch everything both outside the windows and inside the conveyance.

I don’t listen in for the whole story though sometimes that’s fascinating. I listen for a sentence or maybe just a phrase that catches my ear with a special sense or rhythm. I don’t rubberneck to take in the whole scene. I look for a detail that strikes my eye with special vividness.

The next absolutely imperative step is to make a record of this moment. Write it down – the phrase that caught you or the detail that struck you. I have too often firmly believed that one of these moments was so precious and particular I could not possibly forget it. Then I did.

What you do after that is up to you. You can write right there. Coffee shops are good for that. Or you can keep your idea note in reserve for the next time you get the empty tank feeling. Or you can simply let it rattle around in your writer's imagination for a while and see what idea gifts burst forth.

By the way – when you can’t get out into the world beyond your front door – eavesdrop on the worlds inside that door both real and virtual. First bug your family and  friends. Then tune the device of your choice to a talk or reality show. You’ll find catchy phrases and striking images by the carload. I guarantee it.

Wherever you are – in or outside your customary physical environment – in or outside your interior environment – inspiration is there. Lift your antennae just an inch and you will find it. When you do – be sure to give thanks – because it is always the idea from heaven.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finding Time to Write

When I first became a book editor at a New York City publishing house I faced a dilemma. I was also a publishing author and authors have deadlines. Now I had editorial  deadlines too. To tell you the truth I was about to lose my mind.
To make matters worse I was attending a lot of writers’ conferences. I’d be invited as a featured speaker but I was really there to troll for writers for the Regency Romance and Mystery Novel lines I edited. My plate was way past full.
I know this is a circumstance you recognize. The details of your situation may be different but the panic is the same. Like me back then you ask yourself. How do I find time for everything that is expected of me? For everything I expect of myself?
The only solution seems to be that something has to fall off your plate or at least be pushed way over to the side. For writers that sidelined something is too often their writing. Amidst the demands of what we generally think of as Real life our writing life feels least Real.
Yet – in terms of those things that keep us Really alive – writing is at the top of the list. Please excuse me if I speak out of turn but this is true for me and most of the writers I know. So how do we honor our need to satisfy our inner selves and find time to write?
The answer for me came back in those bifurcated author-editor days from a very impressive source – Nora Roberts. Nora is an author whose prolific output has always impressed me. She produces wonderfully engrossing stories one after the other year after year.
How does she do it? I asked her that question up close and personal at one of those writers’ conferences I mentioned. I’d taken a moment to hide in the lobby and catch my breath from the hectic pace of conference madness and there she was.
I knew Nora like so many of us did as a congenial person with a lively wit and generous spirit. With that generosity in mind I moved to the lobby seat next to her and asked the question that had been bedeviling me.
“How do you find time for events like this and all the rest you do and still write?”
Nora lived up to her generous reputation that day. As I recall we adjourned to the bar to continue our conversation. She may have recognized how panicked I was by my time crunch situation because she treated me to a surefire panic remedy – a shot of tequila or maybe it was two.
I might have calmed down some but I was still eager for her answer to my question. She didn’t disappoint. “You have to write wherever you are,” she said.
That flew flat in the face of everything I’d told myself was true about writing – especially fiction writing.  I believed I had to create a special atmosphere for writing and that atmosphere had certain requirements – components of what Virginia Woolf called “a room of one’s own.”
All of those elements were about consistency and stability – an environment I could depend on to be My Writing Space. Maybe not a room of my own but a corner of my own where everything was all about writing all the time. All of which went out the window that day with Nora.
I needed to write wherever I was – wherever I could manage even a little focus. Not several hours or even a single hour. Ten or fifteen minutes would do. On the subway between my home stop and the one near my office. In the moments between lunch and getting back to work.
Those were my personal situation details back then. They differ for me now. They will differ for you. The common ground is that we need to write and to accomplish that we must rethink our requirements and modify our writing behavior.
We must learn to duck our heads down over our screens or notepads – drop into the world of the piece we are writing – and Just Write. Thanks to Nora Roberts I learned to do that. I’m doing it now. I urge you to do it too. Do It Anyway.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pitch Perfect & Blurbalicious

My next workshop presentation – Saturday January 25th for New Jersey Romance Writers – is called Pitch Perfect & Blurbalicious. It’s about how to create a project pitch with agent-editor-reader appeal. Here’s a preview.

There are ways to optimize your chances of submission acceptance by an agent or editor and indie book purchase by a reader. There are also ways to sabotage those chances. A great pitch and a colossal blurb will help you stop sabotaging and start optimizing.

To attract agents and editors and readers to your work – you must first attract positive attention. You do that with a Perfect Pitch and a Boffo Blurb.

The perfect pitch and the boffo blurb are Powerful. That power comes from the words you use. The choice of those words is crucial.

You must choose words that have impact. You must choose words that are Intense – Powerful – Dramatic.

Such words demand attention. Such words get attention. Without such words your pitch or blurb will most likely lack the extra element that knocks an agent’s socks off – makes an editor sit bolt upright – inspires a reader to click the Buy Now button.

I do need to add a cautionary note here. These words are dynamite and you must always treat explosives carefully. The right amount gives you Fireworks. The right amount gives you Drama.
On the other hand too much dynamite gives you a misfire – or a catastrophe. Too much powerful word dynamite gives you melodrama – makes you sound overwrought.

What is just the right amount Wow Word Power for a perfect pitch and a boffo blurb? We’re talking about two or three wonderful sentences with just the right temperature degree of intensity and drama.

My prescription is four to six Wow Words per Pitch or Blurb. That’s just enough fireworks for three sentences but not enough over blast to blow up in your face.

Where do you find these words? I found mine in a thesaurus and made a list. I spent a couple of hours rolling around in words – not a bad way for a writer to occupy a morning. You can do the same if you’d like.

Or – you can shoot me an email at Ask for a copy of “WOW Words Work Wonders”. I’ll be happy to share my list with you. Or – show up on Saturday at NJRW for my hands-on in-person in-your-face version. See you there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Painless Synopsis Revisited

I am repeating this step-by-step guide because when I posted the above writer witticism on Facebook recently I discovered that authors I care about are still having trouble composing the synopis.

I urge you to try this technique because it works. It seems simple and it is. Please don't hold that against the method. Here is my remedy for the torment of synopsis writing (previously published by me in Writers Digest Magazine). I know it will help because it has helped me immensely.

The 7 Phases of Writing the Painless Synopsis

Phase One – A Recorder, A Jug of Wine and Thou
Gather these materials in a cozy spot. “Thou” is someone who appreciates the kind of story you write. Relax, take a sip, turn on the recorder. Tell your story aloud, in whatever order it occurs to you. Include all the elements of the story and each character from beginning to end. [Thou can also be another aspect of you.]

Phase Two – Stacking the Deck
When alone, play back the recording.  Use 5x8”index cards, one scene idea per card, as you hear a scene mentioned, identify that scene in one sentence at top of the card.  When finished, you should have 45-60 cards, depending on the length of your novel.

Phase Three – Floor Play
Sit on the floor. Spread the cards out in the order they occur in the story. Look for places in the story line where there is too little action or too much for purposes of pacing and clarity. Add or subtract cards as needed. If you don’t yet know what scene to add at a specific story gap, place a blank card there so you know you need to come up with a scene. Your cards for the conclusion of your story must convince the editor you have a story ending that will satisfy a reader.

Phase 4 – Cutting the Cards and the Task Down to Size
One card at a time, write 2-3 well-crafted sentences presenting the scene at its most intense, moving and conflict-ridden. Brainstorm any scenes you may need to add.

Phase Five – Don’t Forget the Players
When a character is introduced in the story, at that point in your card pile add another card with a description of that character in a single tightly written sentence.  Craft that description with careful attention to the closely observed detail, the perfect detail that resonates with the essence of that particular character.

Phase Six – For Openers
On its own card, write an opening sentence – concise, straightforward and startling. Polish this sentence into a true gem to open your synopsis in sparkling fashion.
Phase Seven – There You Have It
Type your synopsis directly from your card pile, turning over one card at a time and typing what you’ve written there. Throw in a transitional sentence or two where needed to make the telling run smoothly. The Winning Result: A brief of your story without dialogue or much description and a synopsis that could sell your book.

The 2 Secrets here are #1 Demythologize the Activity & #2 Make It Play. Nothing demythologizes better than hunkering the butt down onto the floor. Fooling around with cards is the play part. Trust me. It works.

Find many more step-by-step writing exercises in No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells. Reviews posted at For a gift copy send $10 (for postage & handling only) to Alice Orr Seminars, P.O. Box 6224, Long Island City NY 11106.