Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Break Into Fiction –Why Some Writers get THE CALL and Others Don't

Today we have double the pleasure. Dianna Love AND Mary Buckham are joining us, and they're offering some fun giveaways, so stayed tuned for more on that in a minute. First, I'd like to tell you a little about our guests.

Dianna is a Rita-Award winning author (WORTH EVERY RISK) who also owns her own business
( where she designs, fabricates and installs unusual outdoor marketing projects for Fortune 500 companies. She's excited about her next project, PHANTOM IN THE NIGHT (Pocket/June 10, 2008) -- a romantic suspense collaboration with #1 NYT Best-selling Author Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Mary is a popular national speaker and writing instructor who has two award-winning books to her credit (INVISIBLE RECRUIT is her latest). She is also one of the driving forces behind -- an on-line university by and for writers.

Their topic today? Breaking Into Fiction – Why Some Writers get THE CALL and Other's Don't!

As I mentioned, Dianna and Mary are offering door prizes! All you have to do is post to be entered in the drawing, both geared toward aspiring authors. The first is a drawing for a set of 5 BREAK INTO FICTION™ templates from the highly successful Break Into Fiction™ Template Teaching Series (

The second is a critique of your query or cover letter to get you one step closer to a dynamite proposal package.

And now for blog…

We often wonder what it takes for writers today to break out of the pack of hopefuls to become a published author. As relatively new authors themselves, Mary and Dianna delved into this mystery and are here to share what they’ve observed while working with hundreds of aspiring writers. And they want to hear your views on what you feel it takes to get published too.

Dianna—When I was first writing and researching what it took to sell my “to do” list started with the simplest thing – reading. Prior to selling, I sought books by new authors to see what was selling. That was how I read Mary's debut book MAKEOVER MISSION -- a fast romantic suspense -- before I ever met her in person. Finding a new author isn’t as hard as it might seem in a sea of books. The Romance Writers Report always lists new sales and most new authors already have websites – Google them. Open a book and see how many books that person has published. If there are three or less, go to their website and find out if they are newly published or just changing publishers. These new authors are a barometer of what is being published and how commercial fiction continues to CHANGE. As readers, we may not notice the changes, but as writers we have to keep up to speed on this business.

Take a look at books written fifteen, ten and even five years ago. Compare the way the books start, the pacing, the descriptions, introspection and so on. With each new generation of writers, editors and readers – this industry changes. Adapting to these changes while keeping your voice strong in each book is important and plays into why some writers get THE CALL and some don’t. The writer who is unwilling to adjust to the world around them and accept that what they were writing a couple years ago might no longer be marketable will be passed by those paying close attention.

Mary—After working with hundreds and hundreds of writers over the last few years whether in a classroom teaching environment, working one-on-one with synopsis or query help or through the Break Into Fiction™ Power Plotting weekends there are several elements that I’ve seen that sets some writers apart and gives them that extra edge needed to break out and into the ranks of the published. The first is ATTITUDE. There’s a mind set that is loud and clear dividing those who will be published from those who’d like to be published. The first group will do what it takes, regardless of the obstacles, work or time involved. When they receive rejections they mourn, but then get right back to sending out another query, another proposal, getting more feedback if needed as they continue to press forward. They do not start their conversations with phrases such as “But I have a job…young kids…school-age kids…aging parents…no support…little time…” You fill in the blanks. Those who will be published offer no excuses.

The second issue is the willingness to take feedback and apply it. Not to say that all feedback is spot on, but those who will be published will keep pushing themselves to learn from others and apply what they learn so that their work and their process of working continues to improve. The ones who will be published continue to work at the craft of writing, whether it’s taking online classes or conference workshops, or analyzing other writers or improving what they already do well. The ones who will be published never give up, because that is a guarantee of non-publication.

Dianna – Once you’ve decided you’re “in” for the long haul, you can never, ever, ever stop learning or trying to improve your writing. I hope to still be learning something new the day I draw my last breath. I attack every story with gusto, wanting to drive my characters and plot to a new level. Mary and I often read for each other and I love the way she never fails to surprise me with the way she thinks. I want books that catch me off guard so that’s what I’m after when I write. We both analyze everything we come into contact with – novels, movies, short stories, characters, writing craft and style. If one of us finds something interesting we share it and the other will dig a little deeper for a new nugget of information. We love the time we’ve spent with all the thousands of students we’ve worked with on their stories while sharing our Break Into Fiction™ Template Teaching Series, but realized there was no way to reach everyone. That’s what led to the nonfiction book we’ve written that is coming out in Summer 2009.

Mary – The great news for writers everywhere is they have the choices daily to commit and work toward their goal of publication or not. They have the POWER. Many times as unpublished writers we think all the power is in the hands of editors or agents, but it’s not. It’s in your hands and the day you decide that nothing will stop you from being published is the day you’ll never turn back. You’ll make different choices as to how you spend your time, who you will associate with, how you will invest in your career. The greatest power to break into fiction publication rests with you and we’re here today to let you know that.

Now what about you? What do you see as the greatest obstacles to publication and what sets those whom you know have published apart?


Kate said...

As an unpublished writer I feel highly unqualified to comment on this subject. But as that hasn't stopped me yet… I'm betting that writers who learn to use their unique voice in query and cover letters will have a better chance at having a full manuscript read. My experience is that it's harder to convey your voice in short pieces. It's easy for shorter letters to become stilted and forced. There is less room to set up flow.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Dianna and Mary,
Thank you so much for blogging with us! I, too, am unpublished, Kate, and often feel unqualified when blogging!
I agree that part of the trouble lies in the query letter, another part is in the synopsis (the worst for me), and then there's the actual writing. Wait, that's everything.
Seriously, I think all of the above are culpable. Right now, I know my query must be okay because I've gotten a few nibbles. Something must not be catching people's interest after they get past the first scene?
Thanks again!

Nancy said...

Hi Mary and Dianna:
Thanks for blogging. I'm unpublished (for now). I like what you have to say about bending with the trends. The world keeps changing around us and we need to flex and grow to stay current. Thanks for the info and I'll keep you posted when I finally get that CALL!

Nancy Naigle
Drewryville, VA

Jen McAndrews said...

Hi Mary and Dianna! So glad I heard you were blogging today. You've put together a great post; I'm going to print it for my save file because there's a lot of good nuggets here.
So what do I see as the greatest obstacle to publication? I think, for many people, it's a resistance to learning and growing and really working for what they want. Once you're willing to put your heart, soul, and time into it, to open yourself up to critiques and be willing to follow good advice (and learn to discard the bad), accept that mastering craft is an unending process... then you're on your way.
THEN the biggest obstacle is that mystical combination of luck and timing and the right editor at the right moment.
Thanks for the reminder here that it's important to have everything in place so a writer is ready when that moment comes along : )
~Jen McA

Joan Leacott said...

Hi Mary and Dianna,

You reinforce what I heard from a prominent editor at the RT conference this year--writers make editors reject them by submitting sub-standard work. We writers truly are the ones with the power. We must learn and learn and learn how to gather that power. Then send a blast of it to the desks of editors and agents.

What do I see as the greatest obstacles to publication? Fear of rejection. I'm pushing myself through the final edits of my WIP, even though I'm getting an incredibly stiff neck about sending it out. It's a darn good thing my critique partners aren't afraid to administer well-timed kicks in the butt.

Question: How do you know you've taken enough courses and should just get on with job of writing?

Helen: Thanks for inviting Mary and Dianna to the blog.

Molly said...

I have to agree with Dianna. Attitude is the biggest issue for me. I have published some short fiction and non-fiction but I find turning out a long piece really requires a committment that is difficult to make. I have the deepest respect for writers who work, raise kids, run a household and still manage to get words on a page. I think the biggest asset a writer can have is sheer determination to get the job done. All the talent, all the research, and all the classes don't mean much if the butt ain't in the chair and the fingers ain't on the key board.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dianna and Mary, this is my first ever blog post. But I have to chime in and say that is such great advice to look for the new authors and see what is happening now in publishing - what ther're buying. As far as what "I" think makes the difference (and I'm as yet unpubed) change - and be willing to listen to others feedback.


Gerb said...

Hi, Mary! *waving* Nice to 'meet' you, Dianna.

Excellent post. A positive attitude and a willingness to work hard is the key to success no matter what field you choose to go into, but for writers especially, the road is long and rejection can be so discouraging so it's especially important to stick to the formula no matter what.

I think it helps to remember that *not* getting the call (yet) doesn't mean you aren't a worthy writer. It just means the time hasn't been right and you've got to keep plugging away!

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Mary and Dianna,

Thank you so much for being here with us on Title Magic today. Good advice as always!

I think the single most important thing is perseverance. If someone is willing to keep going until they succeed, they learn what they need to along the way and eventually reach the goal.

In my opinion the biggest problem is when a writer thinks he/she knows it all and isn't willing to take advice.

Connie Gillam said...

Dianna and Mary,

Thanks for sharing your ideas.
As an unpub, I lack focus. Too much to do and so little time to do it in. I find it hard to decide what I should be doing and when. For example, do I write for the few hours I have in the morning before work or do I send out query letters? I'm sure there are other writers with the same problems.

I had a wake up call recently. I'm looking for an agent. I sent out four email queries and didn't receive one nibble. I thought my finaling in the Golden Heart would at least get a request for a partial. Nada.
I have to conclude that my query sucked or my story didn't appeal to the agents I queried or both.

Anyone have any suggestions?
Persistence I have in abundance.


Terrel Hoffman said...

Hi Mary (waving madly) Hi Dianna!
I enjoyed your perspective on what it takes. I've heard of people who languish for years, completing manuscript after manuscript before finally getting the call. They often call it perseverance. But you two identified it better, I think. If one does not learn, and strive to be better, and seek examples of excellence, the journey will just be long and hardly satisfying.
A note to everyone who reads this blog: If you get a chance to take Mary and Dianna's weekend workshop *do*. I took it last weekend and am amazed at how it will change my writing.
Thank you!

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Kate ~~

Thanks for stopping by and yes - you're spot on in understanding that learning to write a strong, solid query letter is vital in getting your foot in the door. Super great news is that writing a query letter is a craft skill like many other craft skills that can be learned. Find another writer who has received requests based on their letters and ask if you can swap skills. I'm sure there's something you can exchange with them - grammar, proof reading, something that can make the process a win-win for your both! Also keep an eye on our site as in the next few months we hope to have a template available for newer writers to use when composing their query/cover letters to make sure they have key information contained and unnecessary info left out. Hope that helps and thanks for taking the time to post!

~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Lexie ~~

Delightful to have you stop by here today! Getting published is not for wussies that's for sure (grin) but it can and does happen every day! I like to think that getting published is tailor-made for those who thrive on challenges, who love to learn new skills [almost daily] and remain flexible in both their attitude and their expectations. Handle those skills and everything else- queries, synopses, booksignings, public speaking, reviews, etc -- are a piece of cake!

Thanks again for stopping by and all the best with your work!

~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hello Nancy!

Hey there -- so nice to see you here! I have no doubt you'll get The CALL here sooner rather than later. You have all the drive, determination and yes, flexibility you need. Remember luck is when preparedness meets opportunity!!

Thanks for popping over today and we're rooting for you!

~~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi there Jen!

So good to see you here! You've nailed what it takes to mkae a dream ~~ any dream ~~ a reality. Being born to be a writer and getting published are not one in the same. Those who will be published eliminate any other alternative to why they write. They take every speedbump, change of fortune and yes, even rejections and simply accept that they are part of the learning process and not an end to the process. Keep up your great work and attitude and you'll have that contract in hand in no time!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Joan!

Thanks for popping in and for asking a great question. For me there's one easy answer and one hard one :-) The hard one is that there's always new material to learn to grow in the craft of writing and one should never stop learning ~~ whether it's learning from a live workshop, a book, an online course or simply meeting and talking with other writers. The easy answer is you know when it's time to focus more on the writing when the class or classes are keeping you from writing! We all have only so many hours in a day and if you don't put your writing fiction first no one else is -- so if you find that you're not writing because you're in too many classes, or too busy reading to learn then you might want to look at some readjustments to create a better balance. All the courses in the world will not get you published if you don't apply the material :-))

Thanks again for a great question!

~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hello Molly!

You're spot on in realizing determination is a great asset to have as a writer. I was listening to a group of young men talking near me the other day and they were weighing the pros and cons of trying out for the next Navy SEALS BUDS training program. One made the comment that he'd tried once before and made it to the second day of Hell week before he washed out. He went on to say that of 1267 recruits who started his class only 11 made it. Those are some tough odds! Then, while all the other guys were saying why the odds were against them one piped up and said -- I plan to be one of those eleven. Bam! End of discussion. I had no doubt that guy was going to make it because he focused on the end goal, no excuses, no reasons why it wouldn't work, nothing except his clear, unwavering conviction that he was going to achieve what he wanted regardless of the amount of work. Writing falls into the same category in my mind. Find yourself some other writers who spend more time talking about how they write, or what they are writing or how they build in writing into their schedules and you'll have a great support network that will help you suceed.

Best of luck and thanks again for popping in!

~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...


Gold stars to you for jumping into your first blog posting! Thanks for being here and yes ~~ change and the ability to be flexible ~~ are wonderful skill sets to develop as a writer. As is seeking out input and feedback from others -- whether it's on the business of writing or the craft. The thing to remember, in my mind, is to consider if the advice is given in a spirit of openness and abundence -- and not a spirit of nay-saying. The difference being one challenges you to be a better writer, to dig deeper, to keep going. The other makes you doubt and fear and worry -- all of which can stop your writing. So if you find yourself listening too much to the nay-sayers [the industry is in ruins, there's no opportunities to get published any more, writing is too hard, etc] then it's okay to tune them out and trust your own gut that says you will be published some day! Okay?

Thanks again for posting and being here today! ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hey Linda [Gerb}

~~ So fun to see you here! You're absolutely right that we often blur the lines between rejection of our work and rejection of our self-worth :-) Rejection of our work simply means that this agent or publisher do not feel they can sell this particular product at this time. That's it. But as writers we can too easily go to the dark place that we as writers are no good, suck, stink and are kidding ourselves. Blather! Susan Wiggs once mentioned years ago that if writers could think like cold callers we'd have it so much easier. Every person who must make cold calls -- insurance agents, salesmen, business owners -- excpect a certain number of "nos" before they reach every "yes". But that doesn't mean they stop -- it simply means they play the numbers game. They also know that every "no" is one step closer to a "yes". I used to celebrate my "rejections" with a special dinner out with my husband at a new restaurant. Since we had 5 small kids at home getting alone time with him, a meal that wasn't fast-food and a positive ritual -- made me look forward to mailing out material and getting back responses. There was no personal rejection but a wonderful dinner out :-) In fact when I got The CALL my immediate response was - rats, I was looking forward to the new restaurant I'd already picked out!

Thanks for jumping in here today! ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Helen!

Thank you so much for having us here today ~~ what a great group of committed writers visiting! You're right in seeing that a reluctance to take any feedback can cause huge speedbumps to a writing in getting published. It's a version of the old how-can-you-learn-anything-if-you-think-you're-supposed-to-know-everything-already issue. It isn't easy to say "I don't know" or to struggle with a new concept or craft technique - but it's the willingness to do both that sets those writers who will learn and grow apart from those who simply want to be patted on the head and told they are doing great and their work is perfect. A great insight Helen and thanks for sharing!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hello Connie ~~

Congrats on your Golden Heart nod!! A hige milestone to accomplish! You are in a frustrating position because once upon a time a Golden Heart opened more doors quicker than they do today -- but that's not bad news. It's simply in knowing that can you make adjustments to what you're currently doing. Have you had someone who does not know you or your story look at your query? The fresh set of eyes can often times see what a cp or friend might miss because they already know what you're trying to say. Is your Golden Heart nomination buried in the middle of the page or paragraph? While the nod doesn't open all doors wide it still matters so make sure this credential shines in your query. Also look at the agents you're querying. Are they actively looking for new clients? Are they attending Nationals and thus you can use your Golden Heart nomination as a stepping stone to meeting them in person? Check with other Golden Heart nominees in previous years and ask for their advice because I know full well they've been down the same road you're on today. And whatever you do - don't give up! But then you already know that :-))

Hope this helps ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hey Terrel!

So nice to see you here today and I'm delighted you learned and enjoyed the Break into Fiction PLOT your own book retreat. It was an intense two days but both Dianna and I have seen, time and time again, writers make breakthroughs in not only understanding how to plot their specific book but in seeing how to repeat the process again! There's info about the remaining three Retreats we're offering in 2008 at -- and are geared to help writers of all levels take their ability to plot a solid, strong story to the next level!

Thanks for popping in here today!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Nancy said...

Dianna and Mary, what a wonderful blog! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

My greatest obstacle to selling was me. Where I put my time and energy, what I let my internal editor get away with, how I self- destructed trying to follow all the rules. I grew, learned, killed the internal editor, and decided to take chances. Oh, yes, and persisted in my quiet way. :)

Thanks again for your inspiration!

Title Magicians, you don't need to add my to the drawings.

Nancy Haddock
La Vida Vampire

Nicole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole said...

Hi Mary & Dianna! As a frequent student of Mary's online workshops, I'm thrilled to see you both post here, and Dianna, I can't wait to meet you in person, too! I'll be at your LA Retreat in November.
There's such great advice in this post that I'm going to take a page from my friend Jen's book above and print it out. Especially the comment on a positive attitude. I struggle with this A LOT. It is hard to maintain. But I know from experience that when I do maintain it, walls seem to crumble down and the way is clearer.
It's so easy to blame everyone else - my agent, the editors, my boss for making me work late, traffic, etc. etc. etc. - for my being unpublished but when you start to turn inwards, you gain control, and once you're in control, you can achieve much more than you think!
Thanks, you two. Your post has inspired me!

Nicole M.
Los Angeles, CA

Mary Buckham said...

Nancy H ~~

Oh, gold stars tripple earned Nancy for realizing that for all of us - our biggest stumbling block is ourselves. We need to get out of our own way! Surround ourselves with upbeat, go-getter folks [I have Dianna which is like having a nuclear reactor in one's corner ~~ yay!] positive supporters [do not need to be writers per se but folks who believe in our dreams] inspirational writing, rewards for positive steps and pats on the back. Nancy - you've made your dream come true with a publishing contract and so can everyone who will not take a no.

Thanks for jumping in here today!

~~ Mary B :-)

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Kate (and everyone else :-) -

I've been on the road all day and just getting to a computer. So glad my wonderful partner Mary has been on the ball.

You've got a good point about voice coming through in the query, but the key thing to convey in a query is the crux of the story, the conflict and what makes your story different. If you have an unusual story with strong conflict that can touch a reader emotionally - those points will balance out a lack of voice coming through in the query.

We'll be adding query letter examples soon to a new section of the site we're setting up for newer writers.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Mary Buckham said...

Hey Nicole!

Wonderful to see you and yippee! you're coming to our last Break Into Fiction PLOT Retreat of the year in Los Angeles. While there's lots and lots of work to do over the course of the two plus days we're together we also spend a lot of good quality time simply talking about writing and the business of writing. So can't wait to see you!

Take care and thanks for posting today!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Lexie -

Thank you to everyone here for having us.

If you're writing and learning the craft, you're as qualified to blog as anyone else. The great thing about being around other new writers is the energy and desire to improve. When you blog, you share that energy.

It's hard to put your finger on any one thing that makes a difference. I would pick something every 6 months or once a year that I'd focus on - synopsis, openings, characterization, whatever...and I'd try to really improve that one part at a time. After a while, a lot of parts get better.

There's nothing that replaces putting in the time - the more you do the better it does get. But I hate synopses, too. Mary's the synopsis guru.

Thanks for stopping by.


Magnolia said...

I think my personal obstacle to publication is perfectionism.

Seeing and knowing the characters, their troubles, their lives in my head is one thing. Getting it to sound good when I write it down is another thing.

I've sold nonfiction articles, essays, I've sold short stories and won I won a Harlequin contest five years ago.

I have a harder time writing fiction even though I MUST write fiction because I'm constantly creating stories in my head.

I get up every day and I try. I write every single day and some days I think 'I'm not the worst writer that ever breathed' and other days? Perfectionism rears its head and every word I write is a struggle against myself.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Nancy -

I like the "unpublished (for now)" - great attitude. What is writing with out good 'tude? "g"

Every industry changes. For some reason the arts tend to be slower to pick up on that, but writers reflect what is going on currently around them, even if they write historical. At one time, the heroines in historical stories weren't nearly as proactive as they are today.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Jen -

Wow, you summed that up well. I like to use the example of Tiger Woods (since I play golf too :-). A lot of athletes are born with natural talent, but many don't have the commitment to become the best they can be. Some are lazy because they were always better than "everyone they grew up around."

But take someone like Tiger who applied long hard hours of practice and dedication to the sport on top of his talent and you end up with a champion. If you're out there trying hard everyday to reach your goal you'll be standing in the right spot at the right time when lightning strikes.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Dianna & Mary,

Thanks for the wonderful advice. One thing I have found very helpful is to have a critique group or partner. Having someone else read your work is SO important.

I can't believe that my Golden Heart entry, which amazingly is a finalsit this year, had never been read by anyone but me. I guess that's why I was so shocked when I got the finalist call!

Any advice you can offer on query letters is greatly appreciated. I find my queries turn out like business letters (Please find enclosed ...) So Boring! How do you get creative in a query letter?

Thanks a lot for your time today.

Sue Mason

Savanna Kougar said...

Rockin' day, Ladies. To give a very short answer to your final question. I followed that old route of writing what I wanted to read, but wasn't finding. Sometimes other readers are also looking for that genre and that particular type story, or way of writing a story.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Joan -

When I first started writing I took a class where the instructor critiqued our opening 5 pages and said his goal was to tell us each where he thought the editor would stop, what would make them kick the submission back. He had a very positive attitude about critiquing and I thought that was a good way to critique a story - what will make the editor (or a reader) put it down?

As for classes, I personally never want to stop learning. I always take a course on something during the year even on topics I'm familiar with because I think that keeps the craft fresh in my mind plus I always hear something new.

That being said, I think you can't learn it all at one time or in one year then just sit down to write. Writing and reading books in your genre are the two best "study" tools you can have. The writing should always come first. I feel like a workshop should be a break from thinking so hard on your story and a chance to exercise your mind in a different way that invigorates you.

It's been great for us (me and Mary) to teach the Plot YOUR Book in 2 Days Retreats because it's like having our own refresher course as we do it. We stretch our thinking by discussing (brainstorming) so many different stories during a retreat. That was the reason we created a program where a student works on his/her own story while learning how to plot - to keep each person working on their story. It's hard to go home later and apply the information.

You have to find the balance in your schedule for time to learn, but prioritize with your writing first.

Good question & thanks for joining us.


Savanna Kougar said...

Mary, what a great way to handle the rejections, a dinner out! I think that would be a good strategy for a lot of us. Actually, what I've done recently, it just submit to somewhere else, which has brought me good results. Since every publisher isn't looking for the same thing. Your story may simply not serve their reader base, but does work for another publisher's readers.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Molly -

You're very right. In addition to the Butt In The Chair, we have to be honest with ourselves. If you've been struggling for several weeks and spinning your wheels, put the story aside. Give yourself a time frame of say one week with a specific day that you will return to the story, then write on something different, maybe a short story. Or an article or build your website.

Don't touch the book pages for that week, don't even allow yourself to think about the story. I'll bet when you pull it out again you'll be chomping at the bit to work on it and find what was hanging you up and move forward.

But you have to be honest and not just say "it's hard this week, I deserve a break" and just blow off writing on a regular basis. It's always going to be hard and the time will come when you can't not write because of a deadline. Training yourself to stay fresh on your story will help later on and keep you moving forward.

Somehow you have to figure out what will keep you productive in a way that you turn out quality stories. It definitely startes with butt in the chair. "g"

thanks for stopping by,

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Lori -

Welcome to blogging. You're more astute than I was first time. I got lost...stop laughing, Mary. "g"

Yes, being open to change is a big key. You have to write for a while to become comfortable enough with your story to know when to change and when to stick to the original plan, but it helps to have someone whose opinion you trust - who is honest with you.

The first draft of the novella I have coming out this December was too long, but my stories are very tight, no fluff. So I deliberated on what to cut, then let a friend of mine (unpublished writer) read it. She suggested cutting a character and said she thought it would increase the conflict. The character played an important role, but I gave it a shot and cut him, shifting his role to a person who DID create more conflict for my hero. So that was a wonderful suggestion, because I could do it and the story held together.

We have to remember "we're writers" so we can write something several ways. That's a very empowering thing - knowing that you can rewrite and make it better.

thanks for blogging here first!


Mary Buckham said...

Hi Magnolia ~~

Cool name! In my next life I'm going to get a super cool name ~~ it's on my must have list :-)Perfectionism is a strength that can be turned against us when it keeps us from submitting or moving forward or getting our work read. A great way for me to get around any obstacle is to treat the process like a game and find someone to play the game with you. Example - the first person to submit to an agent treats the other to a book of a favorite author. Or a coffee drink or a free read of 5 pages -- whatever shifts the focus off of "is it good enough" and puts that same focus on let's have fun and move forward. Thank your muse forgiving you a wonderful gift - the drive to be the best you can be-- and then let that same gift rest so your other gifts - determination, focus, the fact you do write regardless -- have their turn to play.

Thanks for sharing and best of luck with your writing!

~~ Mary B :-)

Savanna Kougar said...

Magnolia, I've struggled the way you're describing. One thing that worked for me was some advice I heard -- give yourself permission to write badly -- just write. I tend to be a big perfectionist. And when I start getting to tight, I reminde myself to write 'trash' if I have to -- the important thing is just to write. You can alwways revise later.

Savanna Kougar said...

See! I should revise all those terrible spelling mistakes I just made -- but I won't! Take it easier on yourself, Magnolia, you'll get there

Mary Buckham said...

Susan Anne ~~

Congrats on being a Golden Heart finalist! Wow - two of you on the blog today -- that's super
cool :-) As for your question on How do you get creative in a query letter? Remember not to put the cart before the horse. Too many times we worry about voice and creativity and being funny or sharp or edgy or XXX [fill in the gap] that we forget the intention of a query letter. First intention - let the editor or agent know why you are querying them [and not because you will query anyone that breathes!] but because you know your work is light, dark, funny, edgy and know they are the agent of YYY or publish XXX. Or you met them or heard them speak at XXX and think they may like THE BEST NOVEL EVER WRITTEN that's a completed 85,000 romantic comedy [or whatever it is you're writing. Then give them a tidbit of the story - focusing on the conflict and the primary characters - leave everything else for the synopsis to explain. Then follow up with your credentials - organizations you belong to, any writing experience, your personal knowledge of an area or a skill. The query is meant to whet their appetitie. If it does that they will ask for a partial and thus it's effective!

Hope this helps ~~ thanks for a great question! ~~ Mary B :-)

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Gerb -
Okay, what is Gerb short for? That's too cute. :)

I agree completely with your post. A positive attitude is almost mandatory and one of the first casualties of this business sometimes. It helps to surround yourself with like-minded people. Build a good network and support team. Venting is good, to a degree, but no one blow (rejection, negative comments, etc) should be the one that takes you off track.

I know of an author whose book was rejected by one editor in a house then another editor (in the next office) in the same house was the final judge in a contest a month later and bought the identical book that had been rejected. There are so many variables in getting the call or not, you just have to keep at it until your book lands on the right desk on the right day.

Thanks for the comment and stopping by,

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Helen - Tnanks for inviting us and Congrats on your amazing success!!!!

Helen said...
"I think the single most important thing is perseverance. If someone is willing to keep going until they succeed, they learn what they need to along the way and eventually reach the goal."

Very true and you're a great example of that advice. And your point about some thinking they "know everything..." is sad but true. I am continually surprised by new information and more often than not hear it from someone not-yet-published because today's newer writers are so savvy.

Thanks again for asking us and see you in SF (hope to see a bunch of you there).
Dianna - PS I LOVE the cover of THE MAGIC KNOT - can't wait to read it. :)

Judythe Morgan said...

Hey, Mary and Dianna.

I tried to post this early this morning, but see it never came through. I’ve had my tea and my M&Ms so I’m trying again. Maybe this time I’ll click all the right buttons.

I see two obstacles that defeat writers—lack of persistence and determination.

Calvin Coolridge says—"Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent."

I so agree and hate it when writers give up. You have to keep on, keeping on in spite of the rejects or life’s eruptions. Edna Ferber says it best: “Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death - fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”

If you have that love and that desire, success will come. Some day, some time, the stars will align, the sun and moon will be in sync, and the right editor or agent will read the right story and offer a contract.

As writers we have to be sure we’re putting the best, strong stories out there by working on our craft and knowing the market like Dianna says. Plotting retreats like you two offer can help. Sure helped me. So have the Writers U classes.

Thanks to both of you for being here today and all you do to help us be successful in our journey to publication.


Dianna Love Snell said...

HI Connie -

Connie is one of my GRW sisters and a GH finalist this year.

I think the writing comes first no matter what because you can't sell what you don't have. While someone is cold reading or critiquing your full, then spend time on query letters and such. I have a pretty hectic lifestyle with no real schedule so I have to be very diligent to write, which sometimes means not going out to dinner or doing something I'd like to share with my husband or friends if I need to get done. It's a tough balance no matter what, but write the book first.

A query is so much like a live pitch. You have a very short space to intrigue the agent or editor. It's hard to really encapsulate your story that much, but that's why many queries get no replies - the story just didn't come through in the query or lacked a true conflict even though the actual pages are great.

It's a good idea to get several outside readers (who you feel have a grasp of what it should say) to read it for you. I'm thinking your story is great and it's just not coming through in the query.

See you in SF on Saturday night at the awards event! Thanks for coming out today.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Terrel -

Thanks for the nice plug on our workshop and congrats on becoming a POWER PLOTTER. :)

You bring up a good point. I know of people who have written stacks of manuscripts. That's good, but if you aren't trying to learn in between each one and improve or change what you're doing (if it is not selling, you need to make some changes), then you're just turing out multiple books with the same problems.

Editors and Agents are not excited to hear you have five manuscripts completed if they read the one you send (which they assume is your best shot) and it has problems. They just think the other four are just as problematic.

This gets back to the question about how much time do you donate to learning. I think you have to learn more between each book so that at some point the light bulb goes off and you think "I know exactly why book 2 was rejected and can fix it."

It's a series of building blocks where you learn, you write, you learn, you write, you take feedback, you write...eventually it all starts to click.

Good point and thanks for stopping by.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Nancy -

Congrats on your success and what a cool cover on La Vida Vampire! Looks like good spooky night of reading. :)

Your post is so true. I like golf as I mentioned before and that game is similar. You don't play against another opponent so much as you play against yourself. You can gut it out and do great or self-destruct. It's hard to accept how much power we do have over our writing life, but that's true and very honest of you to look at it that way.

Your honest and hard work shows. Thanks for sharing with us.


Mary Buckham said...

Savanna ~~

Another lovely name :-)thanks for jumping in and helping your fellow writers here. Love particularly your words -- give yourself permission to write badly -- just write. Try a BIAW [book in a week], timed writing, using an Alpha Smart, a reward system for moving ahead instead of rewriting and polishing, even a class such as Margie Lawson's Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors. She offers it every January at simply because so many writers block themselves. As a psychologist she gives lots and lots of tips and techniques to move past what's stopping you to get on to doing what you want to do!

Thanks again for sharing ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...


Delightful to see you here and what great words of advice. Nothing I could add to top them!!

Thanks for sharing and being soooo positive. Your day is coming!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Nicole -

We're thrilled you're coming to the Los Angeles Plotting Retreat! It's going to be high energy and great fun. Can't wait to meet you in person.

Nicole said...
"It's so easy to blame everyone else - my agent, the editors, my boss for making me work late, traffic, etc. etc. etc. - for my being unpublished but when you start to turn inwards, you gain control, and once you're in control, you can achieve much more than you think!"

Those are inspiring words, too!! I love that you point out that it's not just writing we have to take responsibility for, but everything we do. It's all tied together. You are very right about control - we must control the things we can and not spin our wheels on the things we can't control. That's wasted energy.

Good post. Thanks for stopping in and sharing.

Dianna (who saw Mary giving out gold stars again...she hordes them you know "g")

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Magnolia -

The perfectionism issue is one many writers struggle with. I completely understand what you mean. I tend to be a perfectionist as I'm working on something (writing, painting, whatever), but in writing I learned to write very ugly drafts first so I won't lose the excitement of the story. Plus, I like to go back through to revise and clean it up. I find that enjoyable. (Mary thinks this is a demented frame of mind...;-)

It's hard to let go of the perfectionism and just write, but a friend of mine who struggled with that did the Book In A Month recently where she had to produce so many pages a day and really had fun doing stream-of-conscience writing. She said she'd been so fixated on how to write the book for critique partners, editors, agents - everyone - that she struggled with making it perfect, but writing one for this BIAM project freed her to writer whatever she wanted.

So if you feel like being a perfectionist is holding you back, consider putting yourself out of your comfort zone by signing up to do a committed number of pages in a week with a group and see if that helps you push past tinkering with each word.

We tend to do what feels safe, but there's no harm in stepping outside that space and allowing yourself the freedom to play. The first year of writing is so much fun then all of sudden we start realizing the "job" ahead and lose that joy in the struggle.

Have fun with your writing again. Write just for you and any way you think is perfect.

Thanks for sharing that point.


Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Susan Anne -

Congratulations on finaling in the GH! That goes to show that you can trust yourself to know your story. Yes, outside reads are great (I had several for my next book and Mary read it too), but you have to believe in your story to know what can change and what can't. When you know that, it's so easy to use the feedback you get.

I think Mary covered the query letter question wonderfully and I don't want to repeat what I said earlier so I'll add this -

Take the story blurb out of your query and read the first line to someone then stop. Ask them if they are hooked by that one line? If not, you haven't condensed the meat of the story down to a pitch. Your first line should be strong. Once you get that, do the same to each additional line and ask your listener to give you feedback.

Read that blurb to someone who knows nothing about your book and ask them if they understood the gist of the story and if it sounded interesting. Don't try to explain any part of the blurb, because you aren't going to be in that agent's office to explain it.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing.


Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Savannah -

You brought up a good point - that different editors are looking for different stories within a genre. I have friends who write YA, several are published. Since one is a long distance critique partner, it's been interesting to me to learn the YA market better so I can share information. Just within that one genre there is a vast difference in age groups and tone of the story or maturity of the readers even within the same age group. Humor in one house won't play well in another.

All that leads to your other point - that readers look for different things too. I know you've all heard the spotlights for a publishing house where an editor says "we want something different." It took me a while to interpret that as "we want the same thing in a different light."

#1 NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon was writing vampires way, way back. She has a stack of rejections an inch thick from one year where all the houses rejected the Dark-Hunter series that is now an international phenomena. Sometimes it's a matter of timing and an editor who is willing to take a risk.

Kudos on writing what you wanted and couldn't find. Thanks for all the great comments.


Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Judythe -

Waving at you from GA! :) Judythe was our fabulous hostess in Houston during that retreat - she's the best! And a good writer to boot.

Yes, nothing will replace determination and hard work. There are so many stories out there of people who persevered and wrote around difficult times. The bottom line was they had a passion for writing that would not be extinguished.

I've said in several interviews that I only do something I have a passion for because I'm either hooked or not. I knew immediately I was hooked on writing and for the first year I made a goal to learn something new everyday of the week, no matter how big or small.

I really think the dividing line between those who will persevere and those who won't is passion. If you aren't passionate about this in a way that feels good then it's going to be hard to stick out the tough times.

But one thing I suggest often is to keep a hard copy stack somewhere and add to that pile once every 3 months. If you feel like you're not making progress, go back and read the first couple at some point. You'll be really surprised at how much you've improved. It's hard to realize that when we continually write, but I still have the first pages I wrote.

You're better today than yesterday and in 3 months you'll be even better. Those are all steps toward reaching your goal, because you're always moving forward.

So nice to see you here, Judythe. Hug that handsome hubby of yours and tell him hello.


Darcy Burke said...

Thanks Helen for putting this out on the Golden G8or loop! Waves at Mary!! (Drink any good wine lately?)

I'm not published yet (my GH-final ms is currently on submission), but I firmly believe attitude helps. And timing. And voice, "It," or whatever you call that indefinable thing that makes a reader's heart sing. And persistence. And a great support group. Actually, I can't stress that enough. If you don't belong to a writing group (an RWA chapter is fantastic) or having writing "friends," do whatever you can to cultivate a relationship. Having people in your corner who do what you do, understand the ins and outs, and share the sheer passion for writing is immeasurably helpful.

Trish Milburn said...

Hey, Dianna and Mary. Swinging in for a moment from my crazy deadline to say howdy. Mary, I think you're so right about attitude being a big key to getting published.

Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Darcy -

Congratulation on finaling in the GH and having a submission on an editor's desk! Way to go.

Loved your post - very uplifting. I can't stress enough about surrounding yourself with positive people who are like-minded. Too many times we allow negative people to stay around because we don't want to deal with moving beyond that relationship, but if someone is not adding to your life they are deducting from it.

The more positive your environment the better support you'll have during the tough times that will be the difference in pushing through the muck. Sounds like you have a great 2008 GH group. I'm part of the 2003 Wet Noodle Posse and have a lot of buddies in the Romance Bandits (2006 GHers - some who are here). That's a rare mix of women who really support each other. I wish for all the romance writers out there to final in the GH just for the experience of making great unexpected friendships.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dianna Love Snell said...

I'm heading out and don't know if I'll get back at a decent hour or not. If so, I'll stop in and visit, but I know you're in capable hands with Mary. She's a terrific workshop partner and writing buddy...even if she does horde gold stars. :->

Many thanks to Helen and all of you for having us visit today. I'm very encouraged by all the great posts here that we'll see more sales this year. You all understand what it takes to get the book done so I'm sending you my best karma for the good luck part. :)

thanks and take care, Dianna

Mary Buckham said...

Hey Darcy!

I knew this was a fun place to hang out and now I have another reason why :-) In addition to all your great ideas on how to stay motivated let me add wine [an regon Pinot Noir tops the list *g*], chocolate, great laughter, friends the more the merrier, seeing new places, stretching in many areas of your life [except the waistline :-)] family, great books to refuel you and knowing that along the way there are soooo many cool people to meet!!

Thanks for being here today and here's hoping our paths cross again soon!

Hugs ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Trish ~~

Many thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to wave and say hi! Isn't it amazing that when we get right down to it there is sooooo much we can control and influence in our paths to publishing -- starting with our attitude!

Hang in there and thanks again! ~~ Mary B :-)

Shelley Munro said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. It was very inspiring. I love being a writer. Some days are harder than others, but it's always an adventure. Often I think the difference between snaring a contract and a rejection can be timing or good luck. It's something that we as writers don't have control over. I like to think if I keep working hard I'll get there in the end. :)

Julie said...

Wow! Great advice ladies!! Thanks so much for sharing!!

Cheers, Julie Rowe

anikadaniels said...

I think what sets published authors apart is determination. They don't make excuses. They learn how to improve their craft. They keep on submitting even after a hundred rejections. Most importantly they don't just sit around talking about writing. I think some people are born with the determination to be an author. Some people work up to getting enough determination to become a published author. And others still will never get the determination to be a published author.

Mona Risk said...

Hi Mary (waving, waving) and Dianna,
What a great blog. Mary, I made a summary of your on-line workshop and have it on my desk while writing. It has become my bible. I'm taking it in vacation in a couple of days to keep writing on my Dana--if DH let me do it. LOL. I wish I could take your weekend workshop.

--The ones who will be published never give up, because that is a guarantee of non-publication-- I strongly agree. I have one ebook out, a second coming in June and a third one just contracted. My dream is to see my books in print and hold them while I sleep. I'm working on that. I know I can improve and hope I will finally master my weak point: internal conflict.
Helen, thank you for inviting your wonderful guests.

Mary Buckham said...

Julie ~~

How nice to see you here! For anyone who wants to learn how to write great query letters Julie teaches an online course about queries that I can strongly recommend. Check out her website at for more info.

Thanks again for popping in!

~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Anika!

LOL! You're right -- I don't know a published author who doesn't find some way to write regardless of life :-) They don't wait for inspiration or their muse to pull up a chair or to feel like writing :-) Pages get written whether they are good, bad or indifferent. But there's more than pages -- there's also being aware of the business of writing -- who's publishing what, changes in editorial staff or numbers of books in an imprint being published. The business of writing. is fascinating and an awareness of the business can make sure that those pages that are being dilligently written find the right market.

Thanks for jumping in here today!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary and Dianna!!
Great motivating blog plus wonderful inspiring feedback! I've attended Mary and Dianna's fiction weekend in Atlanta and came away [other than with mush brains] with a great way to think about my plot and get out of my own way.
Thanks for the kick in the backside, Mary!

Jean W.

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Mona!!

How's life in Florida these days? I'm so glad you enjoyed the Pacing workshop and are still learning from it and maybe one of these days we can work together at a Break Into Fiction PLOT Retreat. We'll be back in Atlanta next March which is somewhat close to where you are. Never give up on your dream to see your words in print. Three e-books are a great achievement to celebrate and you're well on your way to print copies!

Take care and thanks for stopping by today!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Shelley ~~

You're spot on in thinking if you keep trying you'll achieve your dream of being published. Only guarantee to not being published is to give up. It's always an option but doesn't have to be the only one. Keep writing. Keep believing. Keep moving forward and you will achieve your goals!

Thanks for visiting today!!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...


Kick in the backside huh *VBG* Sometimes that's what it takes and if so I'm here for you! Seriously I think that sometimes the best support we can give our fellow writers is to tell them to quit whining and to start writing. Don't beat yourself up but if you find that you're spending 80 percent of your time and energy focused on why you can't write or find time to write or space or quiet etc and only 20 percent of your time on finding solutions then it's time to flip those numbers. I don't think I've ever had a coversation with Dianna about what's not working -- it's always about what are we doing to make things work. So find yourself a Dianna :-) and keep moving forward!

Thanks for visiting Jean and keep on writing!
Hugs ~~ Mary B :-)

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Thanks so much for blogging with us today and what an informative blog! I recently signed with agent Roberta Brown and we are working on selling my first novel. But that doesn't mean I've stopped writing. I'm currently writing two novels while plotting out a third. I think your "never say die" attitude is spot on. I also think you do have to keep abreast of market trends and popular themes. Incorporating them into your own style is tricky but lots of fun!

Vicki said...

Really great post! I had the pleasure of hearing Diana at Nationals last year and loved every minute of it.

I know I must keep writing regardless of anything else. Also, I need/love my critique partners. They see things I don't since I know my story so well. It's a great thing.

Being involved with a great chapter to me is big time. We have some amazing authors, who are always ready to answer questions and then there are the workshops. So yep, for me, it's a forever journey. The path may become clearer in parts of it, but then there's always a new road to take, unfamiliar and sometimes scary, but oh my once you're on it the scenery is breathtaking if it take the time to study it and soak in all there is to know on that leg of the journey.

Mary Buckham said...

Hi Anitra!

Thanks for stopping by and congrats on signing with an agent. That's a huge step and as you so rightly noted - an important one toward a publishing contract. Glad to hear you're working on future novels as this is a business that doesn't stop with The Call but starts in a whole different way!!

Best of luck in your career ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hello Vicki!

Delighted that you were able to hear Dianna speak last year. Isn't she amazing! I love your words - the scenery is breathtaking --- when talking about the writing journey. Soooo very true. I have to laugh that every time I decided once and for all to throw up my hands and quit trying to be a writer -- and try and do something less frustrating - like becoming a brain surgeon or giving birth to quintriplets -- I'd feel this huge sigh of relief -- right before the stories started up again *vbg* Bane or gift to be a writer means one must write. :-))

Thanks for sharing your words today!

All the best ~~ Mary B :-)

Mary Buckham said...

Hello All!

I'm signing out for the day and want to thank Helen Scott Taylor for inviting Dianna and myself to the Title Magic blog. What a great group of writers -- those who are part of the blog on a regular basis and all those who took the time to visit. May all your dreams and aspirations come true!

Yours ~~ Mary B :-)

Eliza Gayle said...

fabulous post ladies! gives you a lot to think about.

Erin said...

Thanks so much for the great information and inspiration, Dianna and Mary!

I think my biggest obstacle to publication is that I become too caught up in what editors and agents say they want. I am so focused on what THEY want that I'm having a hard time coming up with what I want. It has affected the way I plot, the way I develop characters, and the way I define success as an unpublished writer.

I guess it boils down to me trying to find a place where my voice and process are still authentic, but I'm still meeting the needs of the market. It's hard to find that balance!