Finding More Time

As I write this, I'm in a time crunch.

Sound like your life?

If you're anything like me, it's always a struggle to organize your time so that you have enough to commit appropriate amounts to the various things in your life.

I'm a teacher, so at different parts of the year, my busy-ness schedule looks a lot different, but not matter how much free time I have, it somehow never seems to be enough. Whenever I'm bogged down with a giant stack of papers waiting to be graded, I feel like there's hardly even enough time to vacuum. Whenever I'm out of school, I somehow manage to come up with a long list of various out-of-school projects, ranging from working on my manuscript to learning how to quilt. And no, in case you are wondering, I don't know how to quilt. That one's on the list next to "paint the bathroom" and "catch up on scrapbooking" (aka the not done list).

In other words, my commitment level always seems out of sync with the amount of time I have to actually work on stuff.

So yesterday, I was thinking to myself... how can I be more efficient? I obviously don't have some secret answer to time travel, so the best I can do is try to become better organized with the time I have. I thought to myself, if I got up an hour earlier each day during the week, that would be a total of five hours more productivity available to me. If you have a busy schedule or are raising kids, you can apply the same principle in smaller, more frequent segments as well. For instance, four fifteen minute segments a day during the week will also total five hours. Those fifteen minutes on Facebook might not seem like a lot at the time, but they add up.

What strategies have you found helpful in organizing and making good use of your time?


You've Finished the First Draft... Now What?

First, let me begin by apologizing for how quiet my blog's been lately.

Conference season is nearly underway, and many of you, like me, may be working on novels to pitch at a conference.

I recently finished the first draft of my novel, which felt like a tremendous feat.

And then I began to come to the realization that editing can take more time than initial writing, at least, if you want to really craft your novel.

So if you have finished a manuscript, be proud of yourself! Many people quit halfway through. However, don't lull yourself into thinking you're done, or even close to done. Chances are, unless you're a prodigy writer (and maybe even then), revision will mean more than inserting a few commas.

While grammatical revision is certainly important and necessary, it's also important that you revise your plot. Look for holes, cliches in the writing, characters who can be combined, and even ways to add new subplots. Add a twist. Increase the stakes. Make us care about your characters even more. Now that you have the skeleton of the story, you have the freedom to add or take away from it.

Don't become so married to your original draft that you hesitate to change it. Have a few friends read through your manuscript and ask them to tell you honestly what works and what doesn't.

Above all, read.

Become an expert reader. Reading other books of a similar genre will help make you an expert in it, and reading books about the writing process can help you learn how to self-edit your manuscript, which is a valuable skill even if you plan on working with a professional editor.

I have been reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Plot and Structure. These two books have dynamically changed the way I look at my manuscript. I would definitely recommend them.

So, take a few days off. Buy yourself come chocolate ice cream, and sleep in.

But after those two or three days, adjust your perspective, and get ready to rip your manuscript apart. :)


What to Bring to Appointments with Editors and Agents

As a first time ACFW Conference attendee, one of my initial questions about the Conference was what I should bring to be prepared for meetings with editors and agents. I’ve done some research to answer this question, and I hope you will find it helpful as a checklist, especially if this is your first conference as well.

  • Bring a one sheet. I might just have an abnormal interest in them, but I actually think one sheets are fun to make. Get creative with these and use them to catch the attention of agents and editors. They should include the title of your work, its genre, a brief summary of your story, a brief bio of you, and preferably a headshot. Try to come up with a cute tag line to put under the title like, “When summer comes to an end, will autumn’s cool chill their love?” Okay, so that wasn’t cute at all, but you get the idea. You might even want to use a quote from your book under the title. Whatever you do, do not forget to include your contact information.

  • Bring a proposal. Do your research before the conference and look at the agent or publishing house’s requirements for proposals, then tailor yours accordingly. I’m clearly not an agent, but I can imagine they get a lot of ill-formatted proposals, and as an instructor, I can understand the frustration that must accompany that. Do your homework and pay attention to what the editor or agent wants. You are trying to impress him or her, after all.

  • Bring a synopsis. The synopsis will probably be the hardest thing on this checklist to write. It’s difficult to summarize something you’ve worked so hard for so long on. However, it’s important that you take the time to make your summary strong. Research blogs and books for tips on making your synopsis shine.

  • Bring your first 2 to 3 chapters, depending on how long they are. Agents and editors will want to take a look at your actual writing, and will be particularly interested in your hook/beginning.

  • Bring questions. In her May 21, 2009 blog, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Agency suggests that you bring a list of questions with you to conference appointments that are long, lasting between 10-15 minutes. The reason? If you know within the first few minutes that the editor or agent is not interested in your book, you can still learn valuable information through the appointment and get some of your questions answered. Rachelle’s blog is full of valuable information, especially for first-time ACFW Conference attendees, so make sure you check it out if you haven’t already. The link is Rachelle is a very well-respected agent, and you can find more detailed information about all of the points on my checklist, not just this one, in her blog.

  • Prepare a verbal pitch. Yes, I realize this is the only point that isn’t parallel with the others. It is also the only point that doesn’t regard some sort of physical material you should bring with you. However, it stands out for a good reason. The verbal pitch is one of the best ways to capture the interest of an editor or agent. You don’t want to sound rehearsed, but you also want to make sure what you have to say is polished. You’ll want to have a short version of your verbal pitch as well as a longer version that will be appropriate for agent and editor appointments. Make sure you introduce yourself before diving into your pitch, and don’t try to tell your whole story. Give the agent or editor enough information that he or she can easily will be intrigued, but not so much information that he or she will be confused. The editor or agent does not need to know the life history of all of your background characters. Think about what’s most important to your story, and use that to your advantage.
Questions for Comment: What questions do you have about meeting with editors and agents? Is there anything about the idea of appointments that makes you particularly nervous?


What to Keep in Mind When Meeting Agents

My blog posts for this week will concern the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. For more information about the Conference, click here.

Some of you who are reading this blog may have attended the Conference before, perhaps even multiple times.

However, many of you, like me, have probably never attended a writing conference. I’ve been to plenty of church conferences, and even a conference about teaching university-level composition, but never a writing conference.

My goal is that this blog will provide you will useful information whether you’re attending the ACFW Conference for the first time or the fifth.

If you are attending the Conference for the first time, you probably have plenty of questions about what to expect. The question at the top of my list was how to appropriately interact with agents and editors.

I learned it’s never a good idea to verbally tackle agents and editors in a bathroom or hallway. Good thing to learn before getting dubbed the bathroom pitch girl.

It is, however, acceptable to pitch in an elevator, thus the term “elevator pitch.” I wonder which category the Starbucks waiting line falls into?

Since I’m clearly not an expert on the subject, I asked Etta Wilson from Books & Such Literary Agency if she would contribute her expertise, as she has vast experience as an agent, editor, and even an author. Thank you, Etta, for your contribution to this blog.

What is the biggest mistake authors make when meeting agents for the first time?

This is tough to answer with only one point because so much depends on the author's basic personality and whether or not they feel confident about themselves and their work. It's nearly always obvious when an author has a canned comment ready or is a bit pushy. Agents, like authors, are simply human, and some will work well together and some will need to look more.

If an author attending the ACFW Conference wants to approach an agent outside of an official appointment setting, for instance, at an agent table during meals, what is an appropriate way for the author to do so? What kind of information about his or her book, including how much information, should the author give in this kind of informal setting?

Assuming the author knows something about the agent's preferences (fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or historical), he/she should have a couple of enticing summary sentences in mind about the work and their background. Occasionally an author can make a strong impression by noting a personal connection with either the agent or another client of the agent, but it should be legitimate.

What are some important things for authors to remember when forming a pitch?

While a pitch should be memorable, short, and honest, authors should not be crestfallen if an agent declines to see the work. There are many reasons why an agent may be unable to pursue a particular novel, and it could be for the author's best interests in the long run.

What kinds of materials should authors bring with them to agent appointments?

I like to see a proposal, 3 or 4 sample chapters, a brief synopsis, and a bio. That may seem like a lot for a brief appointment, but it can save a lot of time later if I'm interested.

If you could give first-time conference attendees any advice about meeting with agents and pitching their work, what would it be?

Believe in your work and be kind. We're all in this together, and the writing and publishing of wonderful reading is a high calling for all of us.

Questions for Comment: If you have attended the ACFW Conference before, do you have any advice for first-time attendees, especially regarding appointments with agents and editors? If this will be your first time attending the Conference, what questions do you have about it?


Elijah Moments

This post is not necessarily writing-related, so I apologize for that, but I wanted to share.

Matthew 16:10-13

The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?

Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

I think it's easy sometimes, at least for me, to read passages like this one and respond with something along the lines of, "Yeah, you legalistic, pagan Pharisees. You were so worried about the rules and regulations that you were blind to deeper spiritual truths. So glad my own faith is more sophisticated."

Sounds a little conceited written out, but, don't we have that thought process all the time? When I was reading these verses earlier tonight, though, I was struck by the spiritual blindness that they implicate.

But the thing is, we're not blind. We're just closing our eyes.

The religious leaders of Jesus's day did not recognize John the Baptist, or Jesus for that matter, as the dynamic spiritual leaders that the Old Testament prophecies about. Why not? Because they were expecting the second Elijah to come, look, and act in a way that fit perfectly with their own assumptions.

Thing is, God has a way of working beyond the wildest stretch of our assumptions. Sometimes His plans, His purposes, do not look like we expect them to.

The problem is, we get so caught up in waiting for our own expectations to be fulfilled that we close our eyes to what God is doing in our lives. We don't recognize our own Elijah moments because they don't always look like the Elijah's we've dreamed up for ourselves.

Have you ever had a time in your life when God has stretched you to take off a spiritual blindfold and recognize His will as different from what you expected it to be? Why do you think we're usually more comfortable imagining our own Elijah moments, asking God's approval for them, rather than seeking the dynamic and legitimate work of God's Holy Spirit?