Tension or Frustration?

There was this book I read recently that made me all kinds of frustrated. My inner growl came out. I found myself skimming through the last third of the story, rolling my eyes, muttering things like, “Come on, already!”

Which got me thinking.

As writers, we talk a lot about the importance of tension. Heck, Donald Maass says we better have it on every single page. So the question begs to be asked.

What’s the difference between tension and frustration?

Is there one?

When I think of frustrating books, two titles come to mind. Both are best-sellers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

New Moon (the second book in the Twilight series)

These books frustrated me for the same reason. Which involved the disappearance of a beloved character for a much-too-big chunk of the story.

Yet they are incredibly popular novels and much-loved by readers. Including me. So is frustration a mute point? Should we go for it?

I don’t know….

Frustration has to be one of the most annoying emotions. And I’m not sure annoyance is something we should ever aspire to do to our readers.

Tension. Good.

Frustration. Not so good.

The first brings readers to the edge of their seats. The second makes them want to light the book on fire.

So how do we embrace the first and avoid the second?
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Avoid drawing things out for an eternity.
Yes, we want to prolong tension. But not to the point of frustration. Sometimes, best practice involves giving the reader what they want, then hooking them with something else.
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Keep popular characters in the story.
Don’t make a beloved character disappear for too long. Unless absolutely necessary. But even then, you risk the wrath of your reader.
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Sprinkle in moments of gratification.
Sure, maybe you can’t have your hero and heroine get together until the end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw in some chemistry-laden tender moments between the two. There needs to be a positive correlation between frustrating moments and gratifying ones. The more frustrating a novel may be, the more gratifying moments we better include.
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Make the ending uber satisfying.
And I do mean uber. Like ultra uber. Especially, especially, especially if our stories lend themselves to frustration. The more frustrating a novel, the more satisfying the ending better be. Because even if we frustrate our readers, they will forgive us anything in the world if we satisfy the heck out of them at the end. Just like I forgave Stephanie Meyer the minute Bella hurled through the crowded square of Volterra and catapulted herself into Edward’s stone-cold arms.
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The book I brought up in the beginning? The ending wasn’t as satisfying as it needed to be to soothe my frustrated nerves. So it left a bad taste in my mouth. Despite the good writing and character development.
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When I think of a team of writers who have figured out this whole tension/frustration dichotomy, my mind automatically jumps to Vampire Diaries. They are experts in magnifying the tension without causing frustration. Which is why I love the show so very much. I even wrote a post about it: Tips from Television.
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Let’s Talk: What do you say about frustration? Is it okay to frustrate readers? Is there a book that frustrated the heck out of you, but you still love it to pieces?

*Photo by Ellie Goff

Love the Reader

The publishing business can be an overwhelming one. We hear so much advice from so many different sources. And to make things even more overwhelming, that advice often conflicts.

So what’s an author to do?

When we have a million voices shouting at us from a million different directions, who do we listen to? What do we listen to?

I won’t pretend to have it figured out. But this past weekend, I attended a workshop at the ACFW conference that helped quiet the noise and simplify the chaos. Ami McConnell, an editor for Thomas Nelson, shared a piece of advice that left me feeling lighter.

The piece of advice was this:

Love your reader.

So very simple. Yet so very profound.

In an industry where the could-do’s on an author’s list multiplies with ridiculous speed, this is the one thing I think we can all agree upon. The one thing that would benefit us all. Developing a genuine love for our readers and letting that love be the foundation upon which we build our careers.

So the question is this: How do we love our readers? There are all kinds of ways, but for today’s post, I just want to share three.

We love our readers when we take the time to know them.

You can’t love who you don’t know. As writers, it’s important to figure out who our readers are or will be. It’s important to be available to them. To listen to them. To respond to them. And when we take the time to know them, to see them as real people with real problems, hopes, and fears, something about the way we write and the way we interact on social media shifts. This journey and our stories become less about us and more about them.

We love our readers when we respect them.

This includes respecting their time. And reading a book takes time. We want to craft stories that make the time our readers spend on our words worthwhile. So are we constantly learning and improving and striving to create stories that will leave our readers entertained? Changed? Edified?

We love our readers when we share a piece of ourselves.

The best writing comes from a place of vulnerability. And being vulnerable means exploring and revealing parts of ourselves that aren’t pretty, parts of ourselves that might be painful. But when we do that, when we risk vulnerability, we’re reaching for a greater purpose. Our words are no longer about book sales and the market, they’re about touching something deep inside our readers. They’re about speaking truth, offering hope, and leaving people inspired.

Do you feel overwhelmed as you travel this journey? What overwhelms you the most? What are other ways we can love our reader?

New Agent at WordServe!

Guest Post by Rachelle Gardner

Effective immediately, we at WordServe have added thirty years of experience to our service for authors with the addition of industry insider Barbara Scott as a new literary agent.

“Publishing continues to evolve, but finding and guiding the careers of new and established authors will always be a big need,” says 17-year agent Greg Johnson. “Barbara has worked as an in-house sales rep for a publisher as well as an editor, and authored numerous books of fiction and non-fiction. Her strong editorial eye, relational skills and professionalism make her a natural to join the WordServe team.”

Barbara Scott brings 30 years of publishing experience to WordServe having worked at Zondervan, McGraw-Hill, Honor Books, and most recently Abingdon Press where she developed and built the fiction line.

Barbara has partnered with best-selling authors such as Brandilyn Collins and Melody Carlson for the YA fiction line at Zondervan, and many of the authors in her fiction launch at Abingdon Press received rave reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. Two of her most recent authors at Abingdon Press, Cynthia Ruchti and Richard Mabry, have been nominated for Carol Awards by ACFW in 2011. The fiction line at Abingdon Press exceeded all sales expectations, and Barbara has been credited for kicking off a well-rounded series of quality, highly-reviewed novels.

I’m thrilled that I get to work alongside this talented lady, who is already well-loved in CBA. Please join me in welcoming Barbara to our team!

~Rachelle

P.S. Barbara won’t be at ACFW, but I’ll be there scouting projects for her!

What Barbara is Looking for:

Adult Fiction:
Full-length fiction, 65,000 to 100,000 words. General market or Christian market.
Genres: Women’s, Romance, Suspense/Thriller, Mystery, Romantic Suspense, Historical, Family Saga, Amish, Political Thrillers, Mainstream, Supernatural/Speculative, including End Times.

Short contemporary and historical fiction, 40,000 to 65,000 words. Christian market.
Genres: Romance, Historical, Romantic Suspense. Will accept queries for Barbour, Steeple Hill Love Inspired, Summerside Love Finds You, and Avon Inspire.

Kids:
Middle grade and YA books

Non-Fiction:
Both Christian market and general market projects. Current Affairs, Political, Management, Sales, Money, Home Life, Marriage, Family, Parenting, Health & Diet, How-to, Popular Culture, Psychology, Science, Self-Help, Women’s Issues, Devotionals. Authors should have established social media, consulting, or speaking platforms.

Christian theology, apologetics, pastoral, spiritual growth:
I will only take on this type of project if the author has well-known credentials and/or a large, established platform.

What she is NOT looking for:
• Gift books
• Poetry
• Short stories
• Screenplays
• Graphic novels
• Children’s picture books
• Horror

Contact Barbara Scott: barbara {at} wordserveliterary.com (This email might not be active yet – give it a couple days!)

A Word Miser’s Experience with Line Edits

I have two confessions.

I hold tightly to my words.

And of all the things that lay ahead as a contracted author, line-edits made me the most nervous.

Here’s my truth. I’m in love with words. I love stringing them together in creative and clever ways to paint pictures for the reader. I don’t like deleting them. And I’m super protective of my voice.

So the idea of line-editing scared me.

I admitted all this to my incredibly talented line-editor, Lissa Johnson, and she said it’s a common malady for writers, especially beginners. Which makes sense if you think about parenting. We tend to be much more uptight with our first born, don’t we?

So how did line-edits go? Did I have to get rid of words I wanted to keep? Does the writing still sound like me? Was it as painful as I feared? Is the story better?

Good. Yes. Yes. Yes (but not in the way I expected). Very much.

Allow me to elaborate….

I deleted words I wanted to keep.
This is a reality for line-editing. I had to delete some of my more creative descriptions. One of the things I loved about Lissa was that she didn’t just tell me to delete them. She explained why they weren’t working.

Descriptions shouldn’t pull the reader from the story. Not even for the sake of admiring the prose. We can get away with it on occasion, but the more often we do it, the more we risk creating a choppy read for our audience. And choppy’s never good.

I’m learning that subtle and simple is usually best. A hard lesson for a writer who tends to go purple.

My voice is still my voice.
Lissa suggested changes, and even made changes, but she did so in my voice. She stayed true to who I am on the page and put to rest my biggest fear: That by the time this story makes it to the shelf, it will no longer sound like me.

Line-editing is painful.
Yes, it is. But not for the reasons I expected.

Deleting a beloved description wasn’t the painful part.

Having to scrutinize a novel I didn’t want to scrutinize was.

I had to look at so many of my words and make sure they meant what I wanted them to say. I had to look at so many of my details and make sure they were accurate and well-researched.

And I had to do it all while wanting to chuck the story out the window. At this point, I’ve edited this thing more times than I can count.

Combing through it so meticulously yet again made me cross-eyed. My lovely editor, Shannon Marchese, assured me that my strong feelings of dislike toward my story were very normal.

The pain is worth it.
Saying goodbye to some of my words was hard. But after stepping back, I discovered that Lissa was usually right. The changes improved the story. And although I might be permanently cross-eyed, it’s now much cleaner. Much smoother. Much better.

I’m learning something I always suspected. Editors are amazing. At least the good ones are.

And when it comes to editing, we’re wise to ignore those feelings of defensiveness, embrace some humility, and trust that they know what they’re doing.

Chances are, they’ve been doing it a lot longer than we have.

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What scares you most about getting a book ready for publication? What excites you the most?

Preparing for an Interview

Writers pursuing publication should learn how to speak well.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Hey lady, I’m a writer. Not a speaker. 

Here’s the thing. If you are pursuing publication and your goal is to be a successful author, chances are, at some point, you’ll need to use your voice. And I mean your actual voice, not your writing one.

Radio interviews. Workshop presentations. Speaking to your platform. Pitching to editors and agents. I’m sure the list doesn’t end there.

My debut novel will release in May, 2012 with Waterbrook Multnomah (a division of Random House) and although it’s still ten months away, the marketing department is already discussing ways to promote my book.

Recently, I did an audio recording, or an interview conducted over the phone which will be shared with sales reps and retailers. It also might be used for promotional purposes later down the road.

The questions were deep. And I was nervous. I’d never done anything like this before and usually, when I get nervous, my voice gets shaky. And the shakier my voice gets, the more nervous I get. It turns into this whole vicious cycle.

But you know what?

It ended up being a really cool experience.

Here are some tips that helped me prepare, relax, and have fun:

  • Find out what you have to talk about and let the topic soak. I had to answer some pretty deep questions. Questions I didn’t know how to answer at first. Letting them percolate for a while helped when it came time to brainstorm.
  • Type your answers in a bullet point format instead of paragraph format. I wanted to sound conversational, not like I was reading. But the idea of answering from memory terrified me. I needed something to help me stay focused and avoid rabbit trails. So for each answer, I had a short list of bullets to reference.
  • Practice. This is key. Practice alone. But even more important, practice with an actual person. My husband was kind enough to ask me the questions, listen and offer feedback.
  • Time yourself. Attention spans only last for so long. The more concise we can be, the better.
  • The day of the interview, don’t obsess about it. Practice one more time. Then do something to distract yourself. For me, playing some good old-fashioned spider solitaire helped keep the nerves at bay.
  • When the time comes, take a deep breath, smile, and do your best! 
You can use these same tips for almost any speaking engagement. I know I went through a similar process when I prepared to pitch to Rachelle, my agent, and Shannon, my editor, at the 2009 ACFW conference.
• • •

How do you feel about this kind of stuff? Do you enjoy speaking, doing interviews, pitching to agents and editors? Have you ever had to do it? If so, how did you prepare? 

Tips for Landing an Agent

Why hello, there. Welcome to the official launch of our blog, The WordServe Water Cooler. A place where WordServe clients gather to build community and help writers move forward in their careers.

Let’s get this party started, shall we?

For our first post, we wanted to offer some tangible tips for anyone searching for an agent. Here’s what helped us. We hope it helps you!

Seek professional feedback on your work before submitting.

Rosslyn Elliott – After I finished my first novel, I had a funny feeling there might be a technical flaw in the novel’s opening. Instead of wondering, I hired a pro editor to look over my first three chapters. Sure enough, the queasy feeling was justified. I fixed the problem, and Rachelle signed me that summer.

Jordyn Redwood – I met Greg during an agent appointment at ACFW in 2009. I had a polished one sheet and the first three chapters of my novel. Next step, he wanted a book proposal. I asked for examples from other authors and paid to have it freelance edited. Keeping my word and presenting professional work tipped the scales in my favor. Greg might say it was my use of dialogue but everything you do counts.

A pass on one project doesn’t mean you can’t try again with others.

Olivia Newport – Years ago I was invited to join a brand new book group. When the dust settled, a group of freelance writers and editors were the core. A couple years later, one of them invited Rachelle to join. We got to know each other long before she became an agent. Three other agents took a pass on what I was pitching. So did Rachelle! But we had a good basis for deciding we wanted to work together and just needed the right project.

The road to representation and publication isn’t usually a fast one.

Anne Lang Bundy – 25 years of composing documents, lessons, and essays developed my writing gift. A passion for all things Bible turned my pen to biblical fiction. After several months of connecting with Rachelle via “Rants and Ramblings” comments, I crafted individual queries for just two agents and obtained representation from WordServe. Three years’ study of fiction craft, five conferences, Rachelle’s encouragement, and the Lord’s grace now bring me to publication’s threshold.

Persevere through rejections.

Deborah Vogts – After a year of representation, my first agent dropped me as a client. Months later, I found the courage to submit my proposal to three more agents. Two doors closed, and Rachelle was Door #3. She liked my work and signed me as a client. Two months after that, we had an offer from Zondervan on my Seasons of the Tallgrass series. I like to think perseverance paid off, but it was also God’s timing.

If you mess up, all is not lost. But even so, learning how to query is good.

Lucille Zimmerman – I wanted to send my book idea to an agent but I didn’t know where to start. I Googled a writer’s conference and found a list of agents to contact. Greg Johnson wrote back and said he passed my email on to Rachelle. I did everything the wrong way, but she still wrote back and told me how to do a real query. Months later we met in person and she agreed to represent me.

Erin MacPherson – If there were an award for the worst query letter ever, I’d win it. When I decided to query, I had no clue what I was doing and no knowledge of the publishing world and it showed. Even worse, when Rachelle wrote me back and asked for a proposal, my response was “What’s a proposal?” Yikes. The good news? God is bigger than my stupidity. After some (okay, a lot of) coaching, Rachelle was nice enough to overlook my terrible first impression and sign me as a client anyway.

When it comes to representation, the right fit is of utmost importance.

Sandie Bricker – All the lunch tables in all the world, and she had to sit down at mine! I’ve had some awesome agents in the past, but I never seemed to find that right fit. Sitting down with Rachelle over lunch at the ACFW conference in Denver cemented the idea that it’s so important to have that “right fit” with your agent. Before they poured the coffee, I knew she and I were on the same page.

Erica Vetsch – At a workshop I attended, Rachelle presented her take on agent-author relationships and described exactly what I was looking for. At that time, I wrote only category romance, something Rachelle didn’t represent, but only a few weeks after that workshop she opened her client list to category romance authors looking to grow their careers. I contacted her, we agreed to work together, and since then we’ve sold several projects.

Marla Taviano – I already had four books traditionally published, then hit a wall. I reached out to Rachelle, and bless her wonderful heart, she threw me a lifeline. I can’t wait to be worth her while! Soon!

Attend a conference when you’re ready and when you’re stuck.

Maureen Lang – Conferences are helpful to writers at all levels, but if finances are an issue it’s wise to attend after you have a fully developed project. I met Greg at an ACFW conference, where we talked about my writing aspirations, our faith, and which publishers would be a good fit for me. It was quickly obvious he knew so much about the industry and that I could trust him.

Katie Ganshert – After devouring every craft book known to man, I reached a point where I couldn’t go any further on my own. I needed an agent. The query system wasn’t working for me, so I saved the money and went to the ACFW conference in 2009 where I pitched to Rachelle, garnered her interest, promptly submitted my manuscript, and received The Call two months later.

Amy K. Sorrells – Oozing with self-confidence after receiving 30+ rejection letters, I hopped on a plane and traveled the farthest I’d ever gone from home on my own, to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2009. After learning volumes from my “Leave it to Chance” roomate and WordServe client, Sherri Sand, as well as spending a week under the tutelage of Mary DeMuth, it’s no accident I came home, revised my manuscript (again), submitted three more proposals, and received “The Call” from Rachelle in January, 2010.

Enter contests. Finals are a great way to get an agent’s attention.

Keli Gwyn – Rachelle served as a final-round judge in a Romance Writers of America® chapter-level contest and requested my full. After completing my self-edit two weeks later, I sent the manuscript. The following day she emailed saying she wanted to “discuss the possibility of representation.” Four days later I was her client.

Jody Hedlund – While we don’t want to be obnoxious, we should be savvy in staying connected to agents who have our manuscripts. Rachelle had my full in her slush pile. After I finaled in a contest, I contacted her to update her. That email spurred her to pull my manuscript out and read it. She offered me representation a couple days later.

Richard Mabry – A door isn’t closed until God closes it. I’d given up writing when, on a whim, I entered a contest on Rachelle’s blog. I won a critique of the first chapter of my book, and when I sent my chapter, she emailed back, “Send me something that needs editing.” That led to a query, representation, and eventually a publishing contract. I thought I was through. God didn’t.

Take advantage of requests from editors.

Karen Witemeyer – At the 2007 ACFW conference, I met with a Bethany House editor who invited me to submit. That manuscript was rejected, but I was encouraged to submit another project. At ACFW in 2008, I visited with editors from Bethany House again, and they showed interest. I also met with Rachelle. Being able to say I had a nibble from a publisher was huge. Rachelle offered representation following that conference and negotiated my deal with Bethany House three months later.

Lisa Jordan – When I met Rachelle at ACFW, I wanted her as an agent. I pitched, but didn’t follow through on her invite to submit. After finaling in the Genesis and receiving a full request from an editor, I pitched to Rachelle again. She asked to see the full first. Once I submitted, she offered representation a week later. Don’t give up on pitching to a specific agent, even if you pitched to him or her in the past.

Ramp it up and embrace the 3 C’s – Conferences, Contacts, and Contests

Camille Eide – Conferences, Contacts and Contests all contributed to landing my agent. At a writing conference, I was encouraged to seek representation. I asked a writing mentor (contact) for a referral. She sent an intro letter and my query to Rachelle, who requested the full. While I waited, I entered a novel contest. The book placed as a finalist, sending it to the top of Rachelle’s pile. She read the full and called to offer representation.

Dineen Miller – I knew of Rachelle by her amazing reputation as an editor, so when I heard she’d become an agent, I put her on my list as one of two top picks. I made an appointment with her at the 2008 ACFW Conference and showed her my work. We clicked. Later I found out that two colleagues had recommended me too. The week after the conference, I happily signed on and am so glad I did!

Network. Participate in the publishing community. Relationships matter.

Alexis Grant – I connected over Twitter with a writer who, unbeknownst to me, was friends with Rachelle. My Twitter friend knew I was working on a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa, and she happened to hear Rachelle say she wanted to rep a book about Africa. That Twitter friend — who had by then become an email-and-phone friend — called me and asked, “Have you thought about querying Rachelle Gardner?”

Katy McKenna – For several years, while writing my first novel, I got to know many wonderful authors (and soon-to-be authors) through blogging. We’d exchange comments on each other’s sites and I happily hosted many author interviews on my blog. When one dear friend learned my novel was complete, she forwarded my proposal (without me asking) to Rachelle with a note of recommendation. That was on a Friday. Four days later, I had an agent.

Megan DiMaria – It’s important to participate in the publishing community and attend gatherings of writers, agents, and publishers. In July of 2009 the ICRS was in Denver, where I live. My publisher got me a pass to attend, but there was a problem at the front desk. Rachelle saw my dilemma and kindly escorted me to the publisher’s office. We struck up a conversation and decided to meet to discuss representation. Obviously, it worked out!

Catherine West – I first ‘met’ Rachelle in 2008. She was a blogging mom who loved books and dogs. She became one of my ‘blogging buddies’ and I enjoyed her posts. I then learned she was a freelance editor. I had a new story idea brewing, asked for her opinion, and when the manuscript was finished, she asked to read it. Around that time she became a literary agent, and a few months afterward, I became her client.

Michelle DeRusha – I connected with writers online, not simply to attract more blog readers but to create mutually beneficial online friendships. One author read my book proposal and then graciously offered to refer me to her agent, Rachelle, who emailed me within a day to request my manuscript. I hope to be able to pass on the favor to another new writer someday.

Martha Carr – I was working on a true story about a possessed house in Pittsburgh and a mutual writer friend, who was represented by Greg, introduced me to Rachelle. I sent her a sample of my work and in less than a day I got a return email asking if I wanted to talk about representation.

Krista Phillips – I’m very new to the Wordserve Group. I signed with Rachelle about a month ago! And really, it came down to the fruits of networking. When an editor was potentially interested in my book (from my networking)  I contacted two friends I’d networked with (clients of Rachelle’s) and one of them e-mailed Rachelle a referral. Spoke with Rachelle, who noted she was familiar with me because of my networking on Twitter, and she offered representation!

Beth Vogt – My first book about late-in-life motherhood partly resulted from my established relationships at MOPS International. I was not represented by an agent at that time. I’d connected with Beth Jusino, first as the editor of MomSense, and then as friends when she was an agent at Alive Communications. She gave me invaluable advice as I wrote my book. When Beth suggested I contact Rachelle, I knew I could trust her judgment and endorsement.

Joanne Kraft – Sharing my contract news with a writer-friend, she said, “Now you need an agent. And I know just the perfect fit for you…Rachelle Gardner!”

“Oh yeah? There’s just one problem, I don’t know Rachelle Gardner.”

“No, but I do.” She laughed.

Within minutes, three chapters of my manuscript launched into cyberspace. My girlfriend, who I’d originally met through blogging, became mine and Rachelle’s matchmaker.

Never underestimate the power of girlfriends, blogging, or networking!

Above all else, write well.

In the wise words of Camille Eide, you can do all these things we offer plus stand on your head and gargle, but if you aren’t writing well, following these tips won’t get you agented. So make sure to give attention where attention is due. Good writing must come first.

Do you have an agent? If so, what advice do you have for those who are looking? If not, where are you in the process? Please join in the conversation! Introduce yourself. We’d love to get to know you. 

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