Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged tips
Who are You?
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Work Up Character/Setting Profiles?

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

So on the one hand, I like to think of myself as an organized writer. I'm definitely a plotter. I love The Writer's Journey and Romancing the Beat. I don't start writing until I have a synopsis that breaks down what's going to happen in every scene from beginning to end.

On the other hand, I am not that meticulous about my characters, and especially about my settings. I build Pinterest boards for each book with visual inspiration (this is mostly an excuse to search for pictures of hot guys, sue me). I write character sketches and setting descriptions while I'm plotting, and then promptly never refer to them again, unlike that synopsis I mentioned, which I check in on at the start of every scene.

Last year, I found these great character questions from Mia Hopkins, and they are super useful when building character sketches (even ones you never look at again).

I say I hate you because… But I really love you because… The thing I dread most is… Because I crave… But you provide a better substitute, which is…

These are really helpful, because they make you think about your character's behaviour, rather than just the things that happen to them. So often, I see new writers put together character sketches that are just a list of facts, rather than a discussion of who their characters are. Things like what their job is, who their friends and siblings are, the tragic thing that happened to them when they were five years old. These are good, but providing the emotional context is better.

Oliver is a lawyer. He has worked for the firm for 10 years. He is a workaholic.

Oliver is a lawyer. He prides himself on putting in his best effort at everything, including his job, where he has worked for the last 10 years. This pride has taken a wrong turn somewhere, because now he feels he can't leave the office before 10 pm, otherwise people will think he's slacking. He's worried about looking less dedicated to his job than his colleagues, even though he has more case wins under his belt than anyone else at his level.

See how much richer that is? Even if I never refer to it again, it's building a more detailed character in my head, which let's me jump into my story faster.

How do you build your characters?

Worst. Review. Ever.
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What I learned from my worst review

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

Dudes. I have one published novel. You didn't think I was actually going to call out a particular review, did you? That way lies madness and possibly career suicide.

Here's what I know that I didn't know five months ago.

Don't. Read. Reviews.

Especially don't read early reviews. Good or bad, they will do nothing for your mental health. Nada.

Also don't respond to reviews, even those that totally missed the boat on what you were trying to convey. You don't know that reviewer. By putting a book out there, you are inviting people to read your book, but also you are inviting criticism. That's how it works.

So yeah. Stay away. No good can come, really, from reading reviews. If you must, get a trusted friend to vet them and send you the good ones. And recognize that you can't please everyone. What you think is earnest and heartfelt, may be silly or bitchy to someone else. Write your book truth, then go write another one.

Step away from the reviews.

Season of the Pitch

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My contest experiences

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

I'm going to admit up front that my contest experience is limited, because I went from my first query to signing with my agent in a little over three months. I got lucky. And Laura and I didn't even find each other through a pitch contest, I just cold queried her slush pile. But I did do a few pitch contests and here's what I learned.

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These are my two best pitches. Between them, they got six likes, all from publishers (as opposed to agents). Only one of those publishers wound up offering to publish me, and I decided not to sign with them. And yet, 364 days after my first pitch, The Pick Up was out in the world and my agent and I were making plans for future titles.

So here's what I learned:

  1. Pitch parties like #pitmad, #dvpit and all their brethren, are a great way to get in front of publishers and agents. They are actively looking for stories that catch their eye.
  2. These same pitch parties have hundreds and sometimes thousands of participants, so you've got to have good pitches to stand out, just like you need a good query to get through the slush pile. Some people say it's easier now, because back in my day we walked uphill both ways in bare feet only had 140 characters, and now you've got 280, but the basic form is the same. Character, hook, stakes. You need these. 280 characters of "her life will change forever" is just as vague as it was in 140 characters.
  3. There's no guarantee. I got full manuscript requests from agents I cold queried and then got turned down, and I got thanks but no thanks from publishers I submitted to after pitch parties. Both processes are worthwhile but neither is a surer route to publication.
  4. You still have to make tough decisions. If you're reading closely, you'll have noticed up above that I actually got a publishing offer through one of my pitches, and I turned them down. Just because you get likes doesn't mean you're beholden to any agent or publisher who shows interest in your pitch or your manuscript. It's flattering and often it's overwhelming, but you have to make the decisions that work for you and fit with where you're trying to go. I've got more on that here.
  5. I definitely encourage all writers to find pitch parties and contests as a means of getting some visibility. Learning to pitch your work is a skill you'll need forever. Some authors are hugely successful with the online parties. Others find success through other avenues. Don't pin your hopes on one or the other, but try as much as you can.
Follow the Instructions

giphy.gif Time for everyone's favourite topic! Resolutions! Or, in this case, lessons learned. Gather round, pretend I know what I'm talking about, and listen closely!

It's December 26, 2017. On Boxing Day 2016, I was still tweaking my draft of The Pick Up and trying to convince myself to believe the people who said it was good enough to query. 365 days, 1 agent and a 3-book publishing contract later, what is the most important thing I learned?

Read the instructions.

Querying is a minefield of angst, endless inbox refreshes, impostor syndrome and occasional highs where someone actually asks you for more.

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You know what makes querying easier?

Following the instructions.

Lame, I know, but here's the thing: The internet is littered with frustrated agents who just can't wrap their heads around why anyone would query badly. The threads below from @RaeAChang and Laura Zats are full of examples where people didn't follow the instructions and hoped for the best anyway. Why would you do that?

What can we learn here? Here's a short list.

Before querying:

  1. Finish the book. Like Laura said, this should be the first thing on this list.
  2. Find agents who represent the genre you're writing in. Query Tracker and MSWL were my go-to resources for this.
  3. Know the standards for your genre. Look, I write long, so I get it that sometimes stories just take a lot of words. And I have no idea exactly how long the book in Q464 above was. There is some wiggle room in any genre. But if you (like me) are an unpublished writer shopping around a contemporary romance, know that 85k is cool, and 150k is probably going to be a no.
  4. Know what makes a good query letter. The internet is full of resources, examples, and forums who will critique your draft letters for free. The good folks at Agent Query Connect raked my first letter over the coals (it hurt, but was totally worthwhile). I read all the archives at Query Shark, and I cannot recommend that exercise enough to any fiction writer going to market.

If you're querying, you've probably heard all of this before, but this is truly the biggest thing I learned in 2017. Follow the instructions. Do the research. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help.

Since The Pick Up is coming, obviously all of this paid off for me. But I can also tell you that putting together the best query package possible (and tailoring it exactly to every agent's submission guidelines), got me great traction. I queried 25 agents and got 10 full MS requests out of it.

I know this sounds lame. Writing should be more fun than critique forums and spreadsheets with submission requirements. I'd rather talk about inspiration and the high that comes when the scene you've been anguishing over finally pays off. But trust me, if you're going with traditional publishing, at some point you're going to have to follow the instructions.

A Day of (Not) Rest (10 Days to 20k, Day 8)

bed-linen-1149842_1920 Sometimes the best laid plans go astray.

Sometimes a freak storm blows water under the doors of your house and twists the tops off three trees in the yard.

And then sometimes you (understandably) struggle to sleep at 2 am when the next storm hits and wind starts moaning outside your windows.

And sometimes, about 3 hours later you're still awake, reading werewolf novels to keep from worrying.

And sometimes, trying to function on four hours of sleep, the words just don't come.

All this to say, there weren't many words today, despite my carefree post yesterday. I can still make 30k before the end of this challenge, but it will take some work. But then again, writing is work, so that's probably just as well.

Also, if gay werewolves and strong first person POV are your jam, read Wolf Song by TJ Klune...but maybe not at 2 am. It's a great story and has much better lists than mine.

10 Days to 20k Summary Day: 8 Words Written Today: 534 Total Words Written: 22,488 Words Left: 0 Percent Complete: 112%

Writing on an Iron Stomach (10 Days to 20k, Day 5)

IMG_1597 In sixth grade, my mom came as a volunteer to my school and taught everyone in my class how to touch type. I have no idea if this is a skill still taught these days. It smacks of secretarial pools, but I gotta say it's been invaluable in my lifetime. It means I wrote papers at school faster than my classmates, and it's meant turning out reports on time at work, even when the crunch is on.

More importantly, it means I can type in a moving vehicle without puking my guts out, because I can look around, even as my brain and my fingers are generating stories.

Key skill. If you're a writer on the go, learn it. If you're one of those people who gets motion sick just thinking about this idea, I am very sorry. I don't know how I would cope.

I said a couple days ago I would talk about my planner. I meant to do it yesterday, but I was covered in family, so there wasn't really time for me to do it properly. I did mention yesterday that I've been part of Shaunta Grimes' Ninja Writers community for a little over a year and a half. Shaunta's tools have been invaluable to me, and one of the things she swears by is an Erin Condren LifePlanner. I try to keep my life organized on my phone, but as I stared down the barrel of finishing two books in the next twelve months, I knew I was going to need something to keep all my thoughts and ideas together.

I looked at the LifePlanners, but I admit they're pricey, especially once you work in the exchange rate to my Canadian dollar and the cost of shipping. But, lo and behold, I was at my local bookstore a couple weeks ago, and didn't they have knock off LifePlanners with all the pages I needed!

img_1567.jpgReader, I bought one. I thought the cover was appropriate as I launch my baby writing career.

The inside goes from August 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018. I doubt everything will be written, edited, and published by then, but I'll be well on my way. Each month gets a calendar-at-a-glance page where I keep track of daily word counts, important dates (publisher deadlines, conferences, days I know I'll get no writing done), and then there are note pages for each day where I can make notes to my future drafting self and editing self on things I need to remember. Sometimes they're little things like what colour are Sebastien's eyes????,  and other times they're more weighty questions like what the hell is the point of this scene???? Either way, they're good to have in one place.

How do you keep yourself organized?

We spent about six hours in the car today. I hit over 4,000 words. I'm starting to think I should have set a higher goal. 10 days to 30k? Can we do it?

10 Days to 20k Summary Day: 5 Words Written Today: 4,049 Total Words Written: 14,798 Words Left: 5,202 Percent Complete: 74%