Chicken Soup Celebrates American Kindness

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One of my favorite publishers, Chicken Soup for the Soul, is collecting stories for a new book focusing on kindness in America. They want to hear about the time you helped someone whose car was broken down on the side of the road, or the time a stranger paid for your groceries when you forgot your wallet. They want to know what American kindness means to you, how you’ve embraced it in your life, or seen others do so. They want stories about immigrants, stories about soldiers, stories about everyday people learning to overcome prejudice and fear in order to extend a helping hand.

There’s never been a better time to show the world – and remind ourselves – what truly makes this country great: our kindness.

If you’re interested in submitting, don’t dawdle – this is a last-minute addition to their publication schedule, and the deadline is March 31. Click on the link below for more information about what they’re looking for and how to submit.

http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topics

Best of luck!

-Gretchen

 

Feedback Frenzy

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Okay, it’s a little late to say what I’m thankful for, but I’m doing it anyway! As a fangirl, I’m thankful that at least ONE out of the four new shows I fell in love with made it to Season Two. (Long Live Lucifer!) As a writer, I’m grateful to slush readers and editors who take the time to give feedback to those who don’t make the cut.

Being rejected is hard, but being rejected and not having a clue WHY is the worst. So, here’s a little list of magazines that will NEVER leave you wondering what you did wrong or why your story wasn’t chosen. Each of these mags helps aspiring writers by providing those all-important “rejections with a reason.”

 

Every Day Fiction

Publishes: Flash Fiction (all genres)

I talk about this mag a lot because I love it! They tend to give quite a bit of feedback. Usually a short paragraph from each person who read your story. I was so impressed with their rejection of one of my stories, I actually posted the rejection letter here:

https://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/rejection-letter-revisited/ 

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

Publishes: Fantasy and Science Fiction (focuses on lighthearted fare)

I’ve also been rejected by this one. My story had made it past the first reader, but was rejected by the second. My feedback was pretty short–just a sentence, I think, but it did give me valuable info on how to improve the story. A writer friend of mine got some longer feedback on his–also very useful.

Untied Shoelaces of the Mind

Publishes: All Genres

It says in their guidelines they will give you the reason why you were rejected, but not a full critique. It has an opt-out option, but I’m not sure why anyone would use it. If you’re too fragile to hear why your story wasn’t picked, then this probably isn’t the right business for you!

Spark

Publishes: Multiple Genres and Genre-Blurring Fiction

This one also has the opt-out option, but don’t use it. Be brave, listen to the truth, and then make your story better based on the comments.

Happy submitting!

~Gretchen

Shower Them With Books

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Once you’ve been to a few baby showers, you get to know the drill–pick out a gift from the registry, buy a cute (and unnecessarily expensive) card to go with it, then show up at the appointed time ready to watch the mom-to-be open oodles of packages containing bottle sterilizers, diapers and impossibly small socks.

So, when the invitation for my cousin Sarah’s baby shower arrived in the mail, I for the most part ignored the adorable jungle animals smiling up at me and focused solely on gleaning the pertinent info: time, date, location, and stores where the parents had registered. I was almost finished skimming when something near the bottom of the invite caught my eye:

“In lieu of a card, the parents ask that you bring a book inscribed to the new baby.”

A little thrill of excitement shot up my spine.

Being a writer, this idea naturally held way more appeal for me than simply picking out a bib from a list of three pre-chosen patterns. This was a book. Any book we wanted. This was freedom.

As the shower date approached, my mom and I eagerly tossed titles back and forth–books we’d loved as young children, stories that had captured our attention and held it hostage in the best possible way.

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

There were so many wonderful choices: funny books, sweet books, educational books. Books with bold colors. Books with flaps to lift and fabrics for chubby little fingers to touch. Even books where the pictures pop up right at you!

Though it seemed impossible to narrow the field, I eventually selected Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Mom chose Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Then we got to work planning the perfect wording for our inscribed messages to the baby. As is typical of authors, we both wrote several drafts before finally etching our words in permanent ink inside the book covers.

The whole ride to the shower, I was half excitement, half nerves. I couldn’t wait to see what books the other guests had chosen, but at the same time, I was a little worried, too. What if the baby got not one but five copies of Guess How Much I Love You? After all, an inscribed book is a nonreturnable one. Mom pointed out that with young children, having extra copies of a favorite story is a good thing–pages get ripped, flaps get torn off, corners get chewed on. I knew she was right…but still, I fretted. Giving a duplicate book seemed like showing up to prom and noticing someone else wearing the same exact black spaghetti strap dress as mine.

As soon as the gift portion of the shower got underway, however, I quickly saw that my concern was for naught. With every new gift my cousin opened, there came a different book title. There was indeed a hungry caterpillar, and a bunny in need of patting. But there were also books about tractors, bears, princesses, giraffes, elephants and every other thing you could imagine.

I actually got a little teary, realizing that we’d all chosen different books based on the different things that had touched us and shaped us throughout our lives. We’d all been moved by reading–not in the same way, but in a hundred different ways, and that just made it all the more beautiful.

In my case, I grew up surrounded by books. With two teachers for parents, it couldn’t have been any other way. As a child, I sat curled in the silence of our basement for hours, aching at the bittersweet ending of Princess by Carolyn Lane, a tale about two cats–one tame, one feral. My bathwater went from toasty to frigid without me even noticing as I lost myself in the adventures of Alec Ramsay and his magnificent Black Stallion. My breath steamed the windows of our Jeep as I devoured Dick King-Smith’s Babe: The Gallant Pig start-to-finish on a rainy afternoon. During a late-night power outage, I sat huddled in the bathroom, candlelight and a book called The Great Green Apple War by Barbara Klimowicz the only two things keeping my gnawing fear of the dark at bay. For months when I was a young teen, I actually slept with a dog-eared copy of Geary Gravel’s novelization of Hook under my pillow, so in love with the story of a grown up Peter Pan that I felt certain I’d never go a day of my life without rereading at least a few of its pages.

And that’s just a small sampling of my childhood. My journey as a budding young reader.

Gazing down at all of the baby’s new acquisitions, I knew I was looking at the start of a brand new adventure. A new life to be molded and inspired, a new imagination to be kindled–maybe by one of the books given this very day.

Didn’t matter if it was my book, or one about a kitten, or one about a train. Something would start that fire, ignite that passion for reading. And, once lit, this little girl’s life would never be the same.

Good luck getting all that from an overpriced greeting card.

 

How to Write a Book Signing Proposal

So, it’s finally happened. You’ve been published in print. You have an actual book you can hold and touch and show to people and say, “I wrote this!”

First off, congratulations! Please take a moment–or several–to enjoy your accomplishment! I know I did. 🙂 Once you’re through basking, though, you might wonder, “What’s next?” Obviously, you want to promote your new book, and one of many ways to do that is to hold a book signing.

A book signing can take place at a bookstore, library, church, school, or any other location that has ties to your subject matter, such as a seminar on saving for retirement (if your book happens to include savvy financial advice) or a fundraiser for cancer research (if your book is focused on stories of cancer survivors). A book signing can be a nonprofit event, a for-profit event, or something in between. The choice is yours.

Once you’ve decided what type of book signing you want to do and where you’d like to do it, the next step is to write a proposal outlining your plans, and submit it to the venue you hope will host the event. That’s where this blog post comes in.

A few years ago, when The Dog Did What? and The Cat Did What? first came out, I traveled around from pet store to pet store, hoping to set up a nonprofit book signing to benefit an animal charity. One of the first responses I got: “Sounds great. Come back with a proposal.”

So I went home, hopped online, and did a search for “how to write a book signing proposal.” Given that there are ten BAZILLION examples of how to write query letters and cover letters and synopses and summaries and log lines and outlines and everything else a writer could possibly need to know in the business, I figured I’d find what I needed right away.

W-R-O-N-G. I found absolutely zero examples of how to write a proposal for a book signing event. That’s right, not ONE. It didn’t even seem to be a real thing. “A book signing proposal? What’s that?” the Google page seemed to ask, its digital eyebrows quirking in confusion.

Apparently, I was on my own. So, I looked up everything I could about writing other types of proposals. Most of what I found didn’t apply to my situation–I was a writer trying to land a book signing, not a construction company  trying to undercut my competition’s lumber prices in order to win a contract. Eventually, I managed to skim the microscopic amount of actual, useful advice from the overwhelming river of info, and used it to create my own proposal, which I will share below.

But first, a few tidbits to get you started:

  • Address your proposal to a specific person, if possible (e.g. if you want to hold the event at a bookstore, find out who is in charge of events at that store and address it to that person)
  • Keep the length of your proposal to one page
  • Be as detailed as you can about what you want to do and why
  • Think of any questions the person receiving the proposal might have (e.g. “How much do the books cost?” or “What happens to unsold copies?”) and answer those questions in the proposal

And now, possibly for the first time on the Internet, here is an actual, real live example of how to write a book signing proposal. (And yes, you are MORE than welcome to use this as a template. Please do, in fact. It would make me happy to know that someone else benefited from my search engine-induced suffering.)

Book Signing Fundraiser Proposal – Nonprofit Organization

Dear Nonprofit CEO:

Greetings! My name is Gretchen Bassier, and I’m a local author interested in using my writing to give back to my community. This summer, two of my nonfiction stories were published in the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What? and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What? I would love to do a book signing to benefit an organization that cares about animals as much as I do.

As one of the authors, I can purchase the books for a special price of $7.50 each (in cases of twenty). Nonprofit organizations also have the option of purchasing the books themselves for only $5.00 per book (in cases of twenty). The books can be sold for any price you choose. (The official “list price” for the books is $14.95.)

If I purchase the books myself, then for each book sold at the fundraiser, I would receive the initial price I paid – $7.50 – and your organization would receive one hundred percent of the profits. After the signing, I would take home any unsold books for use at future events.

Alternately, if your organization purchases the books, then any unsold copies would remain with you, to be sold at future events and/or in your gift shop. I would, of course, do the book signing at no cost to you.

A book signing fundraiser would probably work best in conjunction with another event, such as a dog walk, golf outing, a vaccine clinic, or an adoption day. People already planning to attend the event will have an additional way to help out your organization (by buying a book – or two!), and the inclusion of the book signing might also draw in some people who wouldn’t otherwise have attended.

If I were holding a book signing at one of your events, I would promote the signing with flyers in the weeks leading up to the event, reach out to local media to help publicize the event, and have my publicist advertise the event on Facebook and Twitter. On the day of the signing, I would arrive at least half an hour before the start time and bring: a table, a chair, a tablecloth, markers and pens, business cards, a bowl of individually-wrapped mints, bottled water, display stands for the books, the books themselves (if I was the one designated to purchase them), and most likely a stack of bookmarks featuring the animals from my stories (to be used as a giveaway).

If you are interested in having me hold a signing at any of your future events, please let me know so I can have everything ready well in advance. Thank you for taking the time to consider my proposal, and I hope to have the opportunity to work with you and raise some money for our beloved critters!

Sincerely,
Gretchen Bassier

Phone number: XXX-XXXX  Email: xxxx@yahoo.com

Thanks in part to the above proposal, I have now held two book signings to benefit Furget Us Not Rescue (go check out their adoptable animals!). I had a great time at both events, and I will have another post detailing what I learned from my first two book signing adventures.

Example of a flyer I created to advertise my first book signing

Example of a flyer I created to advertise my first book signing

Once you’ve got your one-page proposal ready to go, here are a few useful items to put in the packet along with it:

  • A cover image of your new book
  • A press release or brief description of your book
  • Your business card

Not so hard, right? Just keep it simple, professional and informative, and I guarantee you’ll make a good first impression. Also, don’t forget to have FUN–you’re doing this to celebrate your new book. Cherish the moment, and all of the opportunities that go along with it.

Example of what happens when you let a friend borrow your camera during your book signing at PetSmart: random lizard pics!

Example of what happens when you let a friend borrow your camera during your book signing at PetSmart: random lizard pics!

So, hopefully now you know how to write a book signing proposal, to whom it should be addressed, and what should be included along with it. You even have a concrete example to use as a guide. So, what are you waiting for? Get your packet prepped, and get ready to sign some books!

Up next on ATHF: Long overdue TV reviews (I know, I know!), a baby shower idea that the writer in me just LOVES, and possibly some Potter-mania (we’ll see what happens at the release party tomorrow!)

 

 

 

 

Using Parentheses in Fiction Writing

 

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So, I was reading this book a while back. It was a pretty awesome book, too: great characters, intriguing plot, marvelous descriptions, skillful world-building. Everything was moving along as smooth as can be, and then – WHAM! Out of nowhere, I hit this one paragraph that completely threw me out of the story.

Fortunately, after taking a moment to shake off the jarring experience, I was able to plunge back in and enjoy the remainder of the book. The writer in me, however, couldn’t help but try to analyze what it was about this particular passage that so violently – if temporarily – derailed an otherwise highly entertaining story.

The answer: the entire paragraph was encapsulated in parentheses.

A few years ago, I read a review on Every Day Fiction that really stuck with me. I truly wish I could remember who posted it, so I could give proper credit, but the review went something like this: “Whenever I see parentheses in fiction, it’s like the author is stepping out of the story to address the readers directly.” The truth of this statement hit me so hard, I immediately went through my own novel and started taking out the parentheses wherever I found them.

Ever since I read that review, that’s all I can think of when I come upon parentheses in fiction writing – it’s like the writer wanted to convey certain information, but couldn’t come up with any other way to tell the readers than whispering it right in their ears. In that instant, the voice changes from “narrator” to “author” and it really does take you out of the story, if only for a moment or two. The only exception I can think of is the case of first-person stories.

If you’re writing in the first person, then your POV character is already directly addressing the audience. So, it might feel natural, depending on the character’s personality and speaking style, for him/her to take the reader aside and whisper something in confidence. It might even be humorous:

“Paul actually flirted with me today. (Yes, that’s the same guy who took Katie to prom and then dumped her the next day via text message. And no, I most certainly did not flirt back.)”

But in most cases, parentheses are something to avoid when it comes to writing fiction. They change the voice, break the flow, and jar the reader.

So, now some of you are panicking, right? Because your fiction story does have parentheses, and you don’t know what to do about it.

It’s okay – just relax and take a deep breath. Unlike some issues, this one’s very easy to fix.

The first thing you need to do is determine whether the information inside the parentheses is even truly necessary to the story. (A lot of times, it isn’t.)

Ex:

“Billy leapt from the car and raced into the parking lot to greet his fellow Boy Scouts with high fives and fart jokes. The troop leader (Scott) and his two assistants (Maurice and Isaac) stood off to the side, smiling at the boys’ antics.”

Well, maybe Scott, Maurice and Isaac aren’t very important to the story. Heck, maybe this is their only appearance in the whole book. If so, do we really need to know their names? Why not just cut that info out entirely and change it to:

“Billy leapt from the car and raced into the parking lot to greet his fellow Boy Scouts with high fives and fart jokes. The troop leader and his two assistants stood off to the side, smiling at the boys’ antics.”

Reads a bit smoother, doesn’t it?

But, on the other hand, maybe those three dudes are important in your book. Maybe this is the first of many appearances by the trio. In that case, try simply off-setting the information with commas, rather than using the parentheses:

“Billy leapt from the car and raced into the parking lot to greet his fellow Boy Scouts with high fives and fart jokes. The troop leader, Scott, and his two assistants, Maurice and Isaac, stood off to the side, smiling at the boys’ antics.”

It’s still a bit awkward, but less so than when the parentheses were in there.

Em dashes are also good ways to set certain information apart without completely breaking the flow the way parentheses do. In many cases, em dashes and parentheses are interchangeable:

Instead of:

“Jake flopped onto the couch, crossing his feet (which smelled like decomposing skunks) right next to Maria’s head. She quickly fled, wrinkling her nose and fanning the air.”

Try:

“Jake flopped onto the couch, crossing his feet–which smelled like decomposing skunks–right next to Maria’s head. She quickly fled, wrinkling her nose and fanning the air.”

By working with the scene a little more, you could probably do an even better job of integrating the information:

“Jake flopped onto the couch, crossing his feet right next to Maria’s head. A stench like decomposing skunks instantly enveloped her. Maria squealed and fled, vigorously fanning the air.

‘Dude,’ she choked, ‘invest in some Odor Eaters.'”

So, when you come across parentheses in your fiction, and you feel like they just aren’t working, don’t panic – you can easily replace those curvy symbols with commas or em dashes, do a little paragraph restructuring, or even eliminate the text inside the parentheses entirely. All are acceptable solutions – it just comes down to taste and personal writing style. However you choose to deal with those pesky parentheses, the goal is always the same: a smooth reading experience for your audience.

National Adoption Weekend

Me snuggling Madeline, a Furget Us Not Rescue cat, at our December 2014 event.

Me snuggling Madeline, a Furget Us Not Rescue cat, at our December 2014 event.

By some miracle, you remembered the date. You bought the sparkly necklace, you got the overpriced card, and you think you’re all set…but you’re still forgetting something:

This weekend is not only a time to buy candy and flowers for your significant other, but also a time to open up your heart and see if you can make a real difference in a special cat or dog’s life. This weekend is National Adoption Weekend.

If you think about it, you and your family could make this the BEST Valentine’s Day ever, not by shelling out cash for roses that will shrivel up or cards that will be thrown out after a few weeks, but by having an honest discussion about whether you have room in your home and your life for an animal that truly needs you.

Many animals fitting that description will be at PetSmarts all over the USA this weekend. At the PetSmart in Chesterfield, MI (51347 Gratiot Ave.), the cats and dogs batting their gorgeous eyes at you will be from Furget Us Not Rescue, a non-profit, foster-based group devoted to finding them “furever” homes. They will be there, waiting to meet you, from 12pm-3pm on Saturday, February 13th, and Sunday February 14th. Please don’t disappoint them!

I will also be visiting the store from 1pm-3pm on both days, signing all three of my Chicken Soup for the Soul books to benefit Furget Us Not Rescue.

We will have free candy and gift-wrapping available for the book signing, as well as a video of a cat doing something VERY silly. And I am always eager to meet fellow writers, readers, and fans. (Knowing me, we’ll probably wind up chatting endlessly about Forever with cute dogs curled up on our laps.)

Sound cool? Of course it does! But it won’t be the same if you don’t join us. Please come out to the event this weekend, support a great cause, and maybe, just maybe, meet a loving friend who will be with you for years to come.

 

Battling Back the Beast: How to Tame Your Overlength Novel

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If you’re like me, you feel a naïve rush of hope every time you spot a new article about overlength novels. Then, by the end of the article, you feel crushing despair. Because the answer’s always the same: if you’re a first-time novelist, and your novel’s overlength, your chances of landing an agent or publisher are slim-to-none.

Sadly, it makes sense – extra-long books cost more to publish (extra paper, extra ink). They take up more horizontal space, meaning fewer copies can occupy the bookstore shelf, and they can also be intimidating to consumers because giant tomes are both more expensive and more daunting to read. For a publisher to take that kind of risk on an unproven author (J.K. Rowling and Stephen King can go ahead and relax) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The arguments against overlength novels are all very logical. The problem is, if you’re like me, and your novel falls into this category, then you’re pretty much screwed, right? You’ve got a product that is most likely unmarketable to agents and publishers. Sure, you could self-publish, but that doesn’t solve every issue. The length will still be off-putting to readers, and you may have to spend (and therefore charge) more if you’re doing a print edition. Another solution might be to split the novel into two or more parts. This will only work if you’ve genuinely got two or more complete stories contained within your bulky mammoth of a book – which unfortunately isn’t the case for the majority of overlength novels (it wasn’t for mine).

The best option for most writers, even those who want to self-publish, is simply to cut your manuscript down to size. An “acceptable” length for a first-time novel is about 90,000 to 120,000 words, according to Writer’s Market. I’ve heard from other sources that even going above 100,000 words is a risk. For fantasy or science fiction novels, you have a little more breathing room, with the maximum acceptable length being around 150,000 words. (This is to allow for the world-building necessary in these types of books.)

So, if your book is over 200,000 words, and you’re not even at the climax yet, you’re probably feeling pretty darn hopeless right now, because that’s a LOT of material destined for the cutting room floor. I know that feeling of despair all too well, because I’ve been there. My novel’s first draft weighed in at almost 300,000 words. Shocking, I know. Hopefully, most people reading this will get to say, “Well, at least mine’s shorter than hers.” That may be small comfort, however, when reality sinks back in and you’re still looking at 50,000-100,000 words of cuts.

Thankfully, the saga of my overlength novel has a somewhat happy ending: the current draft is in the 150,000-word range, and it’s getting closer to “acceptable” length every day. To me, it’s nothing short of a miracle. A time-consuming, frustrating, and frequently heartbreaking miracle, but a miracle nonetheless.

So, to all of my fellow overlength novelists out there, I came here today to give you back your hope. I came here to tell you it CAN be done: your novel CAN be whittled down into something that would not make an agent physically cringe at the mere sight of your word count. And I came here, most importantly, to tell you HOW this can be accomplished.

The following are some strategies I used to cut more than 140,000 words from my first novel, shaping it into a sleeker, stronger and hopefully more marketable book:

LARGE-SCALE CUTS

Go chapter by chapter. Do a breakdown of the vital information each chapter contains (e.g. maybe Chapter Two introduces an important character, or advances the plot in some way). Identify chapters that don’t accomplish very much. Cut those chapters entirely, and find other places to fit in the few stray passages that were relevant to the overall story.

Go plotline by plotline. If your book’s upwards of 200,000 words, chances are you’ve got not just a main plot, but quite a few subplots and other threads woven in there (e.g. the SPEW storyline in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Choose which are the most important to the larger arc of the book. Cut out the rest. And remember to eliminate all traces and future mentions of scenes you’ve decided to delete. If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up having the main character referring back to some incident that’s no longer in the book. Cue reader confusion!

Learn to make hard choices. You will have to cut chapters you adore. You will have to eliminate characters you have grown to love, characters who feel like real people. You will have to bring the axe down on some of your most breathtaking descriptions, your funniest jokes, and the scene it took you two months to get perfect. Take a deep breath, wipe a tear from your eye, and DO IT. As Stephen King says, “Kill your darlings.”

SMALL-SCALE CUTS

Go paragraph by paragraph. Weed out anything that wanders, meanders or breaks the flow. Cut out any bits that go off on boring tangents that take the reader away from what the scene is trying to accomplish (e.g. backstory is cool, but if you suddenly zip back to a main character’s childhood for three paragraphs right when he’s in the middle of a conversation, the readers are going to lose their place in the conversation). Also be on the lookout for redundant sentences (e.g. “Greg had hoped to find Mandy somewhere in the building, but he was out of luck. He looked upstairs and downstairs and couldn’t find her anywhere.” I mean, do you really need both of those? They kinda say the same thing. Plus, the first sentence gives away exactly what’s going to be revealed in the second. One of these babies needs to go!)

Change passive to active. Zero in on any instances of passive voice and rearrange those parts into active voice (e.g. change “The tests were handed out by Julia” to “Julia handed out the tests”). This usually cuts a word or two, not to mention the fact that most publishers hate passive voice, so it’s like a “two birds, one stone” kind of deal. 🙂

Go line by line. Check for unnecessary words in each sentence. Like, maybe you have Billy tilting his head back to look up at the sky. Well, if Billy’s looking at the sky, do you really need to say that he’s tilting back his head or do you even really need the word “up?” The mere act of looking at the sky implies his head is tilted back and he’s looking in an upward direction. (Unless Billy’s in an alternate universe where up is down and down is up. Then some clarification would be warranted.)

Learn when to tell instead of show. I know, I know, one of the Golden Rules of Writing is “Show, DON’T Tell,” but you have to know how to apply that rule. A story that tells absolutely everything isn’t going to be very good. But neither is a story that shows absolutely everything. When I was writing my first draft, I took the “Show, Don’t Tell” Rule a bit too seriously, and wound up with long paragraphs describing my character unzipping his backpack, searching around inside it, pulling out his notebook, unzipping a different compartment on his backpack, searching around inside it, pulling out a pen, and then, FINALLY beginning to write in his notebook (after he’d rezipped all the compartments, of course). See what I mean? There are things you must show because they’re vital to plot, character development, etc. Backpack zipping and other mundane tasks like walking and normal breathing are not things that need to be shown in depth. Just do a quick “tell” for those types of things, and you’ll be better off.

MORE TIPS AND TRICKS

Don’t do it alone. Get as much help as you can from friends, relatives, writing group members, English teachers and anyone else you can convince to read your book. Emphasize to these helpers that you need to cut words, and you need their honest opinions about what’s boring, what’s unnecessary, and what just plain doesn’t work.

Set small, reachable goals. Baby steps will get you to the finish line. My initial goal was to cut 100,000 words from my manuscript. However, that was too overwhelming to face all at once, so I broke it down into smaller chunks. I wrote the number “100” on a piece of blank white paper. When I’d successfully cut 1,000 words, I crossed out the “100” and wrote “99.” I chugged steadily along, cutting 1,000 words at a time, and then rewarding myself by getting to cross out the current number and write a lower one. Finally, one amazingly joyful day, I got to write “0.”

Once I’d completed the massive 100,000-word cut, I set a new goal: 10,000 more. This time around, instead of measuring by the thousands, I decided to cut 100 words from every chapter. Since my novel has just shy of 100 chapters, 100 words from each would result in a 10,000 word cut. It worked!

Cut anything that’s not awesome. You want your whole book to rock, right? Well if there’s a paragraph that doesn’t “wow” you, why not just get rid of it? Do the same for chapters, dialogue, plotlines, etc. Make the entire novel sparkle by slicing away any parts that don’t shine quite brightly enough.

And finally:

Remember what you’re fighting for. Sure, you want to get published, and to have a marketable product that people will want to read. But honestly, deep down, that’s not the main reason you’re doing this. Try to remember, through all of the cuts and the long hours and the heartbreak, that what you’re really fighting for is a better book. The very best book you are capable of writing. A book you would be proud to send to an agent, hand to an editor, or simply put out into the world with your name on the cover in nice, bold print.

And however much of your novel you need to cut in order to achieve this, you will get there.

One word at a time.

HarryP Little Spider