Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger: Laurel Bradley

Don’t Be a Newbie
Rules to follow to avoid looking like an amateur

As a reader, there has probably been a point in your life when you’ve read a book and thought, “I wish I’d written that,” or perhaps, “I could write better than that.” I read somewhere that 83 percent of Americans dream of writing a book. Chances are you are one of them.

If so, welcome to the club.

I’ve been authoring stories long before I set pen to paper (or fingers to keys). It started with telling myself bedtime stories and progressed through scribbling in a notebook as I watched my kids play to seeing myself become published twice in the past two years.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. There were, and still are, many times I wished I had a list of rules to do and things to avoid doing.

After considering my blunders and polling fellow writers, I’ve come up with a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.”

1. Format correctly.
** One inch margins all the way around. (Go to “page set up” under File to modify margins.).
** 12 point Times New Roman or Courier font.
** Five space indent.
** Double-spaced, single-sided pages are standard.
** One space after a period and an end mark.
** Start new chapters halfway down the page.
** Underline where you’d like the text italicized (internal monologue, titles, etc.)
** Separate scene changes within a chapter with one-line space, using three asterisks separated by spaces * * * if said break occurs at the end of a page.
** Use white paper.
** End a chapter with a hard return (hit Ctrl and End at the same time). This will start the new chapter on a new page.

2. Make certain the agent or editor handles your genre before querying.
There are a lot of books that list agents, publishers and editors. (Jeff Herman writes a good one.) Read the books published by particular houses. Do they publish what you write?

3. Read how an agent or editor wants to be approached and follow the rules.
Agents and editors receive hundreds of queries a day. I if you give them a reason to reject you out of hand, they will. Again, check with the most recent Writer’s Market or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agent or the specific agent/editor’s website.

4. Treat writing as a business.
Make your correspondence business correspondence. Queries and cover letters should be typed and formatted as a letter, complete with the return address and the contact information. Send clean copies, properly formatted. Treat emailed queries as business letters and format them accordingly.

Note that sliding a manuscript under the bathroom stall at a convention is NOT something a serious business person would do.

5. Proofread.
Better yet, have someone else proofread your work, including your query letter. Sometimes authors are so close to their work, they cannot read what it actually says and read instead what it is supposed to say.

6. Know the tools of the trade.
** Take classes and read books on writing so you know what story arc, sub plot, tension, and theme are.
** Buy a manual of style—either Chicago Manual of Style or AP Manual of Style—and refer to it for grammar and punctuation questions. Most publishers that I’ve talked to prefer Chicago Manual of Style, but not all.
** Learn the difference between strong writing and weak writing.

7. Develop name recognition—even if you aren’t published.
** It is never too early to market yourself as an expert.
** Enter contests.
** Write positive book reviews. Yes, positive. If you don’t like a book, don’t review it.
** Create and maintain a website.

8. Learn about the profession from the professionals.
** Join loops and professional groups.
** Subscribe to and read professional journals (i.e. Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, Romance Writers Review)

9. Write daily.
Even if you aren’t actively working on a book, short story or article, write something. Journaling counts.

10. Ask for help.
As a group authors are incredibly generous. Everyone started as a beginner. Most authors are more than thrilled to help if they aren’t working under a deadline.

1. Don’t “head hop.”
This is particularly important for romance writers. It doesn’t seem to be as strictly expected or enforced in other genres.

Head hopping is changing point of view (POV) several times within a single scene. Sometimes head hopping can get so bad that the POV shifts with every paragraph or every line. While some authors are more skillful at it than others, head hopping tends to pull the reader out of the scene. Never a good thing. Naturally, this does not mean an author can’t have more that one point of view in a scene, just that it shouldn’t be done frequently. Keeping a scene in a single point of view strengthens the reader’s connection with the character and the action.

2. Don’t tell every minute of your character’s day or his/her entire life history.
Strong writing means that each scene should have purpose and advance the plot. If it doesn’t advance the plot, it should be eliminated. This goes for chunks of “back story” as well. The “back story” is the events that happen before the book starts.

3. Don’t bind or perfume your manuscript.
Wrapping it as a present and printing a cover are also unnecessary and will mark you as an amateur.

4. Don’t mention how much your mother, father, and Aunt Clara love your work.

5. Don’t tell a New York agent or editor that you are self published or e-published even if you’ve been successful selling in these formats. New York doesn’t count most e-publishers or small publishers as being published.

Don’t get your dander up and don’t shoot the messenger. I hope that someday soon this will be outdated.

You can sell a lot of books, learn a lot about marketing and the publishing business, and have a successful career all without New York. Authors do it all the time. The point is that New York publishing houses recognize New York publishing houses.

6. Don’t write bad reviews or bad-mouth agents, editors, publishing houses, or other authors on the loops. What goes around comes around.

7. Don’t send a manuscript before it is ready.
Really—wait until it is polished before querying.

8. Don’t expect agents and editors to be your therapist or friend.
They are nice people, but their job is to sell books not counsel on personal matters. Giving career advice is a different story. That IS part of their job.

9. Don’t expect someone else to market your book for you.
Authors wear a lot of hats, and marketing/publicity agent is one of them. If you are fortunate, your publisher may allocate a limited marketing budget for your book, but don’t count on it. Count on working to promote your own book. It has been said before by others—writing is the easy part.

10. Don’t give up.
Dreams do come true if you make them.

If you have any advice to add, please post a comment or email me at I would love to hear from you and add your words of wisdom to the list.

Laurel Bradley is the author of time travel romance A Wish in Time and humorous contemporary romance Crème Brûlée Upset. When she isn’t writing, this mother of five enjoys reading, painting with watercolor, baking cookies and kayaking. To find out more or read excerpts from her books go to


Dru said...

I'm one of the 17% that's not interested in writing a book. I do like the points that you made for newbie and current authors.

Amy said...

That you even have to tell people some of this stuff is amazing...manuscripts spritzed with perfume? Really? That's just nuts!

Thanks for the guest, Marianne. You have the best guests.

Kara Lynn Russell said...

That's a great summary of the business of writing! It's also a good reminder for those of us who've moved beyond the newbie stage.

Dena said...

Hi Laurel, You gave some great advice for those who want to write a book. I was one of those 83% and thought I wanted to write a book. After I learned more about how to do it and realized writing the book isn't all there is to it, I knew I couldn't do it.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Great summary and great post!

Diane Craver said...

Great post, Laurel! You covered everything - even the one space after sentences.

No. 5 a bit discouraging to me since I'm published by small ebook publisher.

Brandy said...

I'm also in the low percentile for wanting to write a book. I'd rather read. *G* But, I thank you for the interesting information and wish you the best!

Laurel Bradley said...

Dru, Brandy, and Dena,
Thank you for stopping by and commenting. There is Nothing authors like quite as much as readers.

Laurel Bradley said...

Yes. I had an agent tell me about the allergic reaction she had to a perfume doused manuscript. Sliding manuscripts under bathroom stalls is another one I've heard from several sources. Amazing, huh?

Laurel Bradley said...

Kara Lynn,
Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it.

Laurel Bradley said...

Jen and Diane,
I'm glad you liked the content. I had help from a lot of different authors, editors and agents. I sent out emails asking for lists of dos and don'ts before writing this blog. Research is often half the fun.