Hook ‘Em and Hang ‘Em

Thanks again to everyone who came to my panel at the League of Utah Writers conference today. I hope you all make great beginnings and endings and get those books sold!

Here is a link to the PowerPoint I had up on the screen. Feel free to ask me any questions as you go along. Remember, odds are you’ve already written a great beginning line. You just may need to dig down in your paragraphs a little.

Hook ‘Em PowerPoint


A Writer’s Eyes

You may remember the moment. Plots became more obvious to you. Books, movies, and TV shows had to be among the best to impress you, because mediocre wasn’t cutting it anymore. You had writer’s eyes, and story became fairly obvious to you.

At first I didn’t like being able to figure things out. I wanted to be surprised by the stories I consumed in whatever format I consumed them in. And occasionally I still am, but for the most part it takes a pretty good story to get me impressed. There truly is nothing new under the sun, but I continue searching for those really good stories that make the consumption worthwhile.

Has that happened for you? Are you able to predict the plots of stories because that’s your business? That’s just how your brain works? You’ve spent a lot of time making those plot connections yourself, so most plots of most stories won’t really surprise you.

That’s often how I feel about movies today. Oh, we’re spending a lot of time on this minor character, he must be important later. Hmm, seems like this girl’s only purpose is to get the plot going. Things like that.

Granted, there are a few movies/books/shows that do take me by surprise and tantalize my brain, but that’s generally more the exception than the rule.

And then there are those stories that I know exactly what’s going to happen and yet somehow they still pull me in. (See Korean dramas.) I always try and explore the essence of those stories and figure out what it is that keeps me hooked and how can I harness that draw in my own writing.

Although becoming a writer and understanding story has “ruined” some experiences for me, it’s enlightened me in other ways. I try not to waste my time on mediocrity. Although I have found on occasion the abysmal story can be instructive in its own way.

But I want to hear from you. Do you now have writer’s eyes? Has it ruined certain stories for you, or do you feel it has enhanced your experience? Is it difficult for you to find really impressive stories or do you find value in even the abysmal? Let me know what you think below.

Make It Word Count

If you’re an aspiring author like me, eventually two words are going to cross your path if they haven’t already: word count.

If you’re really new to this biz, you may still be telling people about how many pages your book is. And that probably works better for friends and family. But all that agents, editors, and publishers want to hear about is word count.

Why? Because you might be writing in Courier, Times New Roman, Squiggly Wiggly (please don’t), but the one thing that stays uniform across the board is word count. How many words have you crammed into that Word Document that is your novel? But more importantly, how many should you have crammed in there?

As is with a lot of things in the writing world, the answer is it depends. It depends on your genre, your age range, and whether or not you’re JK Rowling or Plain Tryingtagetpublished Jane. But is there any kind of guide for how many words a novel should be?

According to Writer’s Digest, this is a typical guide for novel lengths:

Adult: Commercial & Literary ~80,000-89,000 (for you newbies, if you have it double-spaced with Times New Roman, this will be around 300 pgs, depending on your formatting)

Sci-Fi/Fantasy ~100,000-115,000 although lean toward the short end of that figure

Middle Grade ~20,000-50,000 depending on age range

YA (they say the most flexible of ranges) 55,000 – 69,999 although the trend is getting closer to the top of the 80Ks for the max. Again this depends on genre, story, etc.

Picture Books ~500-600


The thing is you can’t use other authors to argue the length of your book because 99% of the time your arguments are invalid. Especially if the author in questions is 1) super famous, or 2) wrote something a long, long time ago. When you’re a household name, you can write a 160,000 word book because odds are your name is the money-maker the publishing world sees (although for your reader’s sake, please don’t).

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The Live Pitch

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me whine about how ridiculously hard the query writing part of the process is. And. It. Is.

But if it’s really true that more people would rather die than speak in public, then a truly terrifying part of this writing process comes in the combination of public speaking your query.

Only you don’t have a nice page to explain your book. You have about a paragraph + answers for questions, some you might have expected, many you haven’t.


Seriously? Why wouldn’t you? Okay, I know it can be very intimidating if not terrifying, but realize this: a live-pitch is like moving your query from the slush pile to the front of the line. You are guaranteed that agent’s full attention for a few minutes. Your story gets the best possible consideration amidst the hundreds if not thousands of queries they get on a regular basis.

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YouTube Doctorate

There may be a lot of you who don’t remember life before the internet. I grew up in a very small community, so by the time access hit us I’d already experienced some wonderfully painful things like: always having to go to the library or the encyclopedia to look something up.

Why do I mention this? Well, with how expensive college is lately, a lot of people are wondering is it even worth it? Especially now with how if you have an internet connection you can learn pretty much anything.

Now there are some careers I think do require training beyond just the internet, but in our technological age there will likely be a lot more that don’t. Take for example, graphic design. Do you really need a degree for it? Not really. Or film? Nope, not really either. These are both fields that will hire experience as much or more so than degrees—especially if you have a killer portfolio.

I always kid with people that the BFF got her YouTube doctorate to take out my stitches (but she did). There are just some things that we can learn just as well, for free, on our own.

I use the likes of YouTube and Lynda.com to learn a lot of things, and often if I’m passionate about those things, I learn a lot more than I would shelling out the dough for a bloated tuition.

A friend of mine says she draws right in Photoshop. When I do the Scribbles, I do it on paper first, and then import. Why not remove a couple of steps from the process? So where do I turn? YouTube.

I followed his tutorial, and came up with this.

jae scribbles kirbyAnd then I decided to get creative. One of my favorite things to doodle, for some reason, is a turtle in a top hat. Using the techniques I just learned, I applied them to my new drawing.

Jae Scribbles turtleThis I learned using YouTube as my university. It kind of gives new meaning to a “free” education, doesn’t it? I may or may not give the scribbles shading, depending on how fast I need them done, but it was certainly a lot easier drawing them on the computer rather than importing them.

And while I like Photoshop, I much prefer the capabilities Illustrator has to offer, so I’ve been trying my hand at drawing in it. There are a few more advantages, like that it’s vector art which means you can upscale as big as you like without losing quality. But I’m not as confident with shading as I am with Photoshop. It’s all a learning experience.

Postscript, my degree is in film. And while I do make media for my work, a lot more of what I do is graphic design, which is a hobby I turned into a career. Granted some of my college experience taught me about setting up a frame, but a lot of it came from working with other graphic designers, YouTube doctorates, Lynda.com training, and just plain figuring things out.

Don’t know how to do something? Ask the internet. It knows. Some things may take a lot more trial and error (like drawing in Illustrator). But if you’ve got the passion, you can become an expert at nearly anything.

And it makes for much easier writing research.

Do you have a YouTube doctorate in anything? Do you remember what research or learning was like pre-internet age? Do you think college is as worthwhile now as it was in the past? What do you see for the future of education?