Carly Might Be OK: A strategy for facing rejection

Optimistic concept.

An unfamiliar road when facing rejection.

I’ve been comforted, lately, by a few other bloggers who seem to be experiencing more than their share of rejection from literary agents. The Daily Rejection is built around this recurring motif, and JB, like many writers, wonders when she will reach the “breaking point at which one accepts defeat.” This is a familiar question, and when I ask it of myself, I try to remember to give this answer.

Carly might be OK.

Of course, that exact answer only works for me, but I think that any writer—any human, really—can come up with a similar answer for themselves. Let me explain.

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Know your Target Audience… or paint them a target.

To finish the series, “How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense,” consider another rule of thumb that successful authors so often seem to break: ‘Know your Target Audience.’

Concept of targeting people

Writers need to know what to know about a target audience who doesn’t even know…

Trends in fiction are rarely predictable. Innovation devolves into cliché in about the time that it takes most busy people to get around to reading last year’s bestsellers, and this can frustrate that habit we formed as kids to stay ‘on trend.’ This is because it is often those without full-time careers—most notably, young readers—who channel the rivers of popularity when it comes to reading. For that reason, when it comes to understanding how to ‘Know your Target Audience,’ it may be best to focus on the target audience that changes the most often: young readers.


Anyone who has worked with children or teenagers knows how quickly they feel pressure to change their tastes. When something ‘sick’ becomes something ‘sweet,’ and then something else is sick because it’s sweet, the challenge of knowing this audience becomes similar to memorizing geographical formations down the side of the nearest active volcano. Ironically, successful authors who seem to break this rule—who publish runaway hits that seem to set new trends—may actually be the same authors who follow it the most closely. These may be the geniuses who have figured out that, for this audience, every trend is doomed at any moment to grow ill (which is entirely different from being ‘sick.’) These creators know exactly the ways to build on trends by painting whole new targets for their audience. Continue reading

Start in the Middle of the Action… and 3 ways to find it.

To help with my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense,’ please comment with your favorite examples of high-action opening techniques. In the meantime, see Friday’s guest post on Cow Pasture Chronicles to cure your Writer’s Block by watching TV.


Even the most invested reader can lose interest in a slow opening chapter.

When I was teaching, I used to tell my students that readers and writers share a responsibility. I was quite pretentious about it, in retrospect; I tried to convince them that they needed to invest their attention into six or eight soliloquies before they could reward themselves with Hamlet double-crossing poor old Rosencrantz, or with Ariel taking Prospero’s revenge on the invaders. In order to enjoy those moments of action, after all, one would surely need an investment in understanding of the characters and the situations that motivate them. Wouldn’t one?

Perhaps one would, but it seems that literary agents don’t.

Several agents have given me feedback that leads to the third common phrase of advice in my series: ‘Start in the Middle of the Action.’ This may be the one that troubles me the most when I am writing my opening chapters. My obligation to provide background for readers clashes with my obligation to entertain them, until every attempt to balance the two seems like a compromise. Many of my opening chapters, in fact, have a current of apology in them, as if I am asking the readers to “just hang on” until things make more sense. Here are three of the cheats I have tried: Continue reading

Show, Don’t Tell (unless you’re in Kindergarten).

Continuing my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense,’ please comment with your ideas of when it is better for writers to ‘show’ and when to ‘tell.’


Children were never expected to interpret the trauma in a budgie’s past.

Do you remember your favorite part of kindergarten? While I am tempted to name ‘Nap Time,’ memory forces me to acknowledge that naps only became precious to me later in life. No, my favorite part of kindergarten—and probably yours—had to be ‘Show and Tell.’ These were the moments that I could bring in my tricycle, greeting cards or guinea pigs, and allow my classmates to gawk enviously at them while I supplied detailed narrative about their mechanical, emotional or bodily functions. In kindergarten, detail and clarity were rewarded, and Mrs. Arbuthnott would confirm with her warmest smile as she fought to keep from nodding off during the fourteenth minute of my diatribe.

As I began to show an interest in writing, though, it wasn’t long before my life became more complicated: teachers smiled less, and changed their mantra to ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ I wondered then, and still wonder today, what this could possibly mean: given that a novel is around 80,000 words on pages, ‘Show Don’t Tell’ cannot possibly mean that authors should never tell anything.

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Write What You Know (if you know anything)

This is the first in my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense.’ Keep checking back here for more. In the meantime, visit Cow Pasture Chronicles for my guest-post introducing my idea of good Metafiction.


Frank Baum didn’t actually know a tinman.

A writer trying to follow advice as is like a kid living with parents who hate each other. Every time you think you’ve listened to the wisest possible words, and crafted your masterpiece accordingly, something contradictory comes along to spank it back to Penny Dreadful status. This profession (like many, I’m sure) seems to depend more on balancing strategies than relying on any single set of them. That advice you are getting may not contradict common sense as much as you think.

Let’s take the classic: ‘Write what you know.’ Anyone who’s ever lifted a pen, even if only as a student, has had their well-meaning Great-Aunt Mabel over his or her shoulder, espousing the timeworn guarantee that ‘writing what you know’ will launch you to the same lofty heights of popularity that she enjoyed in her Bridge club. The problem with that advice is simply this: Some of us don’t know very much. I know how to write, I think—though sometimes better than others—and if you give me six or eight weeks, I can get a recalcitrant English student to do his homework. Usually.

Other than that, ‘what I know’ might not be very literature-worthy: Continue reading