Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. II)

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what else Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say about writing great fiction. Click here for part I.

The Donald.

WHAT TURNS THE PAGE?

  • The notion of microtension
    • Microtension: the line-by-line tension on the page, which causes apprehension on the part of the reader and makes them move forward
    • It’s that “What’s going to happen?” feeling you get when you’re reading—it’s not in the story, not in the scene, but “what’s in the next few seconds?”
    • If you understand the principles, the underlying conflicting emotions inside the central character, you can do anything on the page.
    • Highly emotional and emotionally gripping writing

HOW DO YOU WRITE EMOTIONALLY-GRIPPING STUFF?

  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • What in the world of my story makes me personally furious?  Why?
    • What is the greatest injustice that you know, and how on the page can you give that fury to your heroine?
    • What are two new probs your MC can face?  And what are two ways your character can NOT get it?
    • What are two things your MC wants?  What is the opposite?  Two times to reject it and then, when she gets what she wanted, REJECT it?
    • In what way is the antagonist right? In what ways is he most human in what ways?
    • What are things only your heroine notices what about your world?
    • What could she say that would be shocking to even herself?
  • Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions and implementing some of them will make your fiction great.

Click here for part I with The Donald.

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Pointers from the Pros: Agent and Author Donald Maass on Great Fiction (Pt. I)

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is what Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction author/agent extraordinare Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency (or, The Donald, as I like to call him) had to say* about writing great fiction.

The Donald.

ON THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY: Is it a brave new world, or a lot like the past?

  • He says the industry hasn’t changed at all:

“The fundamental transaction (between the storyteller and the reader) is exactly the same.”

  • He points to the evidence that eBook bestsellers are the same as hard copy bestsellers—a direct correlation
  • He says there are some nuances, but, generally, it’s the same.

“Everything depends on great fiction.”

THREE THINGS THAT MAKE NOVELS GREAT

1. FEEDBACK

  • Most of his work is story development—working with authors to better their stories, create tension, etc.
  • In the “third draft stage,” you know your writing is good—you’re ready—you’re worthy—but you’re still getting rejections.
    • It’s the point at which you’ve learned everything you can from workshops, from crit partners
    • You need the last 10%—the stuff that agents and editors aren’t willing to share
      • What is it?
        • Craft and more craft—in particular, the pieces of the craft that you need
      • How do you get this?
        • Detailed, professional feedback—it’s worth paying for, if it’s good

2. CRAFT

  • Top authors in the field are very often students of the craft
    • Books 2,3, 4 make or break your career
    • Nora Roberts, for instance—160 books—and they’re all good!
    • He cites one author who runs a runs a book club, where the members read one book a month and then discuss how well the author handled one lens or aspect of the craft.  (These are all authors who have written 20—30 books, he says.)

3. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

  • He cites the example of 2010 RITA finalist Pamela Morsi’s Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar
  • He says it’s emotionally gripping because Morsi brought herself into the story (she is from San Antonio—she knows the world intimately; she reinvented herself—as does her main character)

*More posts on The Donald at RWA to come–stay tuned!

In the Blogosphere: 3/8 – 3/12

“In the Blogosphere” is a weekly series, which lists links to writing-related blogs I’ve stumbled upon throughout a given week.  Most posts will be from that week, but if I find some “oldies but goodies,” I’ll throw those up here as well.

I never find as much time to read blogs as I want, but here are a few posts that struck me this week.

QUERY FAIL

I’ve heard of being a query spammer (addressing an e-query to every agent in the country), but this is ridiculous.  Notorious query spammer Oscar Whitfield ruins it for all of us—but his 7,000 rejections should make one feel better about one’s fraction of that many rejections.

Agent Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maass Literary Agency tallies her queries, and guess what: over half of the queries she receives do not follow the submission guidelines close enough to be considered.

Tsk, tsk, tsk . . . I’m not sure what’s worse, Oscar Whitfield’s query bombs or some of the things Lowenstein Associates, Inc.’s Kathleen Ortiz says authors are guilty of when it comes to their query etiquette—or their lack thereof.

RESOURCES

Listy listy.  The good people over at Guardian.co.uk have compiled lists of writing tips from several writers—including the likes of the inimitable Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood—in the spirit of Elmore Leonard‘s 10 Rules for Writing Fiction .

Although she said Janet Reid wrote it, middle-grade and young adult sci-fi writer Blee Bonn put my guest blog about the FinePrint Literary agent’s query tips at the top of her “Awesome Advice (for Writers)” post.  Yay!

In this Writer’s Digest oldie-but-goodie post, find out what agents hate (as relayed by Guide to Literary Agents editor Chuck Sambuchino).

On his Web site, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers Michael Hyatt discusses the importance of defending your “brand” in the digital age.

UP FOR DISCUSSION

In case you missed my announcement earlier in the week, I did a little guest blogging about leetspeak (“text message lingo”) and the ramifications of its increased acceptance in young adult lit over at Australian author Steph Bowe‘s blog this week.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

DOWN TIME

Are you a workaholic?  Over at zenhabits, guest blogger Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist talks about the importance of resting.

Need something to distract you?  Check out Letterblox over at OMGPOP.

CONTESTS

Over at Inky Fresh Press, Kate announces a call for submissions as well as a contest at Narrative, an online publisher and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the literary arts in the digital age.

As well, Writer’s Digest is hosting their 79th annual writing contest with a chance to win $3,000 and a trip to New York City.

SHEDDING SOME LIGHT

Been getting lots of rejections without much feeback?  Here, D4EO literary agent Mandy Hubbard offers some reasons she passes on fulls.

If you’re looking for some “inside” information, the people over at BubbleCow divulge 7 secrets publisher don’t want writers to know.

Have you ever wondered how book covers come to be?  On Orbit, Laura Panepinto posted a YouTube video on that very subject.

Think you’re a diva?  Not sure?  The Waxman Literary Agency offers three questions to ask yourself in order to find out.

Or . . . ask yourself if you're Aretha Franklin. No? Okay, you're probably not then.

THINGS THAT MAKE ME SLIGHTLY SICK

I know Wicked was The Wizard of Oz seen in a new way—and I love it (well, the musical).  However, if they remake it á là Tim Burton, as per this Los Angeles Times article, I may actually vomit.

First The Hills‘s Lauren Conrad and now Hilary Duff?  *tear*

RANDOM

Apparently, certain words and phrases—like “seek” and “flee”—are too sophisticated for people to use outside of print.  Well, that’s what Robert Feder says the higher-ups at WGN believe, anyway.

I loves me some Coco.  And, according to USA Today, O’Brien has changed the life of the one, random Twitter follower he’s chosen.

I loves me some Cleveland Cavaliers, as well.  And, according to Cleveland.com, Eastlake, Ohio, resident Jerry Tomko and a radio essay contest are responsible for the team’s name.  (I’m so proud, having grown up five minutes from Eastlake!)

I’m so excited!  Jodi Meadows and I are going to YA author Maggie Stiefvater‘s book signing in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.  Will you be there?