Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What Would Goldilocks Choose: Small, Medium, or Large Publishing House?

By Kym Brunner

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Like Goldilocks, I have had experiences with a small, a medium, and now a large publishing house and want to share what’s the same, different, and unique about working with each. Which one was “just right?”
Here now is a sampling of my experiences, a virtual “publishing smorgasbord”:

THE APPETIZER 


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 The Smallish Publisher: My first book, ONE SMART COOKIE, was published with Omnific Press in June 2014. They are an independent publisher of romantic fiction. Contract to publication (on-demand trade paperback and digital) took nine months.
The Medium House : My second book, WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, was published with Merit Press (part of F & W Media / Adams Media) in July 2014. The book came out in hardcover and digital fourteen months after the contract was signed.
The Big Guy: My third book, FLIP THE BIRD, will be out in November 2016 and will be published with HMH Books for Young Readers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Contract to hardcover and digital publication will be sixteen months. 
TAKEAWAY: There are many different routes to publication, but no matter whether you choose the traditionally published or the self-published path, nothing quite matches the feeling of holding a book in your hand with your name on the cover. My advice? If going the traditionally published route, work your way from the top down, querying the large publishers, then medium-sized, and finally the small independent houses if the larger houses don’t pan out. Submitting to the top 5 usually requires an agent, but there are many houses that still accept unsolicited queries.

THE MAIN COURSE


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Acquisition Process to Publication
The Smallish Publisher: I sent a query via email to Omnific, they requested the full, and then after several weeks, I received an email saying they’d like to acquire One Smart Cookie. I accepted, made a few changes to the contract, and then we began the editing process. There were three rounds of revisions with various editors, each focused on a different aspect. Because Omnific is a romance publisher with readers of all sizes, any negative comments about body size from my sarcastic MC were traded for other types of jokes. Made me more aware of the types of jokes readers might find offensive in all of my novels after that. Omnific being a smaller publisher, the books are readily and inexpensively available via digital text, but for paper copies, they are print-on-demand. This helps save the publisher money so they don’t have a large print run, but these books generally are not stocked by brick-and-mortar bookstores because they can’t return them if they don’t sell after a certain amount of time (generally one season or three months).
The Medium House: My agent pitched the project to the sole editor of Merit Press, Jacquelyn Mitchard, who read the full manuscript, brought it to acquisitions within the organization, and viola! offered me a contract. After my agent negotiated some of the details of the contract, I signed, and the revision process began. It was relatively painless with only a few suggestions, mostly about expanding the ending. Book cover design followed, and then copyediting a few months later. It was super exciting to see my book come out in hardcover and appear on the shelves in Barnes & Noble. That distinction was definitely on my personal bucket list. 
The Big Guy: As with the medium house, my agent pitched senior editor Julie Tibbott, who said she both laughed and cried (mission accomplished!) while she read my manuscript, prompting her to make an offer. After the contract was negotiated and signed, Julie and I went back and forth with four rounds of revisions. She gave me a list of about five scenes that felt “off” and why, but it was left up to me to figure out how to fix those inconsistencies to both our satisfaction. We then moved to the smaller issues, and finally down to word choice. During the last couple of rounds, additional HMH wordsmiths had eyes on the novel to make sure every aspect was the best it could be. I will say this novel was the most scrutinized and fine-tuned of the three. But since I spent soooo much time writing and researching this book (falconry lessons and observations for over a year), this was definitely my Cinderella book, so I was thrilled with the precision tuning. I can’t wait to see Flip the Bird hit the bookstores in November. Feathers crossed that it’s a soaring success. ;)
TAKEAWAY: The acquisition process can be short or long, but it might be better for your psyche to NOT be aware if your book is under consideration by a publisher. The wait (and sometimes the answer) can be excruciating. Two of my books went to acquisitions but were not acquired at that time, crushing my spirit and making me analyze everything. Eventually other publishers acquired both of those books, so I could have saved myself some of that grief. Of course, I’m sure those pitfalls probably helped me to grow as an author.

The BOOK COVER – How Much Input Did I Have?

Smallish Publisher: I filled out a two-page questionnaire about all the aspects of the book (plot, setting, characters) as well as the feeling I wanted to invoke in the reader. I described what Sophie, my teen protagonist, looked like, as well as her relationship with her man-hungry mother and her adorable Polish grandmother, Busia. They asked what sort of feeling I wanted to invoke in readers as well as any ideas I’d had for how I envisioned the cover. I really felt involved in the process and loved the final cover, which perfectly depicts Sophie frowning at a cookie, which goes fabulously with the title. All in all, I had a lot of input about font, design, and color choices, and couldn’t be happier with how it came out. 
Medium House: I was shown one cover for Wanted: Dead or In Love (bullet hole ridden – looked cool!), but others I showed it to said it appeared to be a nonfiction book instead of YA novel. I found a stock picture that I thought fit the main character and suggested maybe incorporating her into the original cover to help make it look more fictional. The next cover was completely different from the first. The art director used the picture I had sent as the main focus of the cover, which was great, but when I asked if we could tweak the font and/or colors, I was told that it needed to go to print. Readers have since told me that they picked it up because the cover was so catching, so there you go. Trust the professionals––they know what they’re doing. 
The Big Guy: I was asked to find comps (or comparable) covers that conveyed the feeling I wanted for my book. That was an interesting task and one that I took to heart. I found maybe ten covers and I put a short note as to why I thought they went along with my book. By now I had learned that the art directors have a gift and you can let them work their magic. I was eventually shown five covers for Flip the Bird and was asked my opinion on them. We narrowed it down to two choices and eventually ended up with a cover that perfectly matches the humorous coming-of-age aspect along with a bird named Flip (a red-tailed hawk), while the protest sign shows that there might be some adversity inside the novel as well. 
TAKEAWAYThe amount of input I had didn’t depend on the size of the publisher, but rather on the standard procedure for each publishing house. Art directors know what designs make readers pick up books, so while the publisher wants you to love the cover, they also have to make a financial decision and go with a cover design with proven sales.

THE DESSERT

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Each of the publishers offered an advance against royalties, i.e. payment made by the publisher, which is offset against future royalty payments. The bigger the house, the bigger the advance, which of course is always nice. 
Each of the publishers was concerned with the content being appropriate for teens and with sending out the story in the best possible shape. Alleluia for that!
All three publishers had knowledgeable literary professionals who helped guide me each step of the way. That said, I often checked with the Internet or friends who had been previously published if I had a newbie question about some aspect of the revision process before asking my editor. (Your agent may or may not know the answer because each house has its own particular preferences on how things are done). 
TAKEAWAY: I have found that I only email my agent and editor when I have a pressing question, and they respond quickly. I’m guessing if you email them every little question, you might be viewed as “needy.”

IN CONCLUSION, there’s a familiar question authors are supposed to ask themselves when considering the size of the publishing house they would prefer: Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond (meaning lots of attention) or a wee fish in an ocean (meaning very little)? 

ID-100140968MY ANSWER: I haven’t noticed any differences in the way I’ve been treated by the different-size publishers other than the variances with which any individuals interact with another. For the most part, everyone I’ve worked with has been professional and kind, with a rare, slightly abrasive response. As in every other aspect of my life, I’ve treated others the way I’d like to be treated, and that’s worked out just fine.
Have a question or comment? Feel free to contact me at one of the social media links listed below. Happy writing!  KYM
Kym Brunner dreams entire novels in her head but needs about a year to write it all down. She wishes there was an app for this. She's addicted to chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she's not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. She is the author of three young adult novels. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and her two trusty writing companions, a pair of shih tzus named Sophie and Kahlua. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What's the ONE thing you should do to Jump-Start your Life TODAY?


Want to know what that one thing is?

It's very simple: take action. That's it! One small thing that no one else might see, but you know you accomplished. Eventually all the tiny, one-step tasks will add up to you meeting a goal. Here's what I mean:

Everyone has a goal: could be short-term, long-term, subconscious or fully on your mind. Perhaps it's:

·      More friends/different friends/ spend time with friends
·      A better job/ a more rewarding job/ quit your job
·      Leaving an abusive relationship
·      Acceptance (to a college, from a parent, of themselves)
·      Learn a new hobby/language/skill
 
The list could go on indefinitely. What’s your secret wish? (Close your eyes and think of something now. Got it in mind? Good. Read on.)

Now....do something about it. ONE THING. Take a single step in the direction of your goal. Right now. Today. It can be anything. Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re too busy. That's always going to be the answer though. Seriously, when aren't you too busy?

WE’RE ALL TOO BUSY – ALL OF OUR LIVES – AND UNLESS YOU MAKE TIME FOR THE THINGS THAT ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU, YOU WON'T REACH YOUR GOALS. 

You can:

·      Write a letter that you never send (or maybe one you do).
·      Send out an application to a job, a college, an award
·      Go DO the thing you wanted. Today. At least call and make a future date.
·      Send a friend request.
·      Research the one thing you wanted to do and sign up for a class.
·      Go get a jar right now to put extra money in to save up so you can do that ONE thing


So that’s it - start to blaze that path from WISHING to ACHIEVING with one small step in the right direction. I'll even help you. <push> 

Til next time, 
 KYM 

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Query that Landed me a Top NY Agent!




There is a TON of information out on the web about crafting a good query when looking for an agent. Heed the advice and do your homework.

ID-10038496While crafting an interesting query is super important, obviously writing a novel that has fabulous hook, interesting plot, and dynamic characters supercedes all of the letter writing factors in the world. That said, before I was agented, I enjoyed reading queries that actually worked.  So, with that in mind, here was my "golden ticket" - the email that helped that first door creak open just a tiny bit, which led to my eventual signing with Eric Myers with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (DGLM). The book title mentioned in my query letter was eventually renamed WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE and was published by Merit Press in July, 2014.

In summation, I followed the advice I had read online, had my query critiqued by my SCBWI pals, and went over it many times to make sure there were no grammatical errors. Here were the things I think I did right:
  1. Spelled the agent's name correctly (seems like a no-brainer, but I hear this happens frequently)
  2. Led with an interesting hook
  3. Told him how I knew of him and showed I had researched his preferences
  4. Gave a short description of the novel's basic plot, characters, and goals
  5. Kept my bio short since I didn't have any writing credits at the time
  6. Included a sample chapter in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment (I've read that agents delete all emails with attachments without opening, worried about viruses).

Dear Mr. Myers,

From inside the mind and coffin of Clyde Chestnut Barrow, circa 2012:

I let my anger fester like an infected wound until I reach a place of pure hatred for the son of a bitch who set me up. Someone told the coppers where I’d be and at what time, which narrows it down to about ten or so people, most of ‘em family. Soon as I learn out how to escape this hellhole, I’m going to figure out which rat squealed and I’m going to kill the bastard. Make ‘em suffer too. 

An eye for an eye my daddy always tole me, and I’ve always been a dutiful son.

Even if it turns out that it’s him that did it to me.

Your preference for thrillers as listed on the Literary Rambles website (and our mutual secret passion for Survivor!) makes me think we might be a great match. I’m hopeful that my YA paranormal romance-thriller, GANGSTER OF LOVE (devilishly complete at 66, 666 words) gets under your skin and infects your mind.

Following three arrests, seventeen-year-old Monroe Baker must stay out of trouble for a year or face a daunting felony conviction. When she impulsively steals the slugs that killed Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow from her father’s gangster memorabilia collection and shows them to Jack, a boy she meets at a party, the two unwittingly awaken the spirits of the dead outlaws. When Bonnie and Clyde possess the unsuspecting teens, it becomes a matter of life and death for Monroe and Jack, who must find a way to force the dangerous gangsters from their body, sending them back to the grave before they lose themselves completely. But when passions collide, alliances may change. Who will be left to reign as the true gangsters of love?

GANGSTER OF LOVE is a YA with crossover potential that mixes fact with fantasy to showcase the edgy grittiness of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, whose romanticized crime spree of the 1930’s continues to fascinate readers of all ages. The story is told in alternating first-person viewpoints––Monroe and Clyde’s––keeping the suspense high as secrets are kept and truths revealed.

During my non-writing time, I'm a full-time teacher and hold a Master's degree in education. I'm also the SCBWI district co-rep for the far north suburbs of Chicago. I've included sample pages below for your perusal. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, Kym Brunner

***** Sample pages - Gangster of Love ***** (Check out the actual first pages of WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE here: First Pages )

Thanks for stopping by! KYM



Kym Brunner dreams entire novels in her head, but needs about a year to write it all down.  She wishes there was an app for this. She’s addicted to chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she’s not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua. She’s repped by Eric Myers of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Wanted: Dead or in Love, Merit Press, June, 2014
One Smart Cookie, Omnific Publishing, July, 2014
Flip the Bird, HMH Books for Young Readers, Coming Fall 2016


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Friday, January 29, 2016

This just in! Check out my FLIP THE BIRD cover!

Hey World ~

After many years––writing this novel, revising this novel, finding the right agent (Eric Myers from DGLM), and then finding the perfect editor (Julie Tibbot from HMH Books for Young Readers)––my dream has finally come true!

I CANNOT  TELL  YOU HOW EXCITED I AM TO KNOW THAT THIS BOOK WILL BE IN THE HANDS OF READERS COME NOVEMBER 1ST, 2016!!

Whoops, maybe I just did. :)

Want to know what it's about? Sure you do! Here's the brilliant blurb that HMH Books for Young Readers (okay, it was all me except the last line) came up with:

Mercer Buddie wants two things in this world: a girlfriend and the chance to prove to his master falconer father that he’s not a flake. With hunting season fast approaching, fourteen-year-old Mercer has only a short time to work with Flip, a red-tailed hawk he irreverently named to show his dad that falconers don’t have to be so serious all the time.
     When Mercer meets Lucy, he falls hard for her gorgeous looks and bubbly personality. He thinks his love life is about to take flight, until he discovers that Lucy and her family belong to a fanatical animal-rights organization called HALT—a group that believes imposing any sort of restrictions on animals is a form of cruelty. Mercer soon realizes that if he wants to keep seeing Lucy, he’ll need to keep his love of falconry and his family’s raptor rehabilitation center a secret from her, and Lucy’s involvement with HALT from his family.
     With humor and honesty, Mercer’s story shows how growing up means making difficult choices…and sometimes, being rewarded in unexpected ways.



And not only that, but the hugely talented New York Times bestselling author, David Lubar, read my book and wrote a wonderful blurb that the marketing team artfully displayed across the bottom! Squee!!


So now....with further ado...may I present the book cover to (pant, pant)....FLIP THE BIRD!





ATTENTION MONEY LOVERS: 
  If you want to win $25, all you have to do is one of the following tasks on RAFFLECOPTER to earn an entry. Thanks for playing!


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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Want More Readers? Write SUSPENSE, not ACTION, Scenes


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I don’t want to harm anyone’s health, but everyone needs a jolt of literary CPR now and then. How to do it?
SUSPENSE. No matter what genre, no matter what age group you’re writing for, it’s suspense that make your readers’ hearts race and their anxiety ratchet up to high as they worry what will happen to the beloved characters they’ve been rooting for.
Yes, action scenes are important to add in occasionally because readers want to watch your characters ACT in some way, but to me, prolonged action gets dull. (That’s how I felt watching 90 minutes of Mad Max racing across the desert and back….zzzz). When the tension never lets up, the suspense goes down. One of the keys to writing suspenseful tales is to rev up the suspicion and then make the character move on to something “normal,” only to have the anxiety reappear. Think ebb and flow.

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In Wanted: Dead or In Love, an impulsive teen girl breaks into her father’s gangster memorabilia case and accidentally cuts herself with a bullet extracted from Clyde Barrow (impulsive character trait /stealing/consequences/outlaws all create suspense). As a result she awakens the spirit of Bonnie Parker in her own body, and then later that night, infects a guy she meets at a party with the spirit of Clyde Barrow (a pissed-off and unwilling companion adds suspense). They have a twenty-four hour deadline (a ticking clock) to figure out how to rid the outlaws from their bodies, or they’ll face changing places forever (possibility of death/crimes to be committed against their will). The reader feels compelled to continue reading to find out which of the four are successful and how all the problems will be resolved (multiple solutions / lots of questions). Whew! Hopefully the reader is breathless and their heart rate increases as the tension builds to the final scene.

HOW TO MAKE A SCENE COME ALIVE? MAKE US WORRY....

Here are a few tips:

  • SHOW, don’t TELL us that your character is anxious about something, have them sweat, bite their lips, swallow a lot, look at their watch. In fact, the next time you’re worried about something, check out how you feel inside, notice what you do (drink water, check for texts, pace around your kitchen) and incorporate it into your character’s actions). 

  • LET US HEAR YOUR MC’S THOUGHTS. We’re scared if your character is scared. Let us know specifically what he or she doesn’t want to happen (if we don’t get to Louisiana in time, we’ll be in their graves and Bonnie & Clyde will take over our bodies!) You’ll need to set these worries up earlier in the book and give the readers small reminders building up to the scene where “it” might actually happen, and then of course, make the worst possible thing happen. Oh no….not that!! Yes, that. Now the reader has to find out what your poor MC will do.

  • SET LOTS OF POSSIBLE TRAPS and SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITIES. And then, have your character dismiss them as things that could possibly never happen, but then make it happen anyway. For example, Mr. Nice would NEVER do that to his wife, who happens to be your best friend (oh, but he did) and your character saw it. Now what? Tell his wife, keep it a secret, confront him? Let your character worry and mull over the right thing to do over the course of the next chapter or two before deciding. Make her squirm when she sees her friend and she brags about Mr. Nice and how great he is.

    Good luck!

    'Til next time,
    KYM

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pay for Professional Writng Advice? It Depends....

These days it seems that everyone is writing a book. Many are writing books on how to write books, or how to sell books, or how to self-publish books, or even how to find the person who can help you to sell your book.

Let's just say there are a LOT of options and LOTS of ways to spend money.

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So many options it's similar to the assortment of goodies offered to kids in Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. But which types of professional writing advice are everlasting gobstoppers and which ones are the candy bars that don't have a gold wrapper?

Here's my take on things:

1) Budget "some" money toward developing your craft. 

Unless your first name is William and your last name is Shakespeare, you probably won't improve your skills without getting some type of industry advice––either through a critique group, a professional editor, and/or books and conferences.

How much money you budget probably depends on where you are in your journey and your personal financial situation. And to be honest, it also might depend on how serious you are about taking your work to the next level. Reading books on the craft is great at a minimal level, but getting concrete advice about your own work is much more valuable. It's difficult to see our own strengths and flaws.

2) What's the best use of my budgeted money?

If you can afford it, beginners and pre-published writers should try to attend conferences in order to hear from agents and editors and find out what they are looking for. Also, what they are tired of reading and hearing about. If it's a topic that readers aren't buying anymore, you can bet that they won't want to acquire it either.

Those farther along in their careers might spend more on paying to have their revised WIP get a set of fresh eyes from a developmental editor. I still attend writing conferences, especially the well-attended kidlit conference in Los Angeles, but more to use that as a social springboard to to keep in touch with writers I've met over the years.

Joining SCBWI (for those writing for babies through teens) or a myriad of other writing organizations (Romance Writers of America // International Thriller Writers etc.)  geared toward your specific genre is a great idea. You will meet like-minded individuals (either in person or on a forum) and these people will become your confidantes, and hopefully, your cheerleaders.

3) Pay for a Professional Critique

There are different ways to do this. First of all, you should be in a critique group (either face to face or an online group) so you can get lots of free advice, as well as give it to others. But sometimes you're just not sure if the advice you're getting is meaningful, especially if all the writers in your group are beginners themselves. I'm not saying it's still not valid––they are telling you the way a reader views things-–but they might be giving advice that's too general (I like it! or It moves a bit slow here), or advice that really isn't helpful (you spelled there wrong).

Secondly, paying for an extra critique at a writer's conference can be iffy. Oftentimes, it's very expensive ($100 for five pages and 15 minutes of face time), but if your material is very close to being published, an agent might request the full and you're on your way. More often than not however, you'll get solid advice at a big cost. Still, I made some contacts that way but never grabbed the brass ring. Plus, they're only giving advice on five pages, which may or may not be your premier
work.



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So I suggest doing your research on finding a developmental editor in your price range that has lots of experience and having them read your entire novel. It's costly (anywhere from $500 - $2500), but you learn a TON and it can make your novel ready to be acquired. Ask lots of questions of several editors and gauge from their responses whether you think you'd be a good match. You might even ask to talk on the phone to them. Ask how much experience they have editing your genre and/or age group.

When I paid for developmental editing twice (both books were eventually sold to traditional publishers, btw), I searched for the right freelance editor and was rewarded greatly by getting excellent advice. **If interested, my amazing freelance editor for Flip the Bird (coming Fall, 2016 with HMH Books for Young Readers) was Maria Mooshil. She was an editor for the Chicago Tribune for many, many years and is now doing freelance work. She brought great insight to the motivation of my characters and was a fabulous sounding board of ideas. Contact her for rates and availability at: mmooshil@gmail.com***

I didn't do this large and more expensive project however, until I was very close to publishing my book and already had an agent. Meaning it might not be worth it if you are still a beginner and have a looong way to go to work on your novel. There's just too big of a window for them to hone in on fixing everything. Don't be surprised if the freelance editor asks for a sample of your work before they accept the job. Like I said, if you're too far off, it might be too big of a task for them to try and help you.

So do your homework, keep on perfecting your craft, write daily, and soon you'll be on the shelves and in the hands of readers! Good luck on your journey. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments section. I hope that soon you'll be jumping for joy when your book is published.


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'Til next time,

KYM








Monday, July 20, 2015

Need More Suspense in Your Novel? Here's How to Amp It Up


SHH! CLANDESTINE SECRETS FOR WRITING SUSPENSE….
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You want to write a suspense-thriller, but you’re not sure how to keep the pages turning? Here’s what worked for me, and hopefully it’ll work for you too:

1.     FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU’RE MOST SCARED OF AND INCORPORATE THOSE EVENTS INTO YOUR NOVEL.

Don’t like to be alone at home at night?  Why not? Probably because you’re sure every small noise is something amiss… a break-in? A mouse? A burst pipe? Hate when you come home and the front door is open a crack, making you wonder if you did that or a stranger did…?Every time you realize that your heart is pumping in fear, make a note of it and incorporate a scene into your next book.

2.    TEASE BUT DON’T APPEASE

Just when the reader thinks the answer will be revealed, throw a wrench into the plan. Literally. Make someone appear that has a wrench and threaten to harm them, like I did in WANTED:  DEAD OR IN LOVE.  Or…come up with some other frightening alternative, one that makes your main character run.

3.     END CHAPTERS IN CHAOS

Never let the reader turn off the light and go to sleep feeling good about your characters. NO WAY! End the chapter BEFORE they open the door, get out of the way of the speeding car, or ask the micromanaging boss for a holiday off. I don’t mean mid-sentence, but bring the reader to the brink and have a small interruption make them delay for a moment…long enough to end the chapter and propel your reader to stay up past their bedtime.

4.     DON’T TROT OUT ALL OF THE POSSIBLE SCENARIOS


Keep the reader in the dark along with your main character. YOU, the writer, know how they’ll get out of this, but don’t make the solution so obvious that your twist is anything but predictable. If the solution will be found in the cemetery, have your character drive past it, always curious about the gravedigger with the limp, but make the actual answer the gentle loving cemetery director.

5.     MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SUFFICIENT (AND INTERESTING) SUB-PLOTS TO KEEP THE READERS ON THEIR TOES 


 No one likes to figure out the answer in the first one hundred pages. While you need to introduce the main goal in the initial pages, add a sub-plot or two along the way that makes the reader wonder what’s going to happen. Keep five plates spinning in the air, and the reader will enjoy watching and waiting for one, or more, to fall.


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