Monday, July 29, 2013

How Important Is A Good Title?

by Hazel Buys
How do you go about choosing a title for your novel? Step 1: search Amazon, Google (or similar) for the title you want to use. If it’s already taken, cross off and go to next choice. Repeat. Once you have a title that doesn’t show up in your searches, you’re done, right? Not necessarily. What makes a good title (other than it isn’t out there yet)?

I’ll tell you what makes a bad title: one that gives away the end of your book. Who would do that? You’d be amazed. I just finished reading a middle grade book that does just that. The title (changed to protect the guilty) is similar to: “Eddie’s Championship Spring.” This fictional book is about a boy who enters a track competition to determine the region’s champion. Can you guess who wins? When a writer gives away the ending in the title, all tension and suspense has to come from somewhere else. Subplots? Interpersonal dynamics? The stress of training? The weather? It almost doesn’t matter. We already know the ending.
The best titles sum up the book without giving anything away. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great example. It’s intriguing, mysterious and we don’t really understand why it’s such a good title until we finish the book and learn what happens. I’m sure you have your own favorites. Titles are part and parcel of why we love certain books. Make sure you don’t hamstring your novel from the get-go because of the first words the reader encounters: the title.

Monday, July 22, 2013

New Partners: Amazon and Goodreads (Part 2)

by Hazel Buys
Is everyone aware that Amazon recently bought Goodreads? The pairing of a major online retailer of books (and just about everything else) and a major reading fan base suggests huge opportunities for writers of all genres. To help us get up to speed, Sarah Pinneo, author of Julia's Child (Plume, 2012) posted an entry on the Query Tracker blog site. Follow this link for Part 2:

While you're there, check out Query Tracker if you are new to the site and visit Sarah's website at

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Surreal Moment

By Deb Dudley
About five years ago, give or take, I attended my very first writing event.  A newbie to Richmond and children's writing, I remember leaving my house several hours early.  My printed directions (it was my Pre-iPhone era) estimated travel time at 40 minutes. I think we can all agree, "estimated" times are generally calculated for the directionally savvy traveler. So, if something is important, and I want to be there, I ALWAYS add a huge buffer.  I'm a writer, not an explorer.

I'd love to tell you that I arrived with oodles of time to spare, but let's just say I made it there.  And, although I was incredibly nervous about finding the place, and being around other writers who knew more people and more about writing than me, I bravely took a huge step outside my comfort zone.  And, I'm so happy I did.  Because, it was on THAT day, at THAT event, I decided to become children's book writer.  Although I was totally new to the world of children's literature, I had miraculously stumbled into an event with two of the best children's book writers in Virginia.  Gigi Amateau and Meg Medina.  And as they shared their stories and as I listened to them talk, I grew to like them. I became genuinely happy for each of them and their success. And as they confidently chatted about their craft, I felt as if they were encouraging me and the rest of the crowd to embrace our dream of writing.  To become fellow writers.  To join them.  Before that day, I toyed with the idea of writing stories for children.  After that day, I decided it was more than just a passing urge.  I knew I needed to write stories for children.  And so I did.  

Over the past five years, I've learned quite a bit about writing and who I want to be as a writer.  I've attended countless events, created mind-boggling manuscripts, made several friends and joined one incredible critique group.      

AND then last Thursday, on June 27, I had the honor of sharing a stage with Meg Medina and two other talented writers on The Writing Show with James River Writers.  We talked about the writer's platform, branding, websites, tag-lines, social media, networking, book launches and community involvement.  We discussed the importance of being authentic.  Sitting next to Meg and listening to her voice, I remembered how her words had inspired me years ago. It was an incredibly surreal moment.  

For more information on James River Writers, visit the Shout Outs tab on my website at

Monday, July 1, 2013

Does Reading Help Your Writing?

"If you want to be a good writer you have to read...LOTS!"
Have you ever heard anybody say that?

I got sick of it.  Every time I went to a website that talked about writing, or perused a writing magazine, or talked to an author, they all said the same thing: "Make sure you spend just as much time reading as you do writing."


Old me: "Well that's stupid.  I'm trying to become a writer!  I have family, work...LIFE.  If I don't take every extra second I have to write I'll never get that best-seller written!"

Well, old me was ignorant and stubborn.  Thankfully I saw the light.

Three years ago I was still in the early stages of working on my new YA novel and I was at Barnes and Noble with my wife.  She had gone off to wander the shelves and I was going through the magazine stacks.

I walked past the new Writer's Digest once.  I walked past it twice.  Finally I picked it up.

I walked over to the cafe and sat down next to my love, who had two or three books she was skimming through (she's an avid reader).  I began looking over the articles and pretending like I was interested and learning a lot.  I stopped on an article that said, in a nutshell, "Read More And Become a Better Writer".  I sighed, frustrated.

Again with the reading!

My wife was sitting there with her stack of books.  I remember breaking down and gently asking her, "If I read more do you think I'll be a better writer?"

Short of stating the obvious, she kindly, encouragingly, said, "If you were to ask any one of the authors who has their book in this store that question, what do you think they would say?"

I looked around the store at the THOUSANDS of books and reality set in.  I finally decided to let go of my pride and found the humility to do what had been blatantly obvious all along - READ!

"Honey, what's the best written book you've read recently?"

She thought for a second and replied, "'The Goose Girl' by Shannon Hale."  Uh, okay...sounds manly!

I got the book the next day from the library and read several chapters.  The writing was amazing and on a WHOLE different plane than the stuff I was typing on the keypad.  It would have been easy to get discouraged, but...

The next time I sat down to write, I instantly noticed an improvement in my writing.  No kidding; it was instant.  And the more I continued to read, the more my writing continued to improve.

I am here to testify to you that it works.  Yes, reading does make you a better writer!

Ever since then I have been an active reader.  I strive to read a book every two weeks.  Sometimes the books are well written and I learn ways to improve and sometimes I don't like what I'm reading and I learn the type of writing I want to avoid.  Either way, I'm learning and growing as a writer.

So if you are not already, find something to read...and don't stop - your writing will thank you for it!

PS - Thank you Shannon Hale for opening my eyes!

If you are a writer, how does being a more active reader help your writing?