Netcast #2: Great Beginnings

The best books start here.

Tag: On Writing

Because even we sometimes get tired of listening to ourselves natter on about this and that, we thought it was high time to involve you via our second netcast. For this one, fellow agent Chris Richman and I considered openings of a few favorite novels and why they work despite—or perhaps because of—thumbing their noses at commonly held ideas about what makes for “good writing.”

Let us know what you think!

[podcast format=”video”][/podcast]… [more]

faqIf you’ve been to our website, you probably know that we have a list of Frequently Asked Questions. However, after taking a long, sobering look in the mirror, we’ve admitted that maybe we’re not perfect, and perhaps there are questions every writer wants to know about an agency but hasn’t had a chance to ask.

To remedy this, we’re offering writers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be anonymously immortalized on our site. We’re looking to add about five new questions to the FAQ that perhaps we overlooked, things you think all writers should know about an agency before sending in their work, or questions specifically about our how we work as an agency.

An example may be:

  • Q. I sent in my submission but didn’t immediately receive an auto-response. What gives?
  • A. Each of the

One of my college professors once imparted this bit of wisdom to our workshop:

“Look closely at what you’ve just written. Now go through and circle everything in it that you love, every gorgeous description, every turn of phrase—and delete it.”

There are days when I think this is the best advice I’ve ever gotten (usually when my writing is not going well). And there are days when I think it’s the worst (usually when I’m particularly in love with myself).

I urge you to give it a try and see what happens. It’s a fun experiment, and if you’re suffering from a case of wordiness, it can be very grounding and helpful. But if the professor’s approach is a little too harsh for you this Tuesday morning, then I’ll leave you with the very … [more]

You sure can, little guy.Last week, after months of being pestered by different friends, I finally checked out the pilot to the A&E show Breaking Bad. If you haven’t seen it, Breaking Bad stars Bryan Cranston (known mostly as Hal, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle) as Walter White, a down-and-out high school chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with stage-three terminal cancer and realizing he has no way to leave an inheritance for his wife and family, decides to try his hand at making crystal meth.

The show probably isn’t for everyone, but I was completely sucked in by the first episode. And do you want to know why? Because it’s got a plot concept that drives the action like a souped-up Formula 1 racecar.

This blog will feature many more discussions of plot, so … [more]

There’s no doubt that the Internet is a fantastic resource for fledgling and established writers alike. You can tweet, friend, and chat with editors, agents, and other writers. You can do research to find an agent, or participate in various discussion forums about hot topics in publishing.

And of course, there’s the juicy publishing gossip—which editors have quit to become agents? Which agents have quit to become editors? Which editors/agents have quit publishing cold turkey?

I make it a point not to read author discussion boards or forums, but on the few occasions I’ve stumbled across a discussion between authors, the tone and content of some of the discussions has caused me great concern. Which authors submitted what to whom? Which agents have accepted, rejected, never replied? Some authors even go as far as keeping … [more]

4304452~The-Simpsons-PostersI have a confession to make: I follow very few blogs closely anymore.

I mean, I look at some occasionally. I click on links that people send me and read swell interviews, or industry news, or just look at Strange Things that make me laugh aloud. I do that. But the dedicated daily reading of the blogs in my RSS feed reader? Not so much.

I used to follow something like sixty blogs via my blog reader. I would quickly catch up on Read Roger, Maud Newton, Galleycat, Alice’s CWIM blog, Fuse #8, and other publishing focused blogs, sure, but … Do I really need to catch up on the Sartorialist? (Probably not, even though I love looking at the pictures of well-dressed people on the street.) … [more]

Ah, the question that plagues many of the authors poring over our submission guidelines page!

While I can’t speak for the other crows here at Upstart, I prefer to begin—very simply– at the beginning.

Reading the first twenty pages of your manuscript allows me to get acquainted with your story and your characters, and to get a sense of the vibe of your narrative. It’s tougher for me to do that if I’m jumping into your story at chapter twenty-seven.

So if you’re sitting out there in cyberspace, wringing your hands over which chapters to send, take heart! The bones of a truly great story will shine through, even if you think your opening chapter is a bit on the clunky side.

I’ll make a deal with you: I promise to approach your manuscript with … [more]

Years ago, I was touring the floor of the American Library Association’s annual convention along with a friend of mine, who we will call Very Famous Children’s Book Author, and we were discussing the fact that I used to write—had published stories, won a few awards, blah blah blah—but not so much anymore. At that time, not for about eight years. And she asked, “So why not? Why aren’t you writing?”

And I sighed in a melodramatic way and said, “Well, I’m tired.”

She asked me how old I was, then shook her head and said, “That’s bullshit, Michael. You’re not tired. You’re just not doing it. You just have to sit your ass down and do the work. That’s all.” And she told me how she did it, which was a daily word goal … [more]

This first appeared as a handout circulated by Michael to a workshop back in 2004.

Download: Printable version of Ten Commandments of Writing for Children

Thou Shalt Not Talk Down to Your Readers

Some beginning writers make the mistake of trying to appeal to kids by writing in a manner that can only be called “cutesy.” Resist this urge! Cute gets in the way of clarity. Clear writing, evocative writing, truths simply put—these are what we strive for when we write for kids. Though our characters may be children, or bunnies, or what-have-you, their lives and problems and the way we write about them must be those of the real world put into a language that children can understand. Maxim Gorky writes that “You must write for children the same way you write for adults, … [more]