Monday, February 22, 2010

Writing is Like Perfecting a Golf Swing

In 2009 I set out to write my first book. The words were boiling inside me and it was only a matter of time before I went completely insane or began to write. In the same year I took up golf as a hobby. Unlike writing, I never wanted to play golf. In fact, I never really understood the draw and swore I would never waste my time chasing a stupid little ball with a crooked stick wearing an ugly polo shirt. But here I am one year later wishing the snow would clear from my yard so that I can chase a little ball around with a crooked stick. Life is funny, now I spend my days perfecting my writing and golf swing, both equally frustrating and rewarding.

Writing and golf are equal opportunity ventures where you strive to achieve your goal while submitting to the fact that perfection is unattainable.

Equal Opportunity: Golf and writing are what I call equal opportunity sports/pastimes/careers. The golf ball, like the reader, does not care if you are young or old, big or small, or even from where you come. If done properly, a ninety pound woman can hit the ball further than a linebacker just as the words of an uneducated ninety year old man can reach further into a reader’s heart than the words of a young Ivy League scholar.

Perfection is Unattainable: Thanks to “Tin Cup” for this classic line. To complete my first book and perfect my golf swing, I’m constantly moving toward perfection knowing all the while that it’s completely unattainable. Just when I think I’ve done it, it’s a masterpiece and there is no further to go I soon realize I’ve only made it half way there.

I finished writing my book in 2009. It took me 20 days to write my hook. It took me 15 days to rewrite the hook , and I thought I was on my way.

GREAT NEWS: My hook was successful and my first agent is interested!

BAD NEWS: The agent wants to see my Book Proposal and I insist, “But I already wrote the book, why do you need the proposal?”

Just when I thought I could make up my own rules in this game of being published, I’m smacked right back into reality. So I began the task of writing my Book Proposal, which is essentially a marketing plan for a non-fiction book. In about fifteen brilliant pages it must answer the simple question:

“Why the hell should we put our good money into publishing your book?”

I have spent the better part of the past month writing my Book Proposal and I’m almost finished. I’m not ready to concede to my imperfection just yet. Wish me luck and please support me with your honesty.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

15 Days to Rewrite the Hook

It took me 20 days to write my hook . I like it, so do my sister and some other folks that were forced to read it. So it must be great, right? Well, I can tell myself that all day and watch the rejection letters pour in, or worse, watch nothing pour in. Or I can stomp on my masterpiece, cut its head off, and stretch its arms out until it looks better than it did before.

My sister says to use my instincts and never mind what others say, but my instincts have taken a long vacation from hook-reading. So maybe Mom was right, maybe the last part of the hook was too harsh:

“...leading to the realization that her family is far from normal and she is not so different from the woman she wishes would die.”

It was a little misleading, but literal. I think it was fair, but I don’t want to sound like a hag, or do I? Why does she want her grandmother to die, they ask themselves? I mean, really, isn’t the goal of the hook to make you want to read more? So, I admit, mom wasn’t the only reviewer to gasp when she read that line. “Not from the mouth of my sweet, Buffi!” But that made me want to keep it even more.

And then there was the little problem of my run-on sentence, but what the hell do my reviewers know about hooks? I have read almost 80 hooks on the internet at this point and I would say most of them are run-on sentences. I insist that no one can use the When Formula without creating a run-on. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but I’ve seen plenty of super-long hooks. OK, I’ll admit I had trouble reading to the end of them. “But mine is different,” I insist.

So, with lack of instincts, a 50/50 review rate, and a five-line run-on, I decided to write some new hooks to see if I could come up with something better and when I finished, guess who decided to show up? Instincts, that’s who. My feeling went from “I hope they like the hook” to “I can’t wait till they read my hook.”  So much for writing the hook in 20 days !
I looked to my peers for examples of good hooks and found some answers here:

Fiction Factor says, “The key to a good hook is hiding as much information as possible while revealing enough to interest a reader.”

Rites of Submission: Cover Letters and Query Letters includes a fabulous section entitled “What not to do.” Hey, did she read my hook?

Writing and Selling the Personal Essay: How to Write a Hook That Hooks Kristin Bair O’Keeffe says, “Not a paragraph. Not an entire essay. Not even, in most cases, two sentences.” She will not like my new hook, but she has really great information. Check out her new website: Christina Katz ~ The Prosperous Writer

So, with the help of stranger’s generous advice, family support, and lots of caffeine, it only took me 15 days to rewrite the hook. I managed to also include the remainder of the query in that time.  Mom thinks it's a winner! Here it is:

Wonderfully Dysfunctional - It Must be Genetic

A woman who laughs at funerals. A gypsy mother who refuses to wear a bra and a father who has two wives. A brother who sleeps under the coffee table and a sister who was kidnapped. A homosexual minister, a missing child, a pedophile grandfather and a feisty, sharp-tongued, red-headed grandmother who was longing to leave it all.

Buffi always knew her family was unusual, but she was lucky enough to escape that gene. Or was she? Joined by her siblings at the bedside of their dying grandmother, Buffi begins on a journey of self discovery as they recall stories of their youth including juicy family secrets, inappropriate practical jokes, abuse and betrayal. She is on a quest to find Normal but finds herself instead.

It Must be Genetic is about acceptance, forgiveness and the great capacity of love. The story is written from the perspective of a third generation divorced mother, Buffi, who realizes that the very traits that make her family dysfunctional may be the same traits that make it so wonderful. At 64,000 words, it is paced for a quick-and-easy read.
You did it Mom!!

I’m finally ready to submit to an agent. Wish me luck. Please support me with your honesty


Thursday, February 4, 2010

20 Days to Write a Hook

I completed my manuscript at the end of 2009 and on January 1st set out to get published. I began by searching the inside covers of my favorite books, ones most similar mine, for clues about how the author managed to snag a publisher. I quickly came to the realization that my invitation to the publisher’s ear lies in the discriminating hands of my agent-to-be.

Where's my agent?
I was on my way to find my special agent, the one that will love me and my manuscript and spend every waking moment selling it to the most distinguished publishing agencies around. While there are a mind-numbing number of sites to find agents and publishers, was the best suited for the novice agent hunter (me). Search by genre, interest, location, favorite animal - okay I made that one up, but you get the gist. Found some agents that will love me, but wait, they don’t want a completed manuscript, they want a query letter. So I ask:

What the hell is a query and how do I get one?
Now all the writers are saying, “Duh.” But really, I had no idea. Remember, I have been stuck transcribing from my journal, taking harsh criticism from my reviewers, cutting whole chapters and digging deep into my soul to birth my manuscript. My ego has recovered, but my fingers still hurt. When you search for information on writing a book, I assure you that the word query never comes up.

Agents want a Query, I was delighted to find a ton of information on how to write a query. Here’s a list of my favorite articles on the subject – I promise they have not paid me to write this, but if they do, I’m taking the cash: – “How to write a query” – “How to trim Your query”

A query is the written commercial for you and your manuscript, your 70 seconds on stage, better make sure it’s one page, less than 250 words, includes the word count – not to be mistaken for the page count, clever – but follows the rules, creative – but not outside the lines, no problem. I could say that a query should read the mind of the agent and know how to keep him/her reading to the end. Or, I could open a huge can of “shut-the-hell-up” and realize if I can’t sell my own book, then how do expect an agent to? So I began the tedious task of writing my query, only to find out that, first I need a hook. So I ask?

What the hell is a hook and how do I get one?
Now all the writers are saying, “Are you kidding?” Okay, hook was an easier concept and made perfect sense. I found some inspiring examples on many websites, being one of my favorites. Feel free to take a look at some of the articles that really helped me:

Alan Rinzler – “Hooks that snag great book deals”
Kimberly Wells – “Your Query Letter Hook” – “A revised query hook & a Flogometer prize”

It took me 20 days to write my hook and I’m still not sure if it’s good enough to capture the eye of an agent. I rewrote it about a hundred times. I started by writing little phrases and favorite words in my journal and eventually pasted them together. My sister loves it and my friend hates it, the danger of using friends and family as reviewers. But they're free and honest, two great qualities.

Not only did it take me 20 days to write the hook, it also took me that long to realize that I can submit my hook to agents, decide that it really sucked, re-write it and submit to the next agent. Yes, I may have blown my chance of snagging my favorite agent, but that’s better than spending six months revising my hook.

I re-write my hook in my head all day long and one of these days I'm sure I'll stumble upon the perfect mix of clever, informative and professional, but for now I'm using the best hook I have and here it is:

What do you think about my hook?
Wonderfully Dysfunctional – It Must be Genetic is the first in a series of memoirs about Buffi Neal, a career woman and single mother of two who joins her four siblings at the bedside of their dying grandmother and begins her journey of self discovery recalling stories of inappropriate practical jokes, abuse, betrayal and juicy family secrets, leading to the realization that her family is far from normal and she is not that different from the woman she wishes would die.

Please support me with your honesty.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Hi, my name is Buffi and I’m a Blog Virgin and Social Networking Preschooler. While investigating how to publish my completed manuscript, I was baptized into the informative and addicting world of Social Networking and found myself drowning in an ocean of Blogs. Thank you to the many aspiring authors who have shared their experiences on blogs and allowed me to secretly empathize. I have decided to jump in without a nose plug and conquer my fear of blogging.

I have put down my pen after a long year of writing and re-writing now all I have to do is get my manuscript published. I have the notion that if a publisher would simply read my manuscript, he/she is sure to publish it and make a movie soon after, common writer’s illusion. Or is it?

My goal is to become a published author and this blog will allow me to leave breadcrumbs for those in my same path to follow. My journey will be what I learn about myself along the way. There it is, on the internet for all to read and judge and I think, “Now I just have to do it.” One percent inspiration is complete and so starts my ninety nine percent perspiration.

Thinking about being published makes me remember the old commercial: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?  For those of you who are too young to remember see: Tootsie Pop VideoSo, how many days does it take to get published? Take the journey with me to find out.

Please support me with your honesty - Buffi