Maintain an excellent, professional website closely geared to its target audience.
This advice may seem self-evident, but I, for one, wasn't following it. It came from Josh Adams of Adams Literary in a talk I heard recently.
Josh said to think about who the audience is for your website or blog. If you’re an unknown writer looking to win a traditional publishing deal, your website/blog audience is agents and editors. And if you’re sending out queries and submitting work for publication, agents and editors will visit your website. Guaranteed.
Therefore, your website and/or blog should be designed to impress those people only. Not your future readers, who might be fifth graders or hopeless romantics. And not your friends, with whom you gossip and bemoan all your little setbacks in life. So no cupids and hearts, and no sad posts about your many rejections. Your website should be professional and convince an agent or editor that you're someone they want to work with.
Also, to state the obvious, your website should exist. At the time I heard Josh’s speech, my own website had crashed and burned, and I’d never gotten around to reinstating it.
Boy, did I get religion fast. I should mention that I’m the author of three self-published books, but am now thinking of finding an agent for my fourth. I put together the most professional-looking website I could manage and studded it with anything I thought an agent or editor would want to know about me.
And guess what? Last week I got a call from an agent I’d never met. She had seen my name somewhere, read my website, and asked if I was working on anything new. As a matter of fact, I was! I got a request for the full manuscript.
So, thank you, Josh Adams, for advancing my career when you don’t even represent me. Now that’s a good agent!
When writing the opening sentence of your novel, remember: “Action in books for the young must start before the opening line.”
This advice is from the wonderful children’s book writer, Richard Peck. I came across it in a January/February 2014 SCBWI magazine article titled “First Impressions” by Kim Tomsic. Peck made the statement in connection with children’s books, but I would use it to start even a cook book, or a book about navigational systems in ocean liners.
I repeat: Action in books for the young must start before the opening line.
In other words, your opening line should describe an action that has already taken place. Peck used this technique in his book THE TEACHER’S FUNERAL: “If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of the year for it.”
Another example, from ALMOST MOON by Alice Sebold: “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.”
And from CRANK by Ellen Hopkins: “Life was good before I met the monster.”
This technique drops your reader into the middle of a river that is already rushing along, which gives the opening sentence tension and immediacy. I realized that I had stumbled onto this approach by dumb luck in my latest work-in-progress, called UNDERCOVER HAMSTER. My story starts: “The humans thought they had locked me in.” In all these examples, the action starts before the opening sentence.
These ideas are practical and concrete; they are something you can actually do. Try 'em. They work.