Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day 31, Thusday, March 31st


At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City a man named John Stephen Akhwari entered the marathon representing his native country of Tanzania. He was a world-class runner with high hopes for the race. Unfortunately, Akhwari began to cramp due to the high altitude, which he hadn’t prepared for. Then just under halfway through the race he was knocked to the ground dislocating his knee and injuring his shoulder on the pavement.

No one would have blamed him for leaving the race and tending to his wounds. But he didn’t leave, didn’t quit. Instead he carried on, arriving in the stadium just as officials were setting up for the medal ceremony and more than an hour after the first place finisher. When asked why he didn’t give up he replied, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

The first time you sat down to write you began your race. At that moment, whether you realized it or not, you decided to push yourself to new heights. Now, after the first flush of excitement fatigue, health problems, and any number of obstacles have fallen into your path. The temptation to quit writing, to leave the race is strong.

You have so much to offer. Keep pushing. Keep writing. See things through to the end.


It’s been a great privilege to cheer you on during the Spring Clean Writing Fling. I’m grateful to have been a part of your race even in this small way.

Good luck and good writing!


From Janet: I just want to add amen to everything PJ said above! I thank her for coming up with the Spring Clean Writing Fling to motivate us, and for inviting me to help with it. 

Participating in it has been a great experience for me. I'm excited about the progress I've made this month in my writing -- and I hope you are too!  (Thanks PJ, you rock!)

With Love, Janet Clark 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


by PJ Switzer

They say never start with a disclaimer but I like to break the rules ... so I’m going to start with, you guessed it, a disclaimer.

Here it is: I don’t have an agent yet. I’m working hard to get one but as of the writing of this article, I am agentless. This means you are free to ignore or discount today’s post. But don’t. There really is good stuff in here.

No, no, too hard for you.
5. Querying is like having children. Before you start everyone tells you how hard it is.

Conversation 1 – The Warning

You: I’m going to query. (I’m going to have a baby.)

Friend: It’s going to be hard. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

You: I know.

Friend: No, it’s, like super hard. Like Wonder Woman could barely do it and she’s, you know, Wonder Woman.

You: Got it.

Friend: I don’t think you do.

Then you start the querying process or have the baby and all of a sudden you get it.

You: OH MY GOSH, this is sooooooo hard!

Conversation 2 – The Horror Story

Friend: Are you aware this process can take forever and people have died in the process? I almost died. Did you know that? It was terrifying. Are you sure you really want to do this?

You: I was until I started talking with you.

4. Agents, agents everywhere

Will you be my agent?
I had no idea what I was doing when I started looking for an agent. However, in a previous life (my early 20s) I developed some wicked research skills in the pursuit of an advanced degree and I put them to work.

Here’s what I did. (I don’t know if it was the best or fastest way but it’s what I did):
  • Checked out the most recent edition of Guide to Literary Agents. (Why buy a book that’s out of date almost as soon as it’s published?)
  • Read through the articles in the beginning.
  • Found the index in the back where agencies were listed by what genres they accepted.
  • Created an excel spreadsheet listing all the agencies.
  • Went to every agency website to learn more about them and individual agents, submission requirements, etc.
  • Filled in the information on my spreadsheet.

There are websites that can help with all of this and I’ll list them in the Resources section but I still recommend making your own record. As I went along I discovered a number of agents who weren’t listed on some of the major sites.

Now, as I send out queries I track them on both my personal spreadsheet and Query Tracker.



  • Writer’s Market series
  • Guide to Literary Agents series

3. There’s no such thing as “the right” query letter.

Despite what everyone tells you.

Query letters are instruments of torture designed by the Devil of literature. The worst part is there really is no one right way to write one, despite what you’ll hear from well-meaning friends.

Conversation 3 – The Absolute

You: I’m working on my query letter.

Friend: Okay, you HAVE to write it like this or an agent will never look at it.

(Two weeks later)

You: I think I finally have my query letter ready to go.

Different friend: Oh no, this is all wrong. You HAVE to do it like this or agents will just delete it.

Yes, the letter must contain certain pieces of information but, in my experience, you’re going to wind up rearranging that information a number of times in a number of ways not only to improve the letter but because different agents want different things.

"Must have" elements:
  • Agent’s name: Dear Ms. Jones or Dear Mr. Brown
  • Genre: Middle Grade, Romance, YA, etc.
  • Word count: 27,343 words would be listed as 27,000 words for simplicity’s sake.
  • Title: This one should be obvious but just in case it isn’t.
  • Synopsis: BE BRIEF.
  • Credentials: If you have any, make sure you list them. If not, list any writing organizations you belong to. Hint: ANWA is one, SCBWI is another. Don’t list anything unrelated to writing.

The best formula I found for this brief synopsis came from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (

The formula is simple:
Who + Circumstance + Conflict + Hook

Using Pride & Prejudice as our sample the query might look something like this:

In Regency England marriage is a lady’s only means of securing her future. This is especially true for Elizabeth Bennett and her four sisters. However, Elizabeth is determined to marry for love even if it means losing her home and her place in society.

Her resolve is put to the test by a string of suitors: dashing Mr. Wickham, groveling Mr. Collins, and wealthy Mr. Darcy. Each has his advantages and his flaws. How is Elizabeth to choose?

When disaster strikes the Bennett family, Elizabeth quickly discovers whose affections are sincere and whose are fleeting. But can she accept the man who offers assistance?

Well, you get the idea.

The most important thing I’ve learned about the letter is that it needs to represent you. Be professional, but be yourself.

2. Rejection is no fun.
It just sucks so much!

That sentence should win the “Well, duh!” statement of the year. But it’s true and it’s something you have to deal with if you’re going to try the traditional publishing route.

Two things have helped me deal with the painful parts of this process, prayer and a fantastic support network. 

Pray constantly and about everything.
  • Who should I query?
  • Is it time to revise the letter AGAIN?
  • Should I hang it up and put my manuscript away for a while?

Turn to friends and family for encouragement.
In six months of querying I’ve wanted to quit more times than I can count. In fact, I’ve given up a number of times but one or more of my peeps has told me to put on my big girl panties and get back out there. So, I have. It helps to know that others believe in me and my writing even when I don’t. Especially when I don’t.

Conversation 4 - The Pep Talk

You: I got another rejection today. Nobody is EVER going to want my book.

Friend: I don't know what's wrong with that guy. You're book is brilliant.

You: He was kinda mean, too.

Friend: You want me to take a hit out on the agent?

You: Hmm ... let me think about it.

Rejection will never feel good but the Spirit and loved ones can certainly take some of the sting out of it.

All things are possible.

1. Do not give up.
No matter how hard the process gets, do not let it derail you. Start another book, and another, and another. Revise the current letter or manuscript. Look at self-publishing. 

Whatever happens keep moving forward.

Day 30, Wednesday, March 30th


Sit down with a book you love.  Read it AGAIN.
And AGAIN. Take notes. Underline. Copy favorite passages. Outline the book.  Do a story arc.

Take that sucker apart, nuts and bolts. Study it. Find out what makes it sing. Its secrets are right there in black and white for anyone to uncover who’s willing to take the time.

Take some thought and write why you love it. Write a book review on Amazon or Goodreads.

What are the author’s strong points (and weak points?) Do they have other works you could read? LEARN from this author. Maybe even reach out to them. (What are some books you LOVE? Tell us on FB some of your all time favs! Maybe they'll become ours too!) Janet Clark

Creativity Kick-Starter
Who knew these still existed?
Artists have paint. Writers have words. Words are your medium, the way you paint a picture, evoke emotion, sing the sacred. So, you need to love them.

I think the best way to begin this love affair is by reading. Reading will open up a whole new vocabulary. And never be embarrassed if you’re unfamiliar with a word or phrase. But don’t stay ignorant of it’s meaning either. Always be willing to investigate and keep a dictionary (or your phone) close by so you can look it up.

You know what one of my favorite word is? Pugilist. It’s just another way of saying boxer but it sounds so much cooler.
- PJ Switzer

Writing Sprint
(Pick one and see where it takes you.)

She was a terrible witch, really. She could hardly brew tea, let alone a potion.
Hey, that sea urchin stole my money!

Let's get the mojo going. 
Set your timer for 15 minutes 
and write fast & furious. 
- PJ Switzer

Ready. Set. Go!

Share your sprint on our Tumblr page:

Productivity Pointers

Lean on me.
It may seem counter-intuitive to take time out of your already busy schedule and help someone else with her writing but there are a number of benefits to it.
  • It makes you happy.
  • It boosts your confidence.
  • It provides perspective.
  • It brings you closer to Heavenly Father, which in turns opens you up to more direction in your own work. 

Remember, your time is never wasted in the service of another.
- PJ Switzer

Return & Report