Feb 22

The Basic Five: Five Things Every Writer Should Do Before Querying A Publisher

by Hannah Holt »



1. Read at least five recently published books by that publisher and at least fifty books in the genre (recent means—in the last five years).

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Reading gives you a sense of the market. Is your book a good fit for the publisher’s list? Is it too similar to something they’ve already published? While you should never write to the market, you should have a basic idea of where you book fits in the market. It’s okay to write something out-of-the-box, but be self-aware about it. At the end of the day, all books need to fit into some type of box…preferably one that can be mailed to customers, libraries, and retailers.

2. Read at least five books on the craft of writing or take five classes.

However you learn best (auditory, visual, kinetic?), invest in some of that for your craft. Get to know your genre from an academic standing. Examine word count, pacing, character arc, and plotting. Know when and when not to break the rules. For example, a story 7,000 words long will not sell as a picture book. I don’t care how brilliant it is. It’s no longer a picture book at this length. Now, a picture book 1,000 words long might sell, but it will probably be difficult. How do I know this? Experience. Take advantage of someone’s hard-earned experience the easy way—through a book or class.

3. Have at least five writing peers (aka: not family members) read your story and give you objective feedback.

Does your mom love your story? Great. Now get someone else to read it. Critique groups are a great way to get free feedback on your stories. You may or may not agree with their advice but at least hear your partners out. Fresh eyes catch things that might surprise you. Did you changed your main character’s name in every chapter but Chapter 3? Did you switch your verb tense halfway through Chapter 6? Did you use the word “pretty” fifteen times on the first page. Does your side character feel like a one-dimensional stereotype? These are just some of the things an objective reader can help identify.

4. Write at least five drafts of your story.

No one writes his or her best draft the first time through. No one. Dig deeper. Think beyond your first thoughts. Rephrase. Refresh. Re-see. That’s what revision means: re-vision. Even if you end up liking an earlier draft better (and I recommend saving each draft as a separate version for this reason), you’ll have confidence knowing you have explored every option. Revise. A lot.

5. Let you story rest in the drawer for at least five weeks before submitting it.

Hooray! It’s finished! Now put it away.

Let the enthusiasm cool. Let the revision epiphany stand the test of time. Here’s how my revision roller coaster usually goes:

Week 1: This is brilliant! Ha! I’m so clever.

Week 2: Oh no! It’s terrible—the worst thing I’ve ever written.

Week 3: Hmm. It’s not as bad as I thought.

Week 4: If I did X, Y, and Z, it might be salvageable.

Week 5: I’m ready to rewrite with a fresh perspective.

If after five weeks you look back on your story and still love it—congratulations! You are ready to go on submission.

May 18

Fractured Fairy Tales

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

Just for fun…


Once upon a time, over a bridge where the grass is greener, there lived three little pigs. One fine spring morning, the pigs left for a walk. A few minutes later, a girl named Red drove by and ran out of gas right in front of the pigs’ house. Red was from England and thinking ‘no one in North America pays attention to manners anyway’ walked right into the pigs’ house.

On the breakfast table, she found a steaming bowl of oatmeal. “This breakfast is too hot,” she said and walked onto the next plate, which contained stuffed french toast. “This breakfast is too French,” she said and plugged her nose. Finally she came to the last plate with toast and tea. “This breakfast is just right,” she exclaimed. “And only two Weight Watchers points!”

As she prepared to tuck-in, someone knocked on the door. Peering through the peephole, Red saw a big bad wolf. “Little pig, little pig… let me in!” the wolf hollered.

“My what a big temper you have,” called Red. “I’m not a pig, and if you think such language will induce me to open the door, you are sorely mistaken.”

“Huh?” called the wolf.

“Get lost!” yelled Red.

“I’ll give you three chances to open this door,” cried the wolf, “and then I’m gunna turn you into a goon.”

What is a goon? thought Red, but she didn’t have a chance to find out.

At that moment three billy goats came barreling over the bridge and ran smack into the wolf. As he fell, the three pigs strolled out from the forest. The wolf stood up and the pigs started squealing. Then little bunny foo-foo walked into the clearing and bopped everyone on the head. A nearby family of bears heard the pandemonium, pawed their way through the crowd, and started pounding on the front door.

Red did the only thing she could think of and called animal control.

A handsome woodsman arrived with an animal containment truck. He rounded up all the animals and sold the bears to a circus, the wolf to a zoo, the pigs to market, and the goats and bunny foo-foo to a petting zoo.

Red stared into the eyes of her rescuer and knew that this was the man for her. Red and Woody settled into the pigs’ fine brick house and lived happily ever after… until they got the bill for their property taxes. Turns out woodsmen don’t make much dough and Red couldn’t get a work visa. So they all moved into Grandma’s house.

Nov 29

Feedback and Conflict

by Hannah Holt »


I like arguing. Well, I like white-glove arguing. Hashing over manuscripts is something I enjoy.

However, I am also a coward. Other forms of conflict terrify me.

Like today…

My husband and I returned from a movie at the same time our babysitter Susan* pulled into our driveway. Susan had driven our boys (ages 2 and 4) to the park. The boys were rolling around and laughing UNBUCKLED in the backseat.

Inside I screamed.

But what do I say to her? Susan is not an inexperienced young babysitter. She is a family friend with children of her own. She knows better. Or should.

My conversation with Susan could have gone better. I wished I could have remembered my manuscript critique rules in this moment of tension. The manuscript critique rules are:

1) Start with positive feedback
2) Present the problem(s)
3) End on a positive note

My side of the conversation should have gone like this…

1) “Susan, I really appreciate you watching our kids this afternoon.”
2) “You should know, however, that we don’t allow exceptions to the car seat rule.”
3) “I know that you care about our boys. Our house rules are meant to keep them safe.”

It seems so easy in hindsight. When at the time, all I could think was, “Ah! Aah! AAAAaaah!”

Do you find it easy to give feedback to others? When is it easy? When is it difficult?

*Name has been changed.

Nov 19

NaNoWriMo Humor

by Hannah Holt »

Comments Off on NaNoWriMo Humor

Feeling stressed out about NaNoWriMo? My cousin Zina has written this excellent post to distract inspire your writing.

Nov 11

Cut, Cut, Cut (My Creative Process- Part 2)

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

There are two paths I take when revising a story. So choose your own adventure…

Path 1

1. Write a complete first draft in one sitting (700-1,000 words). Laugh. Cry. Declare, “This is the best story EVER!”

2. Save and walk away.

3. The next day (or week), open my document and think, Who wrote this trash?

4. Mercilessly hack away at the story, cutting passive verbs, adverbs, wordy passages, whole paragraphs… Anything, that doesn’t strengthen the story (lose 200-500 words in this process).

5. Save and walk away.

6. Revisit the story several more times, asking: Is the point of view right? Do characters jump off the page? Could the ending be better? Is the story consistent…

7. Email the revised story to critique group.

8. Meet with critique group.

9. Take critique group comments home, ponder, scratch head, eat chocolate, and rewrite.

10. Then if major changes have been made, take story back to critique group.

11. And the editing cycle continues until the story is submitted to an editor or dumped into the recycle bin.

Path 2

1. Write a sentence or two. See a vision of grandeur… Get goosebumps. Stop.

2. Outline, save, and walk away.

3. Roll the story around in head for several weeks (sometimes months).

4. The story arrives one sentence at a time as if dropped from a magical mist.

5. Weigh each word carefully. Slowly, finish the first draft.

6. Save and walk away.

7. Come back. Wow, the story still looks great! However, fix a few typos and tighten a sentence here and there.

8. Email revised story to critique group.

At this point Path 2 picks up at the same place as Path 1… However, while most of my Path 1 stories eventually fall by the wayside, I’ve never written a Path 2 story that I didn’t eventually submit… and receive a positive editor’s letter in response.

Of course, Path 2 stories only happen about once a year for me. Path 1 stories make up most of my daily writing. For this reason, I think of Path 1 stories as my “pump priming” work.

What is your writing process?

(To Read Part 1 in this series click here.)