BLOGGER: MICK SILVA
A freelance editor and mentor, Mick will speak at the opening Friday afternoon session, serve as a fiction mentor for the Pre-Conference Next Level Clinic, and on the Critique Team during the main conference at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in March.
NAILING THE 3 C’s OF THE WRITING SAMPLE
This is the best advice I have on writing the sample, the first 30 pages included with the proposal. I promise.
And I give it to you now, free of charge. I can personally guarantee it’s better than anything else out there on this because it goes further and encompasses more. I’ve done my research,recommendations here. For memoir, get my ebook and as part of the professional community of book developers, I know my competition. And just for fun, if you don’t agree this is better than a similar piece on this topic, please send me a link and I’ll see to it that you’re destroyed, er, fairly compensated for your time and effort.
I considered calling this post “The C-3 for Writing Your Sample,” as in C-3, the dangerous plastic explosive. But I wondered if enough people know what C-3 is. And it turns out C3 in military terms can also refer to “command, control, and communications,” which is neither relevant nor particularly amusing. So if it helps here to think of a pliable gray substance used in blowing things up, have at it. I’m using 3 C’s that are just as powerful and equally deadly to editors and agents who come across them in proposal samples at writers conferences.
Ready? Content, Craft and Community.
Okay, why are these are the 3 big categories to focus on, the 3 essential things I look for to see if an author has nailed the writing sample?
Content refers to the concept you’re promoting. It reveals your specific belief about that idea, your unique take on it, and your expertise as a representative. There’s a lot to unpack in that definition, so I’ll elucidate (and don’t worry: understanding craft and community is a whole lot easier).
First, identify what you’re selling. My vision form can help a lot here (it’s free: micksilva.com/define-the-vision) by distilling your idea to the felt need it most directly answers. There’s always a “best way” to say things, and an explosive concept will reveal a unique specific answer to a big, well-defined problem. Mark that. Even with fiction, if you read the back cover or endorsements you’ll see this kind of thing: “Dazzling!” “Masterful!” “Full of the universal longing for freedom,” “Restored my hope in humanity…”
Those words describe the big need that that book solved.
Of course, a proposal builds this case, so the writing sample is less about the content than proving your craft. But it does need to show you’ve worked to define your target. So ask yourself, How will people describe this? And how does this sample speak to deep needs?
Remember, often, our first ideas, or second or third, are not good enough. You’ve got to dig deeper than surface-level and initial impressions. People will find what you say compelling when you go further, dive deeper, look harder. Show you’re committed to this message for the long haul.
And since it’s very difficult to know if your concept is compelling enough, we need to move on to refining (that you’re committed is plenty good for now).
If your idea is compelling, you’ll know it by how people respond to the sample. Craft refers to how well your sample is written—which of course means how well it’s been rewritten, edited and polished. First-time authors, get professional content editing, line-editing, copyediting and proofing—four separate editors with good experience and a track record (expensive, I know, but so is publishing a sub-par book). Pro editing is increasingly critical in ensuring work that’s clear, concise and above all, complete.
Even if the sample hooks an editor, he or she will likely need the full book to prove you can deliver.
If your first 30 pages demonstrate your book will stand out amongst the dozens of other books just like it, it will be because it reflects your 1) research and 2) reduction of what doesn’t connect to your central point or theme. Again, several books on editing can help (see above) you make it your best before professional editing.
There’s some overlap between content and craft since “content editing” is often needed to determine the right focus and that distractions are eliminated. But this is also why, unequivocally, the right editor can be your most important step in building your community.
Who do you have around you helping create, campaign and convince people to read your work? (Sorry, I must like C’s.)
Every writer needs endorsers and partners who will commit to be vocal about your book. Be sure to refer back to my other post on writing the proposal using your “heart goal.” Taken together, they cover all you need to prepare your work for the conference.
For many writers, building community is some of their hardest work. If that’s you, you’re not alone. You just have to be diligent and be yourself. If you’re a quiet type like me, do things that aren’t too taxing. Get help from your more extroverted friends and remember if your goal is to help more people with your work, you have to mention it and ask for help with that.
I’m not a good model here, but I’m getting better. Who you know is absolutely how popular authors succeed. I’m actually discovering building community isn’t that hard if you commit to helping people, and what I learn about myself in the process is a great hidden reward.
Success comes in knowing what you value by having worked through that yourself. And a community of like-minded, passionate professionals is an often-unspoken-but-vital key to writing that sample that’s keenly insightful and based in a broad experience (you’ll also hear people say reading is important, which is definitely true too).
This coming year at Mount Hermon I’ll be taking a small group of novelists through these steps in the Pre-Conference Next Level Clinics. I hope to read some exciting, edgy samples full of bold commitment and insight.
And if I get my ultimate wish, I’ll find that one explosive work I could see submitting to an agent or editor eager to be blown away.
Which of the 3 Cs do you think you most need to work on–Content, Craft, or Community?
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