Bad Writing Tips Immortalization Project – #BadWritingTips

This is a random pic of a Barn Owl. It has nothing to do with the actual post. I have been sitting on it for a while, and decided today is the day to use it.

I suppose tweets are meant to be temporal. Apparently, I am adverse to letting that happen. I’m not the only one. After a world-trending day of #badwritingtips, many writers & authors have salvaged their witty remarks from the wastelands. I am one of these determined bloggers working on the [unofficial] #BadWritingTips Immortalization Project.

Here are the others on the growing list:

@IbecameMyDad –
@nimbuschick –
@BenMyers1 –
@saphirablue84 –
@BookRiot –

If you know of more, please post a link and Twitter handle in the Comments. I will be sure to add them to the list.

My #badwritingtips are immortalized below. If you are a writer, you may enjoy these. If you are a bad writer, you will most likely hate them. Fix it.

Let’s kick things off with an homage Tweet to the originators of the idea. Then, we’ll roll gently into the @gypsyroots version of sarcasm.

1)      All hail the almighty @MeganWhitmer & @andimjulie. Goddesses of the #badwritingtips hashtag phenomenon.

2)      Every chance you get, use a big-ass word: e.g. Bunyanesque, fecundity, preposterousness #badwritingtips

3)      Short sentences. Pop. Staccato lines good. Fragments rock. All the time. All the way through. Keep em short. It is good. #badwritingtips

4)      Your first 3 chapters should be 100% backstory. No action. No dialogue. Readers love that. #badwritingtips

5)      Kill your MC halfway through the novel. Once you establish a new one. Kill her, too. #badwritingtips

6)      Run-on sentences and wordy paragraphs show readers you can hold long thoughts in your head so they should learn how to do it #badwritingtips

7)      Similes and metaphors should be so convoluted that your reader has no idea what you were actually trying to convey. #badwritingtips

8)      Put your climax in the 2nd chapter, then let the final 48 chapters slowly f a d e a w a y . . . #badwritingtips

9)      Each and every amazingly lovely noun & deliciously simple verb should have a minimum of 2 modifiers. To make them sparkle. #badwritingtips

10)   Every word has at least one synonym. USE ALL THE SYNONYMS. #badwritingtips

11)   Writers know best. Especially new ones. Editors and agents are stupid. #badwritingtips

12)   There are no original ideas. Regurgitate what has already been written. #badwritingtips

13)   Your surreal poetry is highly marketable. #badwritingtips

14)   Long-winded titles are best. It works in the music industry. #badwritingtips

15)   Subplots are like seeds. Plant 10x more than you actually need. If they spring up, good. If not, don’t dig them back up. #badwritingtips

16)   All your characters should possess the same personality. This makes it easier for readers to keep up. #badwritingtips

17)   Three-dimensional characters are for movies. In novels, they should be as flat as the page they’re written on. #badwritingtips

18)   Uber-Niche markets are the key for non-fiction. “Holistic Skin Care for Manx Cats” will definitely hit the bestseller list. #badwritingtips

19)   Chapters of 10k words or greater are highly desirable. #badwritingtips

20)   Agents prefer phone calls over email submissions. Never relent. Keep trying until you get through. #badwritingtips

21)   All agencies really prefer snail-mail queries. Their guidelines lie. Perfume, stickers & glitter are all highly recommended. #badwritingtips

22)   Chapter breaks should end with a whimper, not a bang. #badwritingtips

23)   Absolutely! Include your 1960’s band and movie references. Your YA readers won’t get it, but who cares? #badwritingtips

24)   Continuity of storyline is overrated. Mix it up. Non-linear is good. Confusion is great. Keep it up. #badwritingtips

25)   Semi-colons and exclamation marks change things up; use them often! #badwritingtips

26)   Commas are like confetti. Toss them into the air and let them fall where they will. #badwritingtips

27)   When you get stuck, abruptly end the scene. Then, fast-forward to your character waking up the next morning. #badwritingtips

28)   Invented words will help get your complex points across. Include them on every page. #badwritingtips

I have no doubt that this hashtag will continue to reappear. Kudos to the creators for sparking a new meme—even if it is short-lived and only breathes within our writers-on-Twitter subculture. Hopefully, the positive peer-pressure of the #BadWritingTips Immortalization Project can make a difference.

An Agent’s Clarification on High Concept

Thanks to the Twitterverse, I now have a better understanding of the publishing term “High Concept”. Agent Michelle Witte of Mansion Street Literary Mgmt was kind enough to stop by the blog, and then engage in a little conversation via Twitter. As with all Twitter communication, we had to condense our discussion into spurts of 140 characters or less.

Consider this post as an addendum to Pub Talk: High Concept, Very Nice Deal and Pre-empt .

Did you note that little red box? Of course there had to be a typo since I was chatting with an agent. Alas, Twitter doesn’t allow second drafts.

Much thanks to Michelle for taking the time to unpack the “High Concept” term for me (and my readers). I have found her to be very open and willing to connect in intelligent conversation about writerly things. 

Speaking of which, Michelle Witte is not only an agent; she is also an author. I totally ganked this from the agency’s website.

In her spare time she writes on a variety of topics and genres, though her great love is young adult fiction. Her first book, The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing, will hit stores on June 26, 2012.

Swan in a Ditch! That’s only three days away!

Buy the book
Visit the websites
Buy the fonging book
Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellewitte [that’s 2 “l”s, 2 “t”s, but only 1 “h”]
Did you buy Craptastic yet?

I could be wrong, but that sounds like a High Concept title to me.

There are a few lit agents I DM with on Twitter from time to time. Being an aspiring author, it is great to have contacts I can hit up with my questions and curiosities. Unless they bring it up, the conversations are never about my own writing. We discuss the industry in general. Well, that, and random crap that has nothing to do with anything other than two people chatting. I like that. 

Pub Talk: High-Concept, Very Nice Deal and Pre-empt

Come on in. Sit down and order a drink. There you go. Slam back that margarita, baby! It’s time for us to talk about some stuff we’ve been avoiding.

A list of seemingly important–yet undefined–terms has been slowly scribbling itself in my head. Maybe I’m just daft, and everyone but me knows what they mean. I keep seeing these words tossed around in various places, but they’re like gibberish. Correction: they were like gibberish. Now, they’re more like freshly learned cusswords in a foreign language.

Finally, the clinking of these mysterious phrases and words rose to a crescendo. Their insistent clanging and clashing moved me to do a little e-search to connect an understanding to their syllables. So, if you have ever wondered what the hell they mean, order another round, (you lush) and sip while you read.

“High Concept”

I have come across interviews and agents’ want-lists where this term is used as though everyone should know what it means. It had me scratching my head. Like, does it mean the underlying premise of a story is fathoms deep & riddled with emotional and/or psychological complexity? Apparently, no. The term comes from the much shallower seas of movies and screenplays.

The most prevalent definition is this: The book can be sold by the title or tagline alone.

These elements speak for themselves and make folks want to buy into the idea.

In rebuttal to this definition, one blogger argued that, actually, this aspect makes the book sound more “low concept” since the meat of it can be summed up in so few words. In fact, he complained, aren’t all books “high concept” since they can all be condensed into a tagline? He sounded bitter. 

“Very Nice Deal”

I kept seeing odd terms like this on the sale announcements over at Publishers Marketplace. “So-and-so sold Awesome Book to Amazing Publisher in a very nice deal.” Some deals are just “nice”. Some are “good”. What’s the damn difference? There HAS to be one, right? Yep. There is. Here’s ‘The Key’. [Honest, I didn’t make this crap up.]

“nice deal” $1 – $49,000

“very nice deal” $50,000 – $99,000

“good deal” $100,000 – $250,000

“significant deal” $251,000 – $499,000

“major deal” $500,000 and up

Now, you too can be in-the-know and translate the  m.y.s.t.e.r.i.o.u.s.  phrasing. You’d think an institution in the writing industry could have come up with more descriptive terminology. Who am I to judge? As long as I end up in one of the listings, they can call it whatever the hell they want. Although, I do have my [dreaming] eye on a “good deal” or better.


More PM confusion. “Sold such-and-such to whats-his-name in a pre-empt.” As in…? What is this trying to tell me? The book was bought before war broke out? The editor struck first before the agent could attack her? Kinda.

Apparently, manuscripts can go to auction. (I’ve e-searched this concept a bit, but don’t have all my questions answered yet.) Editors/Publishers throw out a number of what they are willing to pay. They also include other incentives such as foreign rights clauses [or something?] and bonuses based on the book selling X number of copies in the first year, or for it hitting the bestsellers’ list, etc.

The Agent serves as the auctioneer, accepting offers, and passing them on to the author. Together, they decide which publisher and offer is the best fit. That decision is not solely based on who throws out the highest dollar amount, but also takes into account the marketing plan, rights retention, bonuses and other intricacies.

A pre-empt is a pre-auction offer from a publisher. Its purpose is to keep the book from going to auction where that publisher might lose out in a bidding war. Not all pre-empts are accepted. It depends on whether or not the agent/author team feel they can snag something better.

Wow! You drank 6 margaritas already? But we only discussed three little terms. No, no. Put your money away. I invited you here. I’ll pick up the tab.

I am quite open to further explanation and correction if my understanding of any of this is wonky. Authors, agents, editors: feel free to fix my errors.

If I’m wrong, I’ll blame it on the booze. If, however, I am right–and especially if I land a major deal–I will be dead chuffed! <—That’s another term I e-searched this week. I’m not giving that one to you in a salt-rimmed glass, though. You’ll have to look it up yourself.

A Little Escape

Yeah, I usually avoid these pics like the plague

It feels weird not having a work-in-progress. With the writing, editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing of Freeborn complete, I have been keeping myself otherwise busy. It is easy to get sucked into the vortex of the writing world. I have let my body go limp, and am swirling around in its lovely, spinning whirlpool.

A major undertaking has been organizing & planning all the things for an online group of writers. An amazing pop-up community has sprouted from the initial connection four of us made during a Twitter Pitch contest. We now have a Facebook group dedicated to critiquing pitches & the first 10 manuscript pages, finding beta readers & critique partners, and basking in the random creative frivolity writers tend to get into. 

We go by the name of TwitWits. Our musings & ramblings can be found on Twitter under the #TwitWits hashtag. Although we have no official mantra or mission statement, here are a few tweets regarding what we are about:

#Twitwits is a magical land of grassrooty goodness. Aspiring authors helping aspiring authors.

The pimp cane says: #TwitWits is a loverly support group for up-and-coming authors who are oddly beautiful. If you love quirk… 

We have some amazingly ridiculous things in the works. Stay tuned to see where this grassroots effort leads.

I am currently coming off a binge. A targeted agent querying blitz over the last week has generated more stats I can post:

Queries sent: 28
Responses received: 4
Response outcome: 2 rejections & 2 partial requests
Awaiting response: 24

[These ^numbers do not include the contest entries which resulted in 2 full and 2 partial requests]

The third task keeping me entertained has been catching up on my Kindle & followed-blog reading. When I’m in the throes of writing, I tend to avoid reading others’ work. It’s not that I’m scared I’ll plagiarise or anything like that. I simply have too many ideas already floating, congealing, and forming nebulae in my head to add more words to the mix. It feels good to enjoy the words of others for a change, as opposed to salivating over the phenomenal concepts thickening inside my own head.

Yes, I have the seeds of two more manuscripts germinating. I scribble down ideas as they form, but I am allowing the process to flow organically. I won’t decide on which one to tackle next  until I see which concept fleshes itself out more fully. In the meantime, TwitWits, querying, and my beloved reading are keeping me quite occupied.

Update: Another Request!


Here are the *new* current stats for contest entries, requests, and queries. [Accurate as of 4:00pm]

Contests –  Entered: 6     Outstanding: 1      Wins: 3               Losses: 2 [I can tie it up!]
Requests – Submitted: 6   Outstanding: 6
Queries –    Submitted: 3   Outstanding: 2   Requests:      Rejections: 0

There Is No [Damn] Spoon

“Do not try to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

“What truth?”

“There is no spoon.”

“There is no spoon?”

“Then you’ll see it is not the spoon that bends; it is only yourself.”

Most of the time, it sure feels like there is a spoon to bend–a massive titanium spoon with a stubborn streak. And that sucker wants to remain as it is. Unbent. Then there are the times when said spoon seems to actually morph, bow, twist, and submit. But, according to Spoon Boy, it’s not the spoon which is bending; it is me.

Two more Pitch contests have come and gone. The stubborn spoons of 3-2-1 and Super Intern are still marvelously straight. I won’t toss them into the garbage disposal, though. Instead, I’ll tuck them away in my silverware drawer of attempts made.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here are the current stats for contest entries, requests, and queries:

Contests –  Entered: 6     Outstanding: 1     Wins: 3     Losses: 2 [I can tie it up!]
Requests – Submitted: 5   Outstanding: 5
Queries –    Submitted: 3   Outstanding: 3

So, my calculations bring the total number of Outstanding opportunities to 9. [Please, double-check my math for me.] I do indeed believe these are “Outstanding Opportunities” in the best sense of the phrase.

The truth of the matter is that–in order to be successful in my writing endeavors–it is I who must bend.

Freeborn’s pitch has been tweaked and honed at every stage of feedback. The manuscript has gone through multiple revisions, 2 critique partners, and 6+ beta readers. I am anticipating feedback from the requesting agents with the possibilities of either “I want you!” or “Please revise & resubmit using my amazingly specific comments as a guide.” I refuse to accept the idea of form rejections.

After all, there is no damn spoon.

I am always a little wary of using ‘profanity’ in a post. Anywhere online, really. There are folks from early epochs of my life who [I’m sure] are appalled by my use of ANY profanity. We change over time. This is fact. Funny how folks from your past–people you never interact with anymore, people who have no authority over you–can still cast their heavy shadow over your life. I’m trying to shake it off. But sometimes I still feel like a kid caught smoking behind the barn.

Feedback: Super Intern Contest

I like that little checkmark!

The committed Erica Chapman finally sliced and hacked her way through all 30 randomly selected pitches & first 250 words in the Super Intern Contest. Being a lover o’ math & calculatory functions of a complex nature, I had to run some simple stats on the contest. Erica was gracious enough to clarify a few responses I couldn’t quite nail down as a Yes or a No.

Disclaimer #1: This is totally my own doing because, well, I wanted to.
Disclaimer #2: I interpreted each of Erica’s comments. Where she was ‘on the fence’ I either asked for a clarifying verdict, or took the overall tone of the feedback to polarize her comments into a Yes or a No.

Here are how things turned out:

70% “No, I wouldn’t read more”
30% “Yes, I would read more.”

I’m not sure how those numbers compare to the usual slush pile ratio, but those are the stats for this contest.

At least two of my online writerly friends also made the randomized cut. Of the two, 1 received a Yes, and the other received a No. The full details, entries, and comments can be found here: For your onsite reading enjoyment, my entry and Comments are posted below.

Super Intern Contest – FREEBORN
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Word count: 79,000

Query letter:

Dear Mr./Mrs. Uber-Agent,

The Surgeon Generals are liars. The lives squirming inside the guts of Katia and the other clones aren’t parasites. They’re Freeborns.

The squirming in Katia’s gut means two things: she is infected with the dreaded parasite, and her boring life as a sixteen-year-old clone is over. Despite her precautions, the infection—which attacks regardless of gender or age—has implanted a living tumor inside her. Katia knows she should obey the Surgeon Generals and submit to their so-called treatment, but claustrophobia has a way of pushing her to do crazy things. Trapped, with nowhere to run, she accepts Adam’s offer of asylum in a safe house full of infected rebels.

As Katia’s stomach swells, she experiences feelings she has never known, discovers the truth about the life wriggling inside her, and joins the rebels in their insane plan to shift the power. The militant Doctors and assassin Candystripers are proficient at ending the little uprisings which threaten their illusion of peace. Only, they have never faced a threat like the plot Katia and Adam are involved in.

The rebels plan to infect every man, woman, and child on the planet with the Freeborn parasite the leaders are seeking to destroy. Not only do they have the guts to do it, but they also have the means. Katia’s fear of tight places is nothing compared to her fear of what will happen to every clone in the world, herself included, if she and the other rebels should fail—or even more so if they actually succeed.

Freeborn is the 79,000 word YA Sci-Fi offspring of The Hunger Games and Contagion.

I am a writer, poet, and visual artist. With published short stories, articles, poetry, and illustrations, Freeborn is my second full-length novel. As I seek an agent, the concept for the sequel is in the works.

Thank you for considering Freeborn.

250-word excerpt:

Katia shuffled down the busy sidewalk, hunching over her cane. Mindful of the surveillance cameras, she periodically stopped to adjust the scarf securing her gray wig. Though her old lady disguise was fake, her Infection was real.

Every face that passed wore a government-issued prevention mask. The virus did not discriminate, but attacked regardless of gender or age. None were immune. Even though Katia had taken every precaution, the sickness had wormed its way into her blood. The parasite now squirmed in her gut.

A pair of Doctors brandishing chrome assault rifles blocked her direct route to the building. One tiny prick from their portable infection detector would immediately unravel her disguise. They often slammed the infected to the ground—just for kicks—before hauling them off to a quarantine center. That was their role: abuse their authority, mess with the rabble, keep the streets clear of the infected, and toy with them along the way.

Katia held her breath and shuffled behind the Doctors. Their voices turned towards her as she passed, but they didn’t address her as she mounted the steps to the ten-story structure. Like most corporate buildings, this one had been converted to housing to accommodate the rising population caused by the Infection.

The woman in Suite 940 was her last hope. While most people referred to the woman as a witch, she called herself Ilythia. Katia’s friend—one she almost trusted—had passed on the information; Ilythia possessed the ability to help the infected through the horrific final stages.



erica m. chapman said…
I remember this. And I really liked it before. This is good. I really like this premise and the way you’ve set up everything in this. I’m confused as to why they would want to infect everyone with the parasite? Isn’t that a bad thing? You may want to make that more clear. Also, comparing your story to the Hunger Games is not something I would recommend. This is good. You have me intrigued.
This is intriguing. I like what you’re setting up. I get an idea of the surroundings and the world we’re in. Letting us in on the infection early on is a good idea. I would read more of this.

John Lucas Hargis said…
Thanks for hacking through all these pitches for us, Erica. You’re a gem.
1. Nix the Hunger Games reference. Done!
2. So, the ambiguity about ‘why’ the rebels would want to infect everyone: I thought that might be a perk-up moment in the Pitch to get the agent to want to find out. Guess not…lol FAIL!
So stoked that you’d read more. Gives me a happy face. See —> 🙂

erica m. chapman said…
My pleasure!! Ah, it’s always better to be more direct, I think. Just my opinion ;o) Glad i could help!


The next phase of the contest entails 3 of the pitches being escalated for a 10-page critique. While I would love to receive that bonus prize to give Freeborn a little boost, I am already appreciative for the feedback on my first 250. I have been having success with the Pitch, but it is nice to finally get a bit of feedback on [at least the opening of!] the writing itself. It gives me hope. Much hope.