Why Writers Should Use Libraries

By Katelyn Uplinger

Libraries are a great and often under-utilized tool for writers. While library books provide research help, libraries offer more services than checking out books. Online databases can be gold mines of information and you can get access to them with your library card. Some libraries even have writing groups or offer writing workshops. These library resources can help improve your writing and help you research your latest book. And with so many resources going electronic now, you can don’t have to make a physical visit to your library to take advantage of the resources offered.

jessica-ruscello-196422Buying your own books for research can get expensive. So instead of stretching your budget thin, visit your library. You can check the online catalogue from home to see what books your library offers and whether they are checked in or on hold. Many libraries offer ebooks now, giving you the option to check them out from home. Thanks to the InterLibrary Loan system, you aren’t limited to what your closest library has on their shelves. This loan system can be especially useful for those with small local libraries. Your librarian can help you get books from other libraries via the InterLibrary Loan system and let you know when they are expected to arrive. If you haven’t used the loan system before, your librarian can also explain all the details and what to expect.

Online databases can provide resources you can’t get from library books. Databases offer information from scholarly journals to primary resources like old diaries and interviews. Which databases are offered vary from library to library, but with a library card you can access them from home, no library visit needed. The databases provide you with more legitimate resources than what you might find from a Google search or resources that won’t show up on a search.

rawpixel-com-310778.jpgFinally, check to see if your library offers any writing groups or workshops. Joining a writing group will help you get fresh eyes on your writing and suggestions on how to improve. Writing can be a lonely hobby, and groups can give you other writer friends to reach out to and socialize with. Writing workshops can help you focus on your writing weaknesses or teach you how to look at your writing in new ways. Like writing groups, this can also be a great way to meet other writers.

Don’t have a library card? Get one! Whenever you want to research or read more books in your genre, you can turn to your library without breaking the bank. Need some writing friends or writing help? Use your library groups and workshops to make some new connections. If you aren’t sure what resources your library offers, check the website or talk to your librarian.

Katelyn Uplinger is a literary assistant at Holloway Literary. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynUplinger.

Crafting Strong Characters

By Kerstin Wolf

Pacing, plot, and voice all play a massive role in creating an unforgettable novel. Just as important as all of that though are the characters. If anything, I would argue that strong, relatable characters are the single most important part of a novel. Without interesting characters that readers can relate to, the book is forgettable. Think of your favorite book. While you may love the book for a number of reasons, I would bet that you really liked at least one of the characters. Heck, I plan on naming one of my future kids after a character in my favorite book of all time! Characters are important, and one of the things I’ve noticed a lot as of late while reading manuscripts is that the characters aren’t able to hold their own. The whole story suffers if the characters aren’t strong enough. For that reason, this blog post has come to be! In this article, I hope to address some of the key aspects to a great character.


Relatable characters are massively important in fiction. What I mean by relatable is that the readers can feel some kind of connection between themselves and the character. It’s vital that there is connection because without it, readers may not care about the character and what happens to them. Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 1.28.23 PMThe goal is to have readers feel as if they are living in this world that you have created and that what is happening to the protagonist or the other characters feels like it’s actually happening to them or their friends. This connection with the readers can be as small as a human connection. If readers can’t relate to the character’s occupation or situation, then they at least need to be able to relate to the character’s emotions or thoughts. A character doesn’t have to be exactly like the readers to be relatable. For example, let’s say that there is a character that is a wizard and a mad scientist. Just because most readers are not likely to be mad scientists or wizards doesn’t mean that they can’t relate to this character. Perhaps the character doesn’t have many friends. This character is then relatable to anyone who has ever felt lonely.

Another thing that I have learned over the years is that dialogue and character reactions play a massive role in relatability. Nothing causes me to lose interest in a character faster than one that talks and acts like a robot (unless the character is in fact supposed to be a robot). Stiff dialogue is a surefire way to distance readers from the characters. Similarly, if a character’s family was just murdered and yet the character doesn’t even blink an eye, readers won’t be able to connect. When crafting characters, keep an extra close eye on these things. If your beta readers are struggling to feel concerned when the protagonist is surrounded by flesh-eating zombies, it may be because the character just isn’t relatable enough.


Every character needs to have a motivation Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 12.34.49 PMof some sort. Every real person has a goal or dream that they wish to one day achieve. Similarly, if a person punches someone in the face, there probably was a reason for it. Just like real people, realistic characters need to have motivations that drive them as well. A real person wouldn’t rob a bank for no reason, so a character shouldn’t do that either. If you notice that your story is dragging even though there are back-to-back action scenes, it may be due to your characters not having a motivation to drive them forward and in turn move to plot forward.


Characters needs to be likable. Now, I don’t mean that every character needs to be a kind person who is always looking out for the underdogs and volunteers every chance they get. I don’t mean that at all. A character can be a raging alcoholic whose life is in shambles and still be likable. That actually describes Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities to a T! Sydney’s life is in utter disarray and he’s honestly a jerk most of the time, but he is the most likable and human character in the entire book. Why? Because he is flawed and broken, but he still cares about some things (although there are very few); and in the end, you have to respect the decision he makes. There just has to be something there, whether it be respect or understanding or something different all together, that keep readers wanting to read more about the character.

Even villains can be likable. We all have our favorite villain from a book or movie. Why do you like that specific villain so much? It’s probably not because they have a glittering conscience and a heart of gold. It may be because they are devious and manipulative or brutal and insane or cruel and calculating. None of these are admirable traits, but they all make up the perfect villains that we love to hate.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 1.54.35 PM.png

So remember these three points the next time you’re crafting characters. Characters have the power to affect what emotions the readers feel, how quickly the book seems to go by, how readers perceive the world you created, and if the book will be one that the reader remembers. If you never forget reliability, motivation, and likability, then your characters will be jumping off the page in no time!




8 Ideas for Where to Write

By Anna Parsons

One of the great things about writing is that you can do it on your own time and from almost anywhere. This gives authors the freedom to work from home or while traveling and to fit writing into a busy schedule. But sometimes this freedom has its drawbacks. Without a clear schedule or deadlines, staying focused and making progress can be a challenge. Bills, laundry, kids, and Netflix can be constant distractions if you work from home, making it difficult to accomplish anything. One solution is to find a dedicated workspace.

Elegant-home-office-style-3A simple option is to create a workspace within your home. While some may write well from bed in their pajamas, this doesn’t work for everyone. Try separating where you work from where you relax and go to a desk, table, or porch. Some studies show that ambient noise can help increase productivity, so set the mood with apps like Coffitivity, Thunderspace, or Ambiance. You can also limit distractions on your computer with site-blocking software like LeechBlock, FocusMe, Freedom, or Anti-Social.

If being productive at home is a constant battle, moving locations can help you escape your distractions. Here are some suggestions for where to go.

  1. Coffee Shop: A classic go-to for workers with good reason, coffee shops provide calm environments with tables, chairs, and usually Wi-Fi. Best of all, caffeine and food to keep you going are only steps away.
  2. Hotel Lobby or Mall Food Court: These may not be the most conventional places, but they often have internet and plenty of room to work. You may be expected to buy a meal or a drink from the hotel bar, but these can be a great alternative to a coffee shop.
  3. Library: Public libraries are free for locals and offer quiet seating areas. Where better to write than surrounded by books?
  4. Park or Botanical Garden: Outdoor spaces may not have internet, but unplugging bench-in-a-park_1160-671could help to remove distractions. Parks and gardens can be great places to enjoy nature and focus on your work.
  5. Museum: Museums often have internet and beautiful cafes. Plus, being surrounded by great works may help inspire you to create your own.
  6. Coworking Space: If writing is your full-time job, then why not go to an office? Companies like WeWork, Breather, and Impact Hub provide office spaces you can rent, with options varying from a few hours of access to long-term desk rentals. While these can be pricey, it may be worth it to work in a professional environment and meet people with similar careers.
  7. Someone Else’s Home: Going to a friend’s home can help remove you from your routine and let you focus on your work. Or better yet, try house- or pet-sitting and make some extra money at the same time.
  8. Gym: Some gyms offer study spaces or have quiet seating areas, so why not make the most of your membership and write here? Taking a break to exercise may also help you to push through writer’s block.

Whether it’s the Starbucks down the street or a hidden reading nook, pick a spot and make it yours. You may be amazed how much you accomplish in a few hours away from the usual distractions.

Anna is an intern with Holloway Literary.


Crafting Villains

If you’re crafting a story, you’re creating conflict for your characters. Without this conflict stories turn into journal entries, the boring stuff most people don’t even bother posting on social media. Conflict creates worry, which keeps the reader turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. It makes them ask, will the hero live, find love, figure out the mystery, beat the clock, graduate, save the world?

Where does this conflict come from? Lots of places, but in many stories the biggest source will be your antagonist. Let’s look at Harry Potter. JK Rowling created a huge adversary for Harry to face, one so scary no one would even say his name. She also crafted him in a way that made the story stronger. As people who study craft we always ask, how? What makes a villain real and terrifying? How can you avoid the pitfall of the melodramatic villain? Apart from cutting all instances of “Muahahaha!” of course.

Step 1: Objective

When you’re crafting a villain for your hero to face, start by figuring out what his objective is and how it contradicts the hero’s. A villain’s objective can be…

  • The same as the hero’s –athletes racing for the same prize, a race to the top of Mount ReplicatorEverest, or students vying for the same scholarship
  • In opposition to the hero’s – offence and defense in sports, Frodo & Sam versus Sauron in Lord of the Rings
  • Impersonal – the Replicators from Stargate SG-1: These are robot spiders whose sole purpose is to consume raw materials and replicate. They destroy all life in their path as a byproduct of their function

The trick with objective is to connect the hero and the villain in such a way that neither of them can walk away. In Stargate, the replicators are on a path toward Earth and SG-1 is the front line of defense. Harry and Voldemort are connected by a prophesy and the past. A class project, a locked door, or personal stakes are all great ways to keep your hero and villain at odds.

Step 2: Motivation

The best villains think they’re heroes. They create a sense of sympathy in the reader. Sure, we know they’re evil and that their logic is totally twisted but… they’re trying to do good, right? We want them to get caught, to lose to the hero, but we also can relate to them on a basic level.


Ask yourself why the villain feels it’s imperative he or she win. Is he protecting a loved one? Righting a wrong? On a path of revenge? Does the villain have a twisted sense of honor or selflessness he’s bringing to the table?

What I consider one of the most gut wrenching episodes of Criminal Minds comes to mind here. A killer is kidnapping innocent men at a rest stop and torturing them to death using sleep deprivation. Why? Because he believes he’s on a valiant quest to save his daughter and they have the information he needs to save her. He also blames himself for her disappearance because he stopped at a rest stop where she was taken to sleep. His sense of honor and selflessness is heart wrenching. Especially when we learn what these past events were that caused him to suffer a psychotic break and what was honorable to him was what made him a serial killer terrifying enough to call in the FBI.


Step 3: Background

With Disney’s recent venture into the origin stories of their villains, it probably isn’t surprising to see backstory on this list. Even though you won’t use all this information in your story, knowing your villain just as well as your hero will naturally create a more realistic villain as you write.

Not sure where to start? Ask yourself who the negative influences were in the character’s 1441483353_91975b5b83820088476e90a1a86af5fd.jpglife. Why does she make evil choices in her pursuit of her objective? What’s going on in her mind to send her down the path to villain-hood. What about the villain mirrors the hero?

My favorite example here is Regina from Once Upon a Time. She used to be a good person who wanted to be with her true love, and she grew up constantly fighting against her mother’s attempts to darken her worldview. It was when her mother murdered her love, Daniel, that Regina started her descent into becoming the truly terrifying Evil Queen.

Step 4: Skill

I cannot stress this enough. Your villain MUST BE COMPETENT! When my younger brother was a kid, he was obsessed with Phineas and Ferb. I couldn’t stand the villain from the show. He always screwed up his own plans and Phineas and Ferb won despite hardly trying.

wc_neal_2To avoid the bumbling idiot villain, ask yourself what he is good at? How does this help him? Heist novels include skilled thieves and detectives. Voldemort and the Evil Queen were skilled with magic. Or you can look at con artists such as Neil Caffrey in White Collar. Ask yourself if other characters are drawn to your character and if he has that charming personality that makes him even more dangerous.

Whether you’re working with a smooth talking con artist, a mad scientist, or a blood thirsty wizard, crafting your villains with these things in mind will help you create the three dimensional story you’ve always dreamed of telling.  While it’s always important to make your reader root for the hero of your story, crafting a realistic and sympathetic villain will bring your story that sense of realism and suspense we all crave.




A Call for Writers to Read Essays

By Michael Caligaris

As an undergraduate, I took a class entitled “The Essay.” It was a 300 level course with extensive writing and reading requirements, something that was quite familiar to an English major. My interest had been piqued through this idea that I would be exploring the best of the canonized essays and, in turn, become a great essayist myself. Boy, was I wrong.

I’d like to clarify that this was not because I didn’t do the work or lacked creative talent; I actually had a lot to say for a twenty-one year old student—How could cafeteria prices be so high? Actually, what I’d never realized before throwing myself into the world of essayists is this: their success does not solely come from profound passion, intelligence, and talent (although this certainly helps); no, to be a great essayist is to be a meticulous craftsmen of language, which can only come through extreme ritual, practice, and patience.

What I saw in common in essays such as “Under the Influence” by Scott Russell Sanders or “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion or “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King is the craft of the paragraphs, each perfect syntactically and compounding one another; each wrought with ethos and pathos; each handling time and memory better than anything I’ve ever read. What I came to see is that essayists are devout puzzlers and this is why they have the ability to create such vivid images of the past and future.

essay-writing-stylesI say all this because I want writers of all kinds—fiction, memoir, poetry—to read essays. I could go on and on about the lessons I learned and show examples of great writing found in essays. But this is not an informative blog piece as much as it is a call for action.

As an agent, I come across a lot of novel and memoir queries that have intricate and intriguing ideas but do not possess the control or measure to execute said ideas to their fullest potential. I truly believe a great sci-fi story could benefit from adopting the literary tools utilized in essay writing, such as anaphora or extended metaphor or delivering a precept to the reader. Essayists are the strongest voices found on the page. They ooze confidence and, in many cases, self-righteousness that, once researched, can be mimicked for first person narration or character development in a novel.

Yes, essays don’t sell. I’m not asking that you write the next great essay. My request is simple: READ and discover how they can shape your worldview, writing approach, and creativity.

Outside of the 3 listed above, here are three more famous canonized essays to start:

  1. “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion
  2. “ The Fourth State of Matter” by Jo Ann Beard
  3. “Corn-pone Opinions” by Mark Twain


Michael is an agent with Holloway Literary.  Learn more about him here and then follow him on Twitter @mikecali31.




Why Word Count Matters

Let’s play Two Truths and a Lie. Which one of these following statements is the lie:

  1. A book should only be as long or short as it needs to be.
  2. One should keep writing, until it’s done.
  3. Length doesn’t matter as long as the story is good.

What’s the answer? All of them; and at the same time, none of them. One should  keep writing until your book is done, and then go back and edit, edit, edit, edit. A book should only be as long or short as it needs to be, however if it’s too long or too short, it’s a red flag that there are problems. And no, length doesn’t matter as long as the story is exceptional, not just good, and exception is determined by market and how well established the author is in the publishing community. For the rest, there are industry standards pertaining to book length. And the one truth you can count on is that word count matters.

I know; it’s infuriating. You’re an artist. You create. You want agents to at least read your book, see its brilliance, and then it’ll be obvious how word count doesn’t apply to you. As creative beings, we relish our freedom and are repulsed by anything which seeks to limit us.


As an industry professional, I’m here to tell you that we too, love your creativity. We love your art. We love your work so much, we want you to be able to live off it. To buy groceries with it. To pay your bills with the money you’ve earned from selling it. We want you to have your best chance out there on the market because we believe in you and we believe in your work.

Why do agents and editors care about word count so much? What is the big deal about whether or not your book is too long or too short?

From a crafting perspective, too short of word count is indicative that a book may lack proper development. While this may seem like a pre-judgment, and the initial knee-jerk reaction may be to want someone to read your work and decide based on its merit, industry professionals who have waded through those slush piles, reading submission after submission of great pitches with low word counts just to find that low word count almost always results in great ideas that weren’t properly executed. Common problems are lack of well-developed secondary characters, lack of sub-plots that help maintain character motivation throughout the book, lack of appropriately developed conflict arcs, and rushing story development to hit major plot points but not to develop all the transitional moments in between.

Also, too long of books can be indicative that an author doesn’t know how to self-edit. Common problems are the presence of too many sub-plots that lose the focus of the story, narrative thought vomit, overly detailed descriptions for non-pertinent plot devices or characters, and (in the case of literary works) an author who is a little too in love with their own prose. It’s really important to make sure you are thinking about your manuscript critically and to not be afraid of making changes, because changes are going to happen. Several rounds of them, in fact.

Aside from craft, there’s also the business side to consider. In traditional publishing, 71088429_scaled_251x167the publishing house is investing in your work. That means they are taking ALL the risk in the event your book doesn’t sell well. They pay for the editors, the cover artists, the production costs, the marketing, not to mention your advance; an advance that you get to keep, even if your book doesn’t sell a single copy. That’s a lot at stake for a publishing house.

That’s why there’s so much research done on book sales and on what readers roughly expect when buying a book and on what market predictions look like for future trends based on what readers ask for in stores and libraries as well as a million other things publishing houses will research to help them get the best return on their investment.

So, what are the rules? How long should a book be? What’s a good sweet spot? Well, generally speaking for adult fiction:

Below 70,000                      too low, (except certain types of genre fiction)

70,000 – 80,000                  decent

80,000 -100,000                  good

100,000 -120,000                a bit long, but still okay depending on genre

120,000 +                             too long

YA has, over the years, actually gotten longer to where it now competes pretty well with the adult market. While YA books are still written for teen readers (as they should be), they can still safely fall anywhere from 55,000 – 100,000 words, depending on sub-genre.

MG and children’s picture books are going to vary depending on target reader age range.

These are very general guidelines and word counts will still vary depending on the genre of fiction you write. For instance, thrillers, mysteries, and suspense will probably fall a little shorter due to their fast-paced, page-turning nature, while science fiction, fantasies, historical, and literary works will run higher due to world building, language, and prose.

“But what about….

  • JK Rowling
  • George RR Martin
  • All these classics that are like a million words long that were published before the 1950s?”

keep-calm-and-write-onAh, yes. The exceptions. Remember what I said earlier about how publishing houses are the ones taking all the risk? Classic literature will always have a market of buyers. There is no risk in reprints of classical literature. They’ve already proven their market base as consistent.

And while JK Rowling most certainly had some pretty thick books come out, her first book clocked in to around 76,000 words and the length of her books grew as their popularity grew. George RR Martin’s books may have started out at epic lengths, but also keep in mind that George RR Martin also had several books published with Simon and Schuster and S&S imprints before selling Game of Thrones to Bantam. And guess what? His first published novel, Dying of the Light—much smaller book.

Chances are you’ve spent a lot of time on your manuscript and want it to be successful. You want to see it on shelves at bookstores and libraries, available on amazon, reaching new heights with five star reviews, and affecting readers everywhere. The best way to achieve that dream is by knowing the industry well enough to get your foot through that industry door. Don’t give the agent or editor reading your query an easy reason to pass due to astronomical or too miniscule word length. After all, you have to know the rules in order to break the rules.

Eight Rookie Mistakes to Watch for in Your Writing

A few months ago I was digging through the boxes of my old stuff at my parents’ house looking for goodness knows what and happened upon the flash drive containing all of my high school writing endeavors. I was so excited to plug in the flash drive and start reading. But man, am I happy high school me refused to let anyone read her stories!

It seems I was a huge fan of what I can only assume was supposed to be “witty” dialogue, using Word’s built in thesaurus, and starting every story with the main character waking up. Every. Single. One.

As an editor, I wanted to delete every single story immediately. Or maybe set the flash drive on fire, run it over with a car, and figure out a way to weigh it down and drop it in the middle of the Atlantic. But as I read through and saw all of these mistakes, I was actually happy to be seeing them. It means I’ve grown, right?

So, if you’re just starting out or if you’re looking for ways to polish your writing before sending it off to beta readers, agents, or editors here are eight ways to avoid making rookie mistakes in your writing.

  1. Simplify

When you’re writing, chose the word people know. Simplifying your vocabulary is a fantastic way to keep readers engaged in the story. Using words that have readers reaching for the dictionary will pull the reader from the world you’re trying to create.

Using the biggest word possible at all opportunities will also give your writing a pretentious vibe. If you’re dying to bust out the seven syllable words, maybe pick one or two and make them a character trait. Maybe you have a know-it-all character who says facetious instead of sarcastic? Even in this case, however, use sparingly.

  1. Said is so not dead

This goes hand in hand with simplifying your writing. Dialogue tags are really supposed to blend in with your writing. When you have characters whispering, shouting, breathing, or exclaiming everywhere it will draw focus away from what is actually happening. While you don’t have to use “said” for every dialogue tag, it’s the one tag that readers will naturally skim over and so it won’t pull attention from the Untitledstory itself.

  1. Structure

Varying your sentence structure is your best bet for maintaining your writing’s flow. I feel like this aspect of writing is really something that comes with time and experience. The more books you read, the more you internalize what writing is supposed to sound like and the more your writing starts to imitate that sound. If you have a section where you’re just not sure on what’s not right, take a look at the sentence structure and see if you’re stuck in simple sentence land.

  1. Avoid the cliché

Black as night, pretty as a rose, soft as silk, etc. Avoid these. If you find yourself using these kinds of phrases try to rethink how you can word those sections. If your style is more poetic, think of new ways you can describe everyday things.

On a larger level, avoid plot clichés. Don’t make my mistake and open with your character waking up to her alarm on a typical Tuesday. You want to hook your reader from the first word so drop them in the story right where the action starts.

  1. Formatting

Another rookie mistake I made in my high school writing was in formatting. Oh my gosh did I love the italics button. I used it to set off character thoughts, to show dream sequences, and emphasize words in dialogue-all in the same story! Sometimes italics are a great formatting tool, but always aim to be able to write well enough that they aren’t actually necessary. Use the text around that emphasized word to get the reader to read the dialogue the way you intend and write the character’s thoughts in a way so they flow with the rest of the story. If you’re going to utilize italics, make sure it’s only for one specific purpose. You can set off a dream sequence, but you shouldn’t use italics for anything outside of dreams after that point.

  1. Pick a point of view

As an editor, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. While I’m just as much a sucker for the dual point of view love story as the next person, I can’t handle it when there are two points of view in the same scene or chapter. There needs to be a break between narrators so that readers can adjust. Otherwise it ends up being about as confusing as I’d imagine it would be to be able to read minds in a crowded room.

  1. Modifiershhhhhhhhhhhhh

“Adjectives absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.” – Mark Forsyth The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase

Have you ever learned this rule for modifiers? Please, please avoid needing to reference the entire thing for your story. Modifiers are a wonderful part of our language, but if you can use a strong verb then ditch the adjectives and adverbs. Find all of the –ly words in your story and make sure they aren’t taking over your writing. While you’re at it, make Robin Williams happy and get rid of “very” in its entirety.

  1. Repetitive

Another edit note that I harp on pretty consistently is repetitiveness. This can be as specific as sentences or as broad as major concepts. On a sentence level this can be a really difficult habit to break, but once you see it you’ll notice it easily. An example would be, “He was so angry. He slammed the door” really only needs to be “He slammed the door” By cutting the unnecessary words you can really clean up your writing.

On a larger level, you want to make sure you aren’t repeating facts from the story or ideas. Sometimes it’s tempting to relate everything back to a character’s traumatic past, but that gets to be repetitive. So, for example, if Joan has a horrible relationship with her mother and the reader knows this, you don’t have to explain the relationship again when Joan won’t go to the grocery store her mother frequents or when Joan immediately dislikes the motherly figure in her office.


So if you’re reading through your writing and finding some or all of these mistakes, no worries! No one’s perfect. If you can see the places where you slip up, you can edit them. Once you work through editing them, you’ll find that you naturally avoid them in your next work. It’s all about learning and growing and putting your story down on paper in the best way you can, and then looking back at the early stuff and laughing (sometimes out loud) at some of the silly mistakes you made then but never make now. Happy writing!