Week 16: How did YOU do?

This is RB 284, our classroom. Some students are working on their novels while I meet with Beta Group 1.

This is RB 284, our classroom. Some students are working on their novels while I meet with Beta Group 1.

Hello everyone!

Here’s a report about the students inside the fishbowl. One student, Liz Winks, drafted 64,000+ words this semester!


We’d love to know who you are and how the writing went this term.

Even if you didn’t write 2000 words a week, that’s okay.

Tell us a little about yourself!

How’d you do?

What did you get out of following this blog?


Week 16 Report: Vanity Publishing and the Torn-Page Prestige

by Liz Winks

And just like that, my fellow classmates and all those participating in this novel writing adventure, the semester end is upon us. It’s finals week and luckily, at least for me, it will probably be the least busy week of the entire semester. And we all know what that means:  I’ll be able to sit down and have loads of time to continue working on my novel.

Just because the class is over doesn’t mean that our novels reach the end of their existence, too.

Oh no, just the opposite.

This week in class we discussed the Publishing Process:  one of the goals all writers strive to achieve. And a broad, whole new side of the publishing world was revealed to all of us. In order to achieve any sort of publishing, be it with a big company or self-published, you have to follow one simple rule:

Keep writing.


In class, we submitted our query letters and ten page partials to three faux agents we believed would hopefully want to request the full manuscript and then take us on as clients. After turning them in and commencing the waiting game, we discussed the world of publishing and the different facets to it (which, don’t worry, I’ll reveal to you all as well). During our last class of the week and semester, we did a “slush pile” activity before getting our results from the faux agents.


This week, we participated in two learning activities:  submitting and receiving feedback from faux agents and a “slush pile” activity.


The faux agents were graduate students in Cathy’s fiction workshop. They created a real-seeming profile (including a photo, bio, list of clients, list of desired genres, etc.) that they based on real literary agent profiles commonly seen on websites or in a guide to literary agents. Agent Profiles 612 F13.

Submitting to the faux agents was very honestly nerve wracking. I don’t know how many times I read over my partial to make sure it was as perfect as I could make it—and then I still felt that it was not ready, absolutely not ready for anyone to read.

I was scared.

And I don’t know how many times I fiddled around with each query letter to make sure I didn’t sound like an absolute newbie trying to enter into a field (fake though it may have been) that I didn’t have any knowledge about.

Without any other choice, I had to turn in my three envelopes and force myself to forget about it for the remaining two days. I couldn’t let the suspense kill me.

When it was time to get our responses back, the room was filled with tension and I looked over to a fellow student and debated whether we wanted to open the envelopes or not.

I finally did and was pleasantly surprised:  two rejections and one “I’m intrigued, send me 50 more pages and a clearer plot summary.”

Huh, alright. That’s better than I could have hoped for.

I was prepared for three rejections because, out in the wide and fiercely competitive world of submitting to agents and publishers, getting rejected is just a reality. In the big scheme of things, actually getting an acceptance letter is possible, but only after many long years of work and persistence.

It was really encouraging, though, knowing that someone had indeed liked my baby enough to want to know more. It was the extra little nudge I needed after a long week of school to remind myself that I needed to get back into writing.


The other activity we did was reading ten different first pages from published books. Cathy found them all on Amazon. Some of them were traditionally published, others not. We pretended we were an agent’s assistant charged with reading through the slush pile to find the best work to pass on to the agent. We gave each submission an “A,” “B,” or “C” in which “A” means that the agent we were pretending to work for absolutely had to read this selection and “C” being the exact opposite.

After coming to an agreement on which letter grade each selection should get with our table mates, we went around the room and put our decisions on the board so we could see which selections ranked what.

Surprisingly, a lot of the selections received “C’s” or both “A’s” and “C’s.”

How is that possible for something to be ranked both amazing and horrible at the same time?

The same way some agents will absolutely love your work and some will hate it:  it’s all subjective.

This was a true eye opener because it shows that if one agent rejects your work it doesn’t mean that every agent will. What one agent hates you for, another might love you for it. It’s a crazy, often contradictory business.

The most important thing to do is to just write a good book.


  • Publishing is not hard. Anyone can basically self-publish this day or submit a book to a press that doesn’t do much vetting and will publish your book. This is called, suitably, “vanity publishing.”
  • You have to figure out what’s most important to you:  being published just to hold your own book or get published to make an income and gain a reputation as an author.
  • DO YOUR RESEARCH.  There are publishing companies out there that know just how desperate everyone is to hold a book they’ve written and they WILL take advantage of you. Have enough respect for yourself, and more importantly, your book, and don’t give into that temptation. Publish properly.
  • Don’t get something published that isn’t ready. You’ll regret it down the road.
  • If you don’t get published with one of the main publishers in New York, don’t give up! That’s not the end of the road by any means! There are a lot of university presses or small “indie” presses that you can submit work to. But again, do your research before doing so.
  • Start looking at spines of books to see where they were published. You can learn a lot from this.
  • Look at books in general. It is easy to see which ones got published with more “prestige” based on how they look. Hardcover versus paperback; the texture of the pages inside; the covers of the books; the fonts on the covers; and so on and so forth. Think about how you’d want your book to look.


  • Fun fact that we learned in class: books with torn-looking edges (called deckle edges)  are more expensive to publish because they mimic the process of having to cut open fresh books way back in the printing press days. So, when you see a book with disheveled edges, it actually took more money to print. The Torn Page Prestige (which sounds like a band name, no?).
  • Read different blogs on publishing such as this one by Jane Friedman.
  • Publishing is a long and arduous process with many ups, downs, setbacks, and leaps forward. Keep your chin up and a pen in your hand always.


  1. The most important lesson I learned was that, in the end, I didn’t really mind that two faux agents rejected my work. I still haven’t decided if publishing is for me or not, or if I prefer to just write for myself. But this exercise has me thinking about what option means more to me.
  2. I also learned to just not give up. Persistence really is key for anything in life, whether it be getting that new car, trying to lose weight, or attempting to get a book published. As long as you never give up, then there’s always a chance for success.
  3. I love writing and I will keep on doing so. Both the faux agent submission and the “slush pile” activity showed me that there will always be people who don’t understand what you’re doing, but that there’s a lot of…interesting…stuff out there that’s been published. I love my story and characters and these reminded me that, at the end of the day, if I’m happy with what I’ve done, then that’s most important.
  4. Opinions are very subjective. You’ll never be able to please everyone with your writing. Someone will inevitably hate it. Both the activities taught me that I just have to look past those instances and keep on loving my characters. At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to deal with them. Agents will read it and quickly forget about it if they don’t like my tale, so therefore I just have to be sure I’m happy with it.
  5. The most important thing is to just keep writing. From this process and all semester in general, that’s what I’ve learned and will keep close:  make time each day to write.

We’re all writers.  Keep typing, keep putting pen to paper. Never stop. That applies to us within and outside the fishbowl. We are all swimming in the same sea of opportunity.

We all must keep writing. Good luck to us all.

Week 15 Report: Taking that Next Step – the Submission Process


by Melissa Shaw

The class is coming to an end. Those of us inside the fishbowl have been frantically preparing for big projects, portfolios, and finals. Plus, writing, writing, writing! For those of you outside of the fishbowl, I hope you have been finding the time and inspirations for your own masterpieces. 🙂

This week is Submission Week. We aren’t submitting to real agents (because as much as we wish for it to be true, our novels aren’t even close to being ready), but it’s always good to practice and prepare. When the real time for submitting comes around, we will be ready to kick those bad boys out of the park.


This week we only met once as a class due to Thanksgiving Break. For class we needed to print off copies of our faux agent query letter and a copy of our partial. The query letter was passed around the class and commented on by our peers, then handed back at the end of class. We sat in our beta groups and helped each other choose which profiles of agents were best suited for our story types. This coming week we will turn those over to the agents. All our hard work will be put to the test.

Outside the Fishbowl

What you guys can do this week to follow along: Keep Writing! and work on your own query letters. If you were with us when we wrote our own jacket copy (what the back of your novel would read to get the attention of readers), all you have to do is write an introduction sentence about why you picked that agent, paste your jacket covers in the middle, and end with your credentials and type of novel.

  • Writer’s Digest has an entire list of agents and some of the query letters they considered successful. Here is a link!
  • Here’s another great resource straight from the website AgentQuery.com

Writing a query letter at this stage in writing is only for those of you who want to keep yourself prepared through the process of writing. If you’d rather write it at the end so that you know everything your novel has to offer, that’s equally just as good.

Take Aways:

  • Keep writing! For a writer, the work is never done. If you don’t think you are ready to think about submitting your novel yet, don’t worry about it. This is the early stage of your novel. Things can and will change. Just keep to it.
  • When you are ready to write that query letter, do your research. An agent does weigh most if not all of your writing skill based on the query letter they receive. If they don’t think it’s up to par, they will throw it out.
  • If you aren’t sure if your query letter is where it needs to be, look at online examples. If  you have a beta reader or readers, send it to them to get feedback. Make sure it is as perfect as can be before sending it out.

What I learned:

  1. Writing my own novel has been a long, but fun, process. Although I don’t have as many words as others for my actual novel (I spent a lot of the beginning weeks developing characters and world-building), I feel as if my novel has potential. Doing the in-class activities such as writing my query letters, has really helped me understand that writing a novel isn’t just about the story. It’s about connecting to an audience.
  2. Most importantly, I have learned that I shouldn’t give up when I am going through a tough writer’s block. I need to just keep writing. And it helps to sometimes think of the future. The query letter aspect and the upcoming publication process are great reminders of that.


Week 14 Report: Slow and Steady or Writing Like There’s No Tomorrow

by Travis Schwipps

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the last few weeks of our journey together, but the first weeks of our writing careers.

Here in the fishbowl our in-class beta groups have finished. We’ve all spent some time together discussing ideas and revising the beginnings of our novels. All of those long, hard weeks of writing are finally –

Well anyway, they’re not for class anymore.

It also turns out that this is the end of NaNoWriMo. I’m sure most of you have heard of it, but for those of you who haven’t, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Basically you sign up on the NaNoWriMo website and try to write at least 50,000 words by the end of the month. If you do it and have it verified, you “win”.

You don’t need to do the math to realize that’s a lot of writing!

But here it is anyway: for this class we’ve been doing at least 2000 words a week. For NaNoWriMo you’d have to do about 1667 words a day.

There are pros and cons to participating in something like this. One thing it does is gives you a deadline. This is the point that the people of NaNoWriMo make, that many people if left on their own will wait until they have more time, or feel inspired, or any number of things. Basically they wait and wait until eventually they just give up entirely. Having a strict deadline forces you to write. For people who don’t have a grade depending on it, that might be just the push they need.

A con is that it’s very much a “binge writing” experience.

Early in the class, we had a brief discussion on writing styles, the people who write a little bit at a time vs. “binge writers”.  One of the points of this course was to encourage us to make writing a part of our schedule, not to write large gobs of words over the course of one week.

If instead of having a weekly count we only had a goal to reach by the end of the semester I know at least I (and I imagine plenty of the other students) would have procrastinated and there would have been a lot of binge writing done during the last couple of weeks and I would be more stressed out than I already am.

Now, I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, but that’s what I imagine it would feel like. The stressed out, “I have to get this done, I have to get this done, I have to get this done.” Except it would last for an entire month.

And I know for a fact that my writing is awful when I’m stressed. Half the time it doesn’t even make sense. At that point I’m writing just for the sake of putting words on the paper. It turns into a number game, not writing a story.

Still… sure it may be crap, but hey, you just wrote an entire story! Good job! Even if you do have to go back and rewrite everything because it’s absolutely horrendous. Rewriting is easier than new writing. And some crazy people even thrive on that deadline stress. For some people that brings out the best in them.

I’m not one of those people, but the thing is, that’s just me. There’s no right way to write a novel. There are pros and cons to everything, what’s most important is that you make the time to write. If you write a couple thousand words a month and finish a novel in a year, great. If you write a couple thousand every day and finish in a couple months that’s great too. Set aside time to write. Make a schedule and stick to it.

If any of you have a particular way you like to write, or if you were/are a NaNoWriMo participant, leave a comment and let us know about your experience. Everyone’s different and it’s always interesting to hear how other writers operate (and sometimes it’s comforting to know there’s others who write like you.)


  1. Write how you want, as often as you want. Just make sure you write (but it is still a good idea to have a schedule. It makes time management easier).
  2. If you need deadlines, make them. Whether it’s NaNoWriMo, or a promise to a friend to be done at a certain time. Just make sure you stick with it.
  3. Writing NaNoWriMo over and over is good exercise for your shift-pressing pinky finger.

Week 13 Report: 4 Ways Beta Readers Can Save Your Novel


by Kyle Royse

Congratulations on making it this far. If you’ve been following the blog from the start then you should have a healthy chunk of your novel down on the page, and it should feel good. Real Good. If you’ve joined us somewhere along the way, welcome, and keep writing. Actually, keep writing in either case. No, keep writing in any case. It’s the only way you’ll ever finish.

In all honesty, I had really been contemplating giving up on my novel. I’m sure that at least a few of you have had the same thought crossing your mind. Sometimes you’ll read over something you wrote five minutes prior, two weeks prior, or everything you’ve put into your novel up until this point, and you’ll hate it. This is normal. More normal than you might think. This is why I’m going to share with you the ways that beta readers helped to save my novel.


This past week those of us inside the fishbowl, Beta Group 2 specifically, had the pleasure of sharing our thoughts with our group members about their writing. If you’ve been part of a writing workshop before then you will know roughly what went on, but there is something different between reading someone’s short story, essay, or poem and reading a 20-40 page chunk of someone’s novel.

When workshopping a shorter piece of writing you’ll likely hear people comment on sentence level issues, interpretations of particular lines, talk of word choices, and thoughts on the piece as a cohesive whole. This is not what we discussed.

When taking a look at a chunk of a novel you’ll want to comment of the plot, the character development, the tone, and the strengths of the piece. It requires that you keep in mind this chunk is just that, a chunk. Sweat the small stuff later. Big picture ideas are ideal topics of discussion. Now that you know how he process worked, I’ll share how it saved my novel.

4. Beta Readers Will Find Your Plot Holes

If you’ve ever lived in an area that experiences all four seasons in their full glory, then you know that Old Man Winter and his shiver-inducing winds will find every crack and crevice in your house, and you’ll be left looking for plastic wrap, tape, and if you’re lucky enough to have one, an infrared thermometer.

Beta readers are like the infrared thermometer. It isn’t exactly necessary that you have them, but they sure do help help to find the gaps much sooner. Sometimes they’re the only way you’ll find the leak. Heck, some beta readers might even be handy with plastic wrap and tape.

3. Beta Readers Will Know Where You Need Work

Anyone that has ever taken standardized test has probably had this same thought: “I know I’m bad at Algebra, but which problems am I missing?” (I’m assuming that everyone is as bad as math as I am) Sometimes you’ll know that you’ve made a mistake on an equation, but you won’t know where you went wrong, and standardized tests only care that you’re in the bottom 20th percentile.

Beta readers are like a kind Algebra tutor in this case, and your eyes are like the standardized tests. You know that your dialogue doesn’t seem quite right, but you don’t know what the issue is. Beta readers can tell you that your punctuation is in the wrong spot, you don’t need the italics, and dogs can’t talk, like ever, not just that 4 out of 5 writers are better than you.

2. Beta Readers Can Give You Fresh Perspectives

Imagine that every day for the last five years you’ve ate a grilled cheese sandwich and Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup for lunch. Yeah, you like it and it’s what you’ve come to know, but then one day your significant other swaps out the Campbell’s for Progresso Tomato Basil, and you from that moment on you can never look back again. You’ve been blown away by the unique taste, it’s a complete revelation.

Beta readers can be like your significant other in this situation. There’s even a good chance that this is literally your situation. Fresh eyes can lead to ideas that you would’ve never imagined, like adding basil to tomato soup or combining two similar characters into one.

1. Beta Readers Can Literally Save Your Novel

This is the most powerful way in which a beta reader has helped to save my novel. No, not by running into a burning house and cradling it through the smoke and flames, but not too far from it.

During the portion of Beta Group 2’s meeting where my group partners were discussing my novel Cathy asked if I planned on pursuing the project until the end. I thought about the possibility of dousing my pages in kerosene telling ghost stories around it while it burned.  I replied without hesitation. “No. I kind of hate it.” She then let me know that she thought it would be a real shame to give up.

I was mad and defeated because my novel had developed a mind of its own. It wasn’t the novel I had originally envisioned. It was a rebellious teenager. I just didn’t realize that I was this teenager’s parent, a smothering parent at that. I didn’t realize that if I loosened up a bit, it would likely become something better than I had originally planned.

Some of that realization came from the workshop itself. Some of it came from a long walk. The rest came from an email that shared this link regarding the very topic of finishing a novel. I hope it will help some of you as you continue your journey as well.


  • Keep writing until you’ve finished
  • Beta readers can find issues and keep you going
  • Don’t give up, keep pushing

Week 12 Report: Keep Going! Don’t Stop Now!

by Haley Muench



So we’ve gotten this far. I’ve written over 18,000 words for my novel. I have almost forty pages waiting for my Beta Readers. And now all I have to do for the next two weeks is write. I feel a little bit like the Little Engine That Could, I’m at the bottom of a great big hill and I need to use that momentum from the last hill to get up the next one but it’s so much nicer to just sit in the valley and enjoy the sunshine.

The temptation here is to just throw up my hands and say good enough! I’ve written a lot more than I ever thought I would, this is a school assignment and I’m done! But I’m not done. There are forty pages of my novel just sitting on my computer. It’s not done. It’s just forty pages. And then I start getting afraid. I’ll never finish; no one will like it, blah, blah, blah.

I believe that all artists go through this period of self-doubt and fear. If you don’t then awesome, I’m jealous of you. But if you do please know that you’re not alone.



<—–This is how the rest of my novel feels









Writing a novel is really hard. There’s a lot more to it than simply sitting down and writing. Or maybe there isn’t. It’s hard to tell. I get wrapped up in how to write, what software should I use? What’s the optimal time to write? Where should I write? What kind of adverbs should I avoid using?! I’m not a real writer! How could I have ever thought that I had any talent whatsoever?!


Take a deep breath.

Writing is like any other form of art. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. Just like drawing, you have to sit down and do it. You can read about every technique in the world but unless you really try to make art you won’t get anywhere. And believe it or not you are an artist. I know it might not seem like it on the days where you just can’t seem to get the words to flow the right way or when the words don’t flow at all but trust me you are an artist.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 3.41.36 PM

I have slogans up on my wall above my desk. One is Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art”. Great advice of course and it makes me feel like I’m contributing to society somehow.

But above Neil’s quote is another one that makes smile and sometimes laugh out loud. “ART HARDER” from Chuck Wendig (terribleminds.com). Chuck is a strange sort of author; his blog is laced with profanity but the good kind that makes you laugh. I discovered him by accident looking for writing advice (aka procrastinating on my novel). While he does indeed have plenty of good writing advice his number one rule is that you must WRITE. If you don’t then you will have nothing which seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how many people talk about writing more than they actually write. Don’t be one of those people.

There weren’t any readings for this week for those of us inside the fishbowl that aren’t in a Beta Group. So to those of us waiting to get our packets done or those outside the fishbowl, I tell you DO NOT QUIT. Keep writing. Find whatever you can to inspire you, don’t procrastinate, etc. Those of you on the outside I encourage you to seriously consider who you can be inspired by or who can become your own Beta Reader. I’m terrified and impossibly excited to have people I barely know read this story for the first time. I’m even more excited that I have forty pages to show them.

Take Aways

  • Writing (like all artistic endeavors) is hard. And it should be! If it was easy everyone would do it and then where would we be?
  • There are people out there who care and who will read your work. Whether than means they are Beta Readers or something else it is still important to remember this. It keeps me going.
  • Not every method of writing works for everyone. Find the one that makes words appear on the page and stick with it. Recognize when you are procrastinating (even when it seems productive!) and stop the behavior.

And finally:





Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 3.42.00 PM

It’s worth it. I promise.

Week 11 Report: Prepare for Beta Readers (And write write write)

writers-blockBy Ani Johnson

We have left the stages of lectures and discussions and hit the home stretch. The realization that we need a lot of pages, and possibly not enough words to fit those pages.

With all the partials getting turned in soon, we discovered just what we need to work on this week, which I think ended up being different for every person in the fishbowl. And will probably be different for those of you outside it.


Have you been writing? Did you find the place you need to write? I sure hope so. Sometimes you need to realize that your writing time is the most important part of your novel. This week we start Beta Groups, and I’m the second story we’ll be critiquing. While most, if not all but me, in our class are handing off the start of a novel, I’ve continued one that I have been working on for a while. I started “Part 2” of it this semester, and it’s all coming together today.

This is the moment where I think you need to learn to appreciate having a beta reader who will know your work from start to finish. I discovered that there was a lot of exposition in Part 1 of my novel, and I don’t know if I got it all in a synopsis.

I would highly suggest taking the time to write your own synopsis for your story. It makes you look at the really important parts of a novel – I had to pick and choose what was important, so that I didn’t overwhelm my beta group with pages. I needed 20 to 40 pages of Part 2 – the synopsis of Part 1 couldn’t count for any of them!


If you find a beta reader who is also a writer, give them the courtesy of being their beta reader too. There were two more stories I read that will be sharing critique time with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. They aren’t polished – but neither is mine. However, reading someone else’s work has given me a chance to think “Oh yeah, this needs work… And I do that too, I should remember to work on that.”

I think reading rough drafts of other authors probably help me in my writing as much as reading published books.

Learning Activity

Take a look at the genre you like to write. Personally, I love creating Fantasy. I’m a world builder – I think in big pictures. Working with my beta group – all of us creating fantastical and not of this world stories – has been an interesting experience, because it is really rare that you find a classroom that actually has that happen. For the most part, you get paired up with whoever.

When searching for beta readers, and fellow writers, find those who have a similar genre to yours. They understand the tropes, the clichés, and the problems of your writing more than someone who writes a different genre.

No offense to my writer friends who don’t write fantasy, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to dump world building into a story when you don’t have to do it very often.


  • Find a beta group
  • If possible, those beta readers should be on a similar genre to your writing.
  • Remember to return the favor and be willing to be a Beta Reader for someone else.
  • Try writing a synopsis for your story to see where the important information is.
  • Let your beta readers start from the beginning – not Part 2.

What I learned

  1. I think, once my story is complete, I need to find friends who would be willing to be beta readers. I am dubious of how well of a critique I can receive when I’m missing major character developments from part 1.
  2. Having a novel being critiqued is a lot more nerve wracking than any critique I’ve been through yet.
  3. Beta Readers who are also writers is great, because I can share the really bad writing days with them.

To Do for Week 11: Write, Write, Write

beta-reader kittenYou may have noticed that I didn’t do a “To Do” post for last week. That’s because last week was Fall Break at Ball State. We didn’t have class on Tuesday, and on Thursday, students turned in their Reverse Storyboard project. I passed out “The Publishing Packet,” which you only get in full if you take my class for realz. Sorry.

This week, students get what I call “Studio Time.” It’s almost time to share our novels with others!


T 10/29

  • Week 10 Blog Post Due: Chelsea Jackman

Th 10/31

  • Weekly Words #10 (last one): due Sunday, 11/3 at 5 PM. Focus: None. Write what you want.

  • Due : Packet from Group 1: 1.)Jacket Copy, 2.) 20-40 page “chunk” of the manuscript and 3.) Outline/Storyboard. Put in your groups Google Doc Folder. This should be ONE DOCUMENT, not three.

I’ve broken the students into three groups based on what kind of novel they’re writing.

  1. Students in Beta Group 1 are mostly working on novels that are Fantastical, not of our world.
  2. Students in Beta Group 2 are mostly working on novels that are Realism or Satire. We have a thriller, a memoir, a historical baseball novel, a satire, etc.
  3. Students in Beta Group 3 are mostly working on novels that set in our world, but have some sort of Supernatural or Paranormal or Sci-Fi element to them.

Starting next week, I will be meeting with each Beta Group during class time. The other two groups will use class time to write, write, write.

Starting next week, I will be reading over 100 pages a week.

In most workshops, the work comes at the teacher and fellow students at a manageable rate. Students get lots of feedback, but they don’t write as much. In this class, we don’t do all-class workshop so that students can write more. I haven’t been commenting on their Weekly Words, but now, I will be commenting on their Partials.

Basically, I do the “Reading-and-Responding-to-Student-Work” part of my job in an intense, three-week period rather than spread out over the course of the semester.


From this point on, there are no themes or topics. The “content” portion of the class is done.

In a sense, you’re sort of on your own at this point, but you will continue to hear from the students in the class, and I do have some advice for you.

Decide right now: do you want

a.) to just keep writing?

b.) do you want to share your novel with others?

If the answer is A

Good for you. Keep it up. See ya later.

If the Answer is B

If the answer is B, then start compartmentalizing your writing time. Differentiate between DRAFTING NEW PAGES and REVISING THE BEGINNING. Don’t stop writing your way into the book.

Find your beta readers.

One advantage of showing your work to others is that if the conversation goes well, you’ll feel fired up to keep going. Also: fixing the foundation of your novel might prevent the whole thing from collapsing. But if the conversation goes badly, you might feel discouraged. It’s up to you. If you decide to show your work to others, make it clear that you are not looking for a thorough critique. You’re looking for encouragement. This is not the time to rip anybody to shreds.

Give your beta readers the following:

  • Jacket copy
  • a 20-40 page chunk of your manuscript, preferably the first 20-40 pages.
  • outline or synopsis of what’s to come

The following exercise on how to write jacket copy is adapted from James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Feel free to do this exercise even if you picked A. It’s a fun way to remind yourself what your novel is about.


  1. Name of the lead character:
  2. What the lead does for a living or how they might be described:
  3. What is the disturbance in Act 1, the first thing that disturbs the status quo and creates reader interest? Might also be called a plot point or inciting incident:
  4. What is the doorway of no return? What thrusts the character forward, creates a sense that something must inevitably happen, kicks the character out of the status quo into Act II, hurtling toward the end?
  5. What or who is opposing the lead?
  6. Why are they opposed? What’s at stake for each?
  7. What is the story question? What question does the reader have on his or her mind that keeps them reading in order to find out the answer?
  8. How do you feel when you read these pages? Sad? Engrossed? Angry? Curious? Creeped out? Enchanted?


Paragraph 1

Lead character’s name and current situation.

_______ is _________________ who _________________________. (Remember, jacket copy is always written in present tense!) Keep this to paragraph to 1 or 2 sentences that describe the character’s background and situation.

Paragraph 2

Start with the word Suddenly or But when. Tell the reader what the major turning point, the disturbance is. What the first doorway is. What’s going to thrust the Lead into Act II of the book.  Describe Act II in 1 or 2 sentences.

Paragraph 3

Begin the last paragraph with the word Now and make it an action sentence, like Now Brad must struggle with the harrowing mystery of his family legacy. Or, begin with the word Will, and write a few story questions: Will Mary claim what’s rightly hers? Or will she be stopped by forces she can’t see or identify? And will it hurt the ones she loves? Make sure the last paragraph describes the reading experience the reader can expect. “Readers will feel ____ as they embark on/as they finish this novel.”

Have fun with these! It’s totally okay to ham it up. They aren’t something you will ever write yourself (publishers write jacket copy) but it’s a fun way to have other people tell you what they think your book is about. Also: you don’t have to know the end in order to write the jacket copy.

Week 10 Report: So Ya Wanna Publish Your Book

Last week in novel-writing class, I gave my students THE PUBLISHING PACKET, a spiral bound goldmine of information. The students are getting their manuscripts ready to share with their Beta Groups, and so it seemed like a good time to prepare them for the task of sharing their words with others. Chelsea Jackman humorously reports on what she learned. Also: don’t worry. Some of these concepts WILL be covered in later weeks.

The Fishbowl Chronicles


List of things you’ll need:

Jacket copy
Cover letter
An agent
The patience of Job

What to do:

Prepare a manuscript
Write your jacket copy
Write your cover letter
Send it!
Wait, wait, and wait some more


I’ve written this book, and I want people to read it.  How can I publish it?”

First, let me just say that ebook self-publishing is not a sin.

My mother has published two ebooks and is working on more.  That’s awesome.  If you’d like to see her developing children’s series, click here: The Adventures of Whippy the Whale.  You’ll also get to see some of my art … I’m her illustrator.  *grin*

But, if you’re following and reading a blog by Cathy Day, I’m assuming you’re more interested in having a lovely clean, neat, perfectly typeset printed book in a pretty, shiny dust jacket, published by Random House or…

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Week 9 Report: Theme

[Many apologies for the lateness of this post. This was the week of Fall Break at Ball State, and so things got a little confused. My bad! –Cathy]

By: Heather Hood

The theme for last week within the fishbowl was…you guessed it theme!  Before I go into what theme is and how you can apply it to your own writing style, I want to discuss something we did differently in class last week. No, no it’s nothing bad. Actually it was relatively fun. So what is this not bad, relatively fun thing we did in class?  Well, we flipped our class.


What do you mean you flipped your class? Flipping means instead of having the usual lecture in class, our teacher, Cathy Day, recorded a screencast about the week’s unit on theme and had us watch it on our own time. So what did we do in class then? We worked on homework for the class and if we had any questions, we could just ask Cathy, who was right there working with us.

So, my fellow bowlmates, how well did this work for you? I know I personally felt more concentrated on the Reverse Storyboard Project we had due this week. I’m not afraid to admit I am a procrastinator, especially on bigger projects, so it was nice to be in that small, studious atmosphere. And I know I personally loved the screencast for this week unit of theme because I found it easier for me to take notes and listen to what was being said. Did any of you feel that we missed out on anything by flipping? If you are not inside the fishbowl, would this have been something/is something you wish your class or school did or would do?

I should stop talking about flipped classrooms and get down to business and discuss want you really want to know about… theme!

What is Theme?

The main idea you should remember about theme is that a theme is about an author trying to say something that is important to them. It’s an author’s thought on a subject. So if you want to know the theme of something you are reading, ask yourself what or tell yourself that an author is saying? What is the piece about? Every piece is saying something.

Searching for a Theme

Cathy gave the fishbowl a great example of creating a piece of art out of a block of marble, like Michelangelo did with his sculpture David. Every piece starts off as a square, bland piece of marble. It’s there, waiting, but nothing screams of great things to come out of it by itself. A sculptor has to be willing enough to step in front of the marble block, see what is lying in wait, and make it. Here, Michelangelo states it better:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

As the artist, all you have to do is find the right block of marble, and the right piece and the theme will be waiting for you.

How can you supply a Theme in your work?

The best way to do that is to use what you have available to you: your narrative tools. You can show a theme through these elements, but try to do so in an organic way that is doesn’t seem deliberate but is:

  • choice of characters
  • a character’s actions
  • a character’s dialogue
  • setting
  • reoccurring patterns

If you want the readers to know something is important, Carol Bly suggests telling the readers three times. She calls it the Rule of Three because, each time something important is introduced, the reader will have a different reaction.

  • The first mention would go unnoticed because the importance, or theme, probably blends in with what’s around it.
  • The second mention would resonate with the reader like a memory and they would start to ask questions about the piece.
  • By the third mention, things start to click into place and readers see a pattern being established in the piece within the beginning, middle and end.

Developing a Theme

Donald Maass suggests five ways you could go about developing a theme in his book Writing the Breakout Novel.

  • Consider alternate endings and outcomes. Explore through questions or scenarios how the ending of your novel could be or how different a scene could have come out.
  • Give your characters parallel problems. Explore another character and how they would handle the same (or opposite) problem as your protagonist. Is their resolve better?
  • Use foils. Use a contrasting character to highlight your protagonist’s qualities or use more characters to represent more choices (think of character delineation).
  • Can your character’s problem speak to louder problems?  Create their problem so that you can expand off of it to create an even larger problem until maybe there is no larger problem. Theme can come from doing this.
  • Create a backwards antagonist. Explore the world of the antagonist and its minions. See how they are right and if the way they do things could work just as well as the protagonist’s ways. Just have fun with it.


  • Write what you feel and what you want and a theme will develop.
  • Have fun and enjoy what you write. Passion can make a theme stronger.
  • The theme is already there, you just have to mold it and display it so others can see it.
  • The Rule of Three is helpful when writing!

What I learned/ Figured Out This Week

One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that a theme doesn’t always jump out of nowhere and knock you on the head and say, “Hey! I’m right here!” For some people that may happen and that is great, I wish I was more like them.  For me and some others, theme doesn’t show itself so easily. And that’s fine too, because eventually it will be easier to identify. But there is always a theme to take from and to put into a piece, even if you think there is none. I’ll leave you with this…interesting image to try to remember theme: