Corey Whaley: On the Value of Feedback

Goodgodbird_publication John Corey Whaley is back and he's sharing his ongoing journey to publication. If you'd like to start at the beginning of Corey's story, check out his previous posts about writing his novel and his long search for representation.
Take it away, Corey!

Hello again WEbook,

I'd like to share share a bit more about what I learned during the writing process of Good God Bird. If I could provide other writers with just one bit of advice, it would be to seek constant feedback throughout the novel-writing process. During the two years that I worked on Good God Bird, I had a close friend (with fine-tuned editing skills and a penchant for good literature) review, critique, and provide notes on my working draft. Sometimes I would send her (Randi Anderson) a paragraph, and other times I would send her an entire chapter or two. Each time, I could expect well-thought notes and suggestions to come my way. This helped, early on, to clear up any confusion in my narrative and also gave me a great sounding board for working through new ideas. 

Writing a novel is difficult, very difficult, but asking someone else to read it and honestly point out problems or errors is nearly impossible! But, it’s essential, I think. I learned how to take criticism constructively because I asked for help from a friend. Be careful, though, not all friends make good editors. (Tip: examine a friend or family member’s bookshelf before asking him/her for help). If Dr. Seuss, genius as he was, is the only author present in someone’s home, he or she may not be the greatest authority on the written word. 

Because I was able to share ideas and work closely with someone who provided me with constant constructive criticism and feedback, I believe that the publication process over these next few months will be much easier for me to handle. Already, my agent and his staff sent me a considerable amount of suggestions (all changes were of my choosing, ultimately) and my previous experience with editing, re-writing, and sharing ideas helped to soften the blow. I was able to take a deep breath, read their notes, and venture back into the lives of characters that I hadn’t thought I’d ever meet again. I learned to look at the editing process as an adventure, wherein I get to discover new things about my characters and work to perfect their stories before the world meets them. 

Please feel free to post any and all comments below, or via twitter @corey_whaley.

Looking for a great feedback buddy? Check out some of WEbook's top reviewers, or read our previous post about starting  your own book club guide.

AgentInbox Video Roundup

Cowboy lasso A lot's been going on with AgentInbox lately, all of it exciting. We thought it would be helpful to do a quick re-cap of all the latest happenings. So grab your lasso (or your mouse) and let's wrangle some video clips.

Check out our first AgentInbox success story, Corey Whaley. Listen to Corey and his new agent, Ken Wright, as they tell the amazing story behind Corey's book getting sold to Simon & Schuster (video produced in-house)

Second, we've got the AgentInbox commercial, where you can watch Scott Waxman crush his slush. It will give you a glimpse into how the service benefits the agent's side of the querying process. And it's really funny!

Go here to learn more about AgentInbox, see a list of our participating agents, or check out more WEbook videos on our YouTube channel!

Rejections or: Why is the There a Form Letter in My Inbox?

Asktheagent Literary agent Ken Wright has returned to take some more of your questions! To make the exchange as productive as possible, we’re going to direct your questions in the next two weeks around a few broad themes. Ken will take a look at your questions and answer the three that he feels are most helpful (and creative!). What’s up this week?

Rejections: Any and all things related to why agents pass on certain manuscripts and accept others. The business is known for is subjectivity, but it’s always great to hear some of the reasons that agents reach for their form letters.

No doubt this theme will inspire a ton of questions from your literary brains. Hit Ken with everything you’ve got!

Wanna write? Enter our One-Syllable Challenge! Wanna read? Rate some PageToFame submissions!

Connecting To Your Inner Magpie

The Winter Thief Book Jacket As part of our ongoing guest author series, WEbook welcomes Jenny White, professor of anthropology at Boston University and author of three historical-fiction novels. Here’s some background about Jenny’s upcoming novel, The Winter Thief:

January 1888. Vera Arti carries
The Communist Manifesto in Armenian through the streets of Istanbul, hoping to get it published, naively unaware of the men following her. When the police discover a shipload of illegal firearms and the Imperial Ottoman Bank is blown up, suspicion falls on a socialist commune Vera’s husband organized in the eastern mountains. Investigating, Special Prosecutor Kamil Pasha encounters his most ruthless adversary to date: Vahid, head of the secret police, who has convinced the sultan that the commune is leading a secessionist movement and should be destroyed—along with all of the surrounding Armenian villages. 

And now, Jenny’s thoughts on writing…

Jenny White Website For me, one of the oddest things about writing fiction is becoming the mouthpiece for characters who do things that—prior to that moment—I never imagined doing, feel things I’ve never experienced, and speak in idioms and cadences that I’ve never heard. This practice of writing like a human Ouija board goes against the familiar adage, “write what you know,” and can confuse readers who assume that the novel gives some insight into the novelist. My first novel, The Sultan’s Seal, contains a physical relationship between women. After its publication, to my surprise, people asked me, “Are you a lesbian?” I mean, there are murders in the book too, but so far no one has asked if I’m a murderer. The rough, wisecracking police chief Omar appears in all three Kamil Pasha books, but I don’t know anyone like Omar. At least, not that I can remember.

Writing is like dreaming—your subconscious is a magpie that picks up and makes a nest out of any glittery bits of experience and fleeting impressions—the way a couple's eyes fail to meet; a boy shielding his food—things you missed, but your sharp-eyed subconscious saved. Remember as a child when a picture on a page could envelop you, infused with life by your imagination?

Here’s my point: The setting should be something you know, or have researched—as I do Istanbul in the 1880s. The characters have to be set up like real people with family, friends, a childhood, skills, a job, likes and dislikes, quirks. But once you can visualize the scene and the characters, it’s time to let go. Some authors write elaborate plot outlines to light the way, but they too have to allow their characters liberty to forge ahead. In writing each of my three novels, I learned a bit more about the best way to let go. Plot outlines didn’t work for me. I never liked chemistry either—a formula won’t speak to me, no matter how long I stare at it.

In writing The Winter Thief, I followed my editor’s advice to let the interaction of the characters drive the plot, rather than the plot drive the characters. That worked like hellfire. The characters at times moved the plot along faster than I could write! I was inspired to take this approach by Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, a novel that takes place almost entirely in one room and follows the heart-breaking relationships that develop between high-society guests at a reception and the terrorists holding them hostage for several months. The dramatic tension of the novel is driven almost exclusively by character interaction.

Writing has a fine-tuned tempo of control and letting go, unique to each writer. But crucial to all is gaining access to your inner magpie.


Go here to pre-order The Winter Thief, set for release in March 2010. You can also read a similar post about finding the theme of your book, by Sanjay Bahadur. 

V-Day Writing Challenge Results

Happy Heart Day WEbook!

IStock_000009349642Small We received over fifty submissions to our Valentine’s Day writing challenge. You guys wrote lots of fantastic love notes, and the WEbook editorial staff reviewed them all with open hearts!

Here are our top three picks, all of which displayed great creativity and style. Each writer received a coupon code good for one free submission to PageToFame.

Drum roll please…

#1. “For You” by HeatherCummings
#2. “When We Were Children” by gabi_rader
#3. “Lost Honeymoon” by AndrewStorm

Since there were so many good submissions, we also decided to include a few honorable mentions:

HM #1: “Wonders Knows” by Holdanigono
HM #2: “Littlest Valentine” by zrinka

Another contest comes your way...

Don’t see your name up here? Don’t despair! WEbook is throwing another writing contest your way with The One Syllable Writing Challenge. Submit by adding a chapter to the WEbook project, and our editorial staff will pick the top three winners and award them PageToFame coupon codes. So get writing!

But first, check out the winning poems!

“For You” by HeatherCummings
On cold winter nights I'd brave a blizzard to come and stock your fire.
From the turnpike of life I'd rescue you, if ever you flattened a tire.
I'd retrieve for you a tang of blue or starfish from the reef.
A rose to combat every pain, a kiss to dispel grief.
I'd give you the shirt right off my back, a flannel to keep you warm.
A dream for your heart, a song for your lips, an umbrella to weather the storm.
A stone from the peak of Kilimanjaro, a shell from Maui's sands,
Dust from the surface of the moon, or trinkets from distant lands
I could give you all these things and more, but Darling don't you see.
In all the world what I long to give you me.

“When We Were Children” by gabi_rader

When we were children
We thought seven-11 was cool.
We drank Tang and got hyped up on sugar.
We ate applesauce because we'd rather not waste time chewing.
When we were children
We played in blizzards and made snow men in other people's yards.
We wouldnt be caught dead using hand-sanitizer.
We would hide our flannel jackets and wear grimy sweat pants instead.
But when we were children we thought about cooties.
When we were children there was so much to do
We laughed and we ran and we went to the zoo.
Only one thing amiss, only one thing I'd change.
Only one thing important that I'd rearrange.
When we were children we'd jump 'till we flew.
But when we were children I didn't have you.

"Lost Honeymoon” by AndrewStorm

We met at the Seven-11,
Just South of that turnpike to heaven,
From the moment we touched, I had hearts in my eyes.
I was shopping for applesauce,
You for hand-sanitizer,
We didn't buy either,
Instead we took a flight to Kilimanjaro and got lost.
We made snow angels in the blizzard,
Until our tears of laughter froze upon our cheeks,
Then on the boat back passed Turkey,
We both caught bouts of scurvy,
But I won't complain about being bedridden with you for a week.
You never got that hand-sanitizer,
Or I, my applesauce,
Instead I brought back home the best thing,
That I'd ever bought.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted, and happy V-Day!


Author Laura Bynum - Pare Down Ruthlessly

Veracity Book Jacket WEbook welcomes Laura Bynum, author of the recently released Veracity as a guest WEblogger! A little bit of background about Laura and her new book:

Laura grew up in Springfield, Illinois and earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Communications. She has since worked as a filmmaker and a marketing consultant.

Veracity takes place in a future dystopia where an act of viral terrorism has wiped out one-half of the country’s population. Out of the ashes a new government has risen, the Confederation of the Willing, dedicated to maintaining order at any cost. But there are those who resist. Guided by the fabled Book of Noah, they are determined to shake the people from their apathy and ignorance, and are prepared to start a war in the name of freedom.

Take it away, Laura...

Laura Bynum Website I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but before following that dream, I went the more conventional route. I got a couple of degrees and a corporate job. Got married. Had kids. It wasn’t until a story, a really good one, burrowed itself into the middle of my orderly world that I decided it was time to step up and give it a go. I wrote a rough but promising early version of Veracity, then did my research on how to get it noticed and found every finger pointing in the same direction. Go to a conference. Go to the one in Maui where you’ll meet the biggest and the best. Go all out or don’t go at all. I signed up.

Before the event, participants were given access to a web forum where we could upload the first five pages of our manuscripts and the agents and editors who’d be attending could take a look. They would say,Yes, I want to meet you! Or the largely silent, No thanks. I only received one response from a kind editor named Dan Conaway who left me his thoughts, if not his interest—three words that bridged the gap between my novel as it was, and my novel as it could be: Pare down ruthlessly. I applied this wisdom immediately.

Knowing, as Shakespeare puts it, that ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, I understood implicitly what Dan was saying. I dove into Veracity with no ego, operating as if I was simply an editor, once removed. I took out instances of over-explanation—places where metaphoric action or a bit of speech could do the job, often more eloquently than the belabored section in question. I scratched out the superfluous, nixed the redundant, and eradicated that which might be a beautiful turn of language, but progressed neither the story nor any character development. It was brutal. It was liberating.

Having ruthlessly pared down my prose, I entered Veracity into the conference’s writing contest, which I ended up winning. As a result, I signed with Writers House in NYC for agent representation and, via serendipitous curves in both our paths, was assigned to a gentleman named Dan Conaway. The same man who’d given me those three precious words that so changed my life.

I used to think the Holy Grail of writerdom was getting an agent, getting a publisher, and getting published. I realize now, that was the quest. The real Holy Grail is having the guts to be my own best critic and becoming the kind of writer I love to read. It’s paring down with an eye toward what’s best for the whole and thinking of eloquence as that magic that occurs maybe between the words, or after the words, or not necessarily within them.


Go here to buy Laura's new book on Amazon. If you want more tips on paring down your writing, check out a previous post about cutting unnecessary description from your writing.

Ken & Corey Talk About the Path to Publication

Hope you enjoyed the video!

Goodgodbird_publication Several of you have asked me about my writing process. I’ll say this much: conceiving the idea for a novel is the easy part; completing an entire manuscript can seem like a nightmare.
In the video, WEbook wrote: “Two years later Good God Bird was finished…”. This doesn't  explain that it was actually four years after I came up with the original idea for the book.

My typical regimen is writing quite late at night with some form of hot caffeine nearby (coffee, Earl Grey, etc.). But the normal routine wasn't getting me anywhere. I had thrown out countless first chapters, changed narrators three or
four times, and even considered turning it into a nonfiction novel at
one point.

To finish my novel, I knew that I needed to be somewhere that could inspire me. So, I went camping. My parents and I have been camping in Arkansas for years and, over the span of two weeks, I wrote the bulk of Good God Bird in the middle of the night in my parents’ travel trailer.

One thing I noticed myself doing as I worked to complete my novel was imagining myself as my main character. I realize this may be a stretch for some, depending on who you are and the general plot of your novel, but I found it to be so helpful to try and think like the narrator instead of myself. I would ask myself “what would Cullen Witter do in this situation?” and it seemed to open up many doors for my story.

That summer it took me a little over a month to finish my manuscript. When I typed the last word I was in my apartment, in the middle of the night, and I remember being sad that I had no one to call…no means of celebration…no ability to shout up at the heavens that after talking about it for so long and thinking about it and obsessing over it, I had finally done it. But, looking back, I’m glad it was just my novel and me, because writing Good God Bird made me realize how personal of an experience writing really is. I genuinely mourned for my characters when I was done. I think falling in love with an idea is the first step to anyone’s writing process, and then finding whatever it is that inspires you and just going for it. You may go days or even weeks without one word, but don’t give up. If it’s the right story, you’ll somehow find a way to tell it.


In October 2009, John Corey Whaley submitted his book
Good God Bird
to Agent Ken Wright through AgentInbox. He signed with Ken at the end of November. In January, Corey sold his book to Simon & Schuster. Corey is sharing his exciting path to publication, right here, in his column on the WEbook blog: Good God Bird's Flight to Publication. You can follow Corey on Twitter: @Corey_Whaley.

V-Day-Writing Challenge

Heart We thought it would be fun to do a writing challenge around Valentine's Day. Here it is: Write a Hallmark-esque Valentine's Day card using some offbeat words, the top three submissions (decided by the WEbook editorial staff) will be posted on the blog next Friday. The winners get a coupon code to enter PageToFame for free!
Write a Valentine's Day note (max 200 words) to a loved one, real or imaginary. It can take any form (Shakespearean sonnets are always welcome) but creativity is the most important thing. To give the letters some extra love-spice, each one must contain at least five of the following nouns, used in a creative and romantic fashion. They are:

water buffalo

To submit, simply join our project here, and start a new chapter. We will announce the winner next Friday (February 12th), so get writing!


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