Welcome to IdeaJones.com

Articles, radio stories, ads, columns, corporate communications, novels or scripts – we’re never short of ideas. You can see some of our designs in our Redbubble shop, and read Joey’s political humor blog, Dear Donny: Presidential Pen Pals, right here at IdeaJones.

Joey Jones has published and edited many newspaper and magazine articles, radio stories, advertisements and commentaries, and has ghostwritten everything from speeches to love letters. She is a past Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting semifinalist and Fade In: Screenwriting Awards quarterfinalist. She also gathers sound and conducts interviews as a freelance field producer in the Sacramento area, and her on-air performance as “The Dying Fish” can be heard in the Water Education commercial series.

Mark Jones makes a living producing radio shows (like Connections on Capital Public Radio’s Music Station). As Martin Jenkins, he’s heard weekday evenings on CapRadio’s four news stations, and Sunday mornings on 91.3FM KUOP Stockton/Modesto. Mark has also sung, acted and directed local theater and TV.

We’re about the story. Whether it’s the facts and figures of nonfiction, or the deeper truth of fiction, we want to find just the right words, sounds, and/or images to get it across.

We’re also about the process. “Do the work right, and on time.” Life’s too short to make things harder than they have to be.

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Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

My mom used to say, “We’re on each other’s minds a lot less often than we think we are. While you’re worried about what people think of you, they’re worried about what other people think of THEM.”

Mom was so right. Especially in this social media, selfie-driven age. Where you used to go through the world trying to figure out what the people in your immediate vicinity thought of you, now we wake up and check our phones for thumbs up or thumbs down from an entire world.

Think about that symbolism for a moment. We’re taught that the thumbs up or down was used by Roman emperors to declare whether someone lived or died (not sure if it’s accurate, but for sure it’s what I was taught). Having incorporated those symbols into social media means that we’re not just saying, “I like this,” or, “I don’t like this.” We’re passing judgement on each other. Letting other people declare whether or not we are worthy. Which is why involvement with social media isn’t a good predictor of happiness.

Increasingly, we’re not even bothering to hit “like.” It takes less than a second to do, but now even that often seems like too much trouble. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me in person they really like what I do — and yet they don’t bother to literally “like” it online, or share it. Which can make creating feel like yelling into the abyss — you’re shocked when you hear a response. And yet, there is good news in this, for creators.

Take Twitter. Writers are constantly told we must “build platforms” and increase our “social media presence.” Which can lead to having 2,000 followers, most of whom don’t actually follow what you do, in the sense of paying attention to it. They’re other writers or artists following you so you’ll follow them so it’ll look like you have a lot of followers, yet how many of those followers are truly engaged? One really engaged follower beats 100 (or more) courtesy followers.

Where’s the good news? In creative freedom. You can stop reading tea leaves, casting chicken bones, and otherwise trying to figure out what other people think of you, or what you do. The idea that you actually know, based on numbers of followers, etc., is an illusion.

Do what you do. Create the best version of what you do that you can. Experiment. Learn your craft. Try things, get some wrong, learn from the process. Edit, refine, examine and re-examine. Show the world as much or as little of all that as you choose. Be brave. Wallow, flail, find and develop your stroke, and learn to swim.

In time, you may find your tribe, the people who get what you’re doing and enjoy it. Meantime, at least you’ll be enjoying it.

And if you really want to be a Patron of the Arts, bother to hit “like” occasionally. Comment now and then. Share the stuff you like. Don’t just flood feeds with automatic retweets… make your opinion count by sharing what speaks to you and saying that it does (and even why). Be engaged.

That, by the way, really is a good predictor of happiness — how engaged you are with people and the world around you.

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#QueryRoad: Rejections Come In Flavors

Rejection comes in flavors.

As we learn the fine art of querying a novel to agents, there are a few things that are becoming clear. One is that rejection comes in flavors, like ice cream (I know, you probably think getting a rejection is more like eating cat litter and the “flavors” are just “used and unused,” but…

Rejection isn’t just a one-size-doesn’t-fit-any, unredeemable experience. It’s not poking your head into a dumpster, where everything stinks and the only detail is “stinks of what, exactly?” Some rejections are actually useful, and others are, if not exactly enjoyable, more than merely nutritious.

First, the “no flavor” rejections. A lot of agents and agencies specify that you will only hear from them if they’re interested. Which leaves you wondering if anyone even saw your query letter. Saying “no” is not fun (unless you’re an unpleasant person, more about that in a moment). So, like the first date who ghosts you, it’s understandable if sad that so many don’t even bother to acknowledge your submission. This isn’t ice cream. It’s a glass of air.

Next comes the form letter. These come from really formulaic letters that you can tell nobody spent time on (“Thank you for your submission which doesn’t fit our needs goodbye”) to ones where they’re at least trying (“Thank you for your submission and while we are unable to represent it, we realize it’s not easy to go through this process and you have to understand, it’s all very subjective, so don’t give up and good luck”).

The former is “school ice cream” that comes in a paper cup and tastes like cold milk someone packed while looking at a bottle of vanilla they never thought to pour into the ice cream. The latter is the least expensive store brand vanilla, that might not be memorable, but at least has some flavor.

Kudos to the people who at least send the form letter, who stand high above the ones who don’t even bother to do that. At least you know they saw your submission.

After that comes the personal note. We’ve gotten a number of those, and they range from one who said “I really wish I could identify what isn’t quite working for me here,” which, while not especially helpful, at least is a personal response from a human being, to “this strong writing and funny, it just isn’t quite right for my list. I really want to see the next book you write, if you don’t have an agent already, but you will.”

The writer of that last one will live in my heart with gratitude. And will definitely see the next book I’m working on, if I don’t have an agent by the time it’s done.

But I’m grateful to anyone who takes time to write even a brief personal note. I’ve gotten a few, some very encouraging. Agents, especially good ones, get a ton of submissions. So to give you a personal response, that person has to take time out of her (or his) day, think about you for a bit, write a note and send it, knowing that you, a stranger, may simply be hurt by the “no” and not appreciate the time and effort it took to write to you. It’s been explained to me that once you’re getting personal notes, it’s another step toward achieving your goal, because agents don’t take time to write those unless they see something they want to encourage.

These rejections are, as rejections go, the good stuff, ranging from “better than the cheap stuff, with some flavor” to “this is the luxury ice cream you serve to company or buy to spoil yourself, or to eat after a really bad breakup, because it’s good enough to remind you life is still worth living.”

Finally, and I’ve only gotten one of these, the really awful rejection, where you get a personal note, and it’s useless, uninformative, and just plain mean. I found out later the same agent had sent variations of that letter to multiple people. We’re back to cat litter here. You may well get at least one pint of used cat litter ice cream. Just know that it isn’t you. Nobody worth bothering about sends anyone used cat litter ice cream.

I don’t know the average, but looking into it, I found that those “I showed my first book to one agent, who signed me and sold it for many dollars” story is so rare as to be almost (not quite) an urban myth. The usual story is “I wrote a book and queried 50-200 agents before one took a chance on me, and wrote the next book in the year+ it took her to sell the first one.”

Rejection is baked into the professional writing experience. I’ve been an editor, and can tell you I hated saying “no.” Hated. It. You’d much rather say “yes,” but you can’t say yes as often as you would like to. There is nothing, with the possible exception of oxygen, that is for everyone. Once you get published, not everyone will like what you write. It’s just that way.

If you get a “school ice cream day” vanilla form letter, or an “I sent this and never heard back” glass of room-temperature air, well, that’s one closer to finding your agent, the one who gets what you’re doing. If you get a “store brand vanilla,” be grateful that someone at least took time to let you know. If a “luxury brand” rejection comes your way, mine it for anything useful, be grateful for the time that person took to encourage you, and keep going.

Actually, no matter what, keep going.

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The query letter has to be as good as the book. Maybe better.

“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write. Will you take a look?” — The Beatles

Something I’ve learned while searching for an agent: writing the book may be the easy part. Here I thought all that time spent mumbling to myself, scratching notes on diner napkins, and otherwise trying to put together one really good sentence, then another, and stack them together into something worth paying to read was the heavy lifting. Editing, polishing, polishing again… that had to be the hard part. I didn’t expect finding an agent and selling a book to be easy, but I didn’t expect it to be the start of a secondary writing career, either.

I didn’t know how many documents have to march in front of an unpublished book, carrying the banner and blowing trumpets. Loglines. Synopses. And, oh God, Query Letters.

Looking back, my first query letter, as artist Berke Breathed put it, “wasn’t that bad, but Lord, it wasn’t good.” Each form of writing has its own sales style. I could, and had, write a successful pitch to land a freelance assignment, but writing a query letter for my novel that way left it as dry as a cracker.Plus, I’d gotten to the point where I was getting assignments through other editors or producers who had recommended me, so I wasn’t pitching often.

In Girl Scouts, I was the kid who towed the wagon full of cookie boxes if the other girl would ring the doorbell and talk to people. I’m a major introvert. My pitch skills were near zero.

So I did the research. If you’re trying this, seriously, do your homework. It’s fine to ask other people what they think, but also read articles on reputable writer sites (like Writer’s Digest, and literary agent blogs). I did, and here are some of the tips that come up repeatedly (in no particular order):

  1. Be brief. A query letter is supposed to be a single page.
  2. Include the name of your book, genre and approximate word count. Target audience, too (and do NOT, whatever you do, say, “This book would be popular with everyone!” Nothing is popular with everyone. Who, really, is probably going to enjoy this book?).
  3. Include qualifications (both to write this book, and as a professional writer), if you have them. Placed (or won) any writing competitions? Participated in writing workshops or taken classes? Been published (for example, if, like me, you’ve had articles, etc. published)? How do you know about this subject (especially important for nonfiction books)? If you haven’t had anything published, then you haven’t, but if you have, the bio paragraph is your chance to say so.
  4. Describe your book in a paragraph:
    1. Protagonist/antagonist
    2. Conflict
    3. Stakes (What does your protagonist need? What threatens him/her getting it?)
    4. Some idea of why this book would be interesting for a reader
  5. In your bio, if you belong to writing groups/associations, mention it.
  6. Address the letter to the agent by name AND DOUBLE-CHECK THE SPELLING
  7. Contact info
  8. Comparable books in your genre. People like something that is a twist on something familiar — the actually completely unfamiliar is something most people won’t risk their careers/income on, and you’re asking an agent to do just that. Show that you’ve given this some thought. Best if your comps are fairly recent and fairly successful. Comparing your car to a 1970s Gremlin isn’t likely to sell it
  9. Platform (social media) if you have one. Twitter handle, Facebook, etc. Keep in mind the agent, if interested, will likely check you out on social media, so watch the posts of half-naked pictures of you passed out, drunk. You don’t have to wear a muzzle, just, y’know, be aware that the most important word in “social media” is SOCIAL. All kinds of people see it.

Craft your query letter with as much attention as you spent to craft your book. It’s your sales rep, knocking on doors and pitching you and your book as something every good agent needs!

While crafting your query letter, logline and synopsis, craft a rejection strategy, because you are, at the start or at some point, going to get rejected. Comes with the territory. If Kathryn Stockett, Stephen King, JK Rowling and even Dr. Seuss got rejections, you and I probably will as well. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Some successful authors were rejected over a hundred times before getting a break. My personal routine is: 2 minutes to be disappointed, chocolate, exercise, pet my dogs, send out a query letter for each rejection. Sometimes more.

Good luck! Hope to meet you on the bestseller list some day!

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Into the Twitter(pitch)verse: The Basics

There are opportunities to get your project in front of agents and editors, and, I’m learning, ways to do it (and not do it).

An intro to Twitter pitch events for writers.

Twitter pitch contests — I’m no expert. I’m experimenting and figuring it out. But it’s a chance to get your work in front of agents and editors, so it’s worth exploring. Here’s what I’ve learned so far (my opinion. If you disagree, fine, do what makes sense to you):

1) How to find them — I searched “Twitter pitch contest” and then did the legwork, reading up on the various pitch contests, who runs them, who participates, articles by writers and agents who’ve participated to find the ones I wanted to participate in. There are contests for novels, scripts, etc. There are contests by genre.

2) Crafting your pitch… You’re pitching your project in 140-280 characters. It has to be a complete pitch in itself as the agent/editor might not see your other pitches.

You’ll find articles by agents on what they want to see, and by writers on their experiences pitching, but basically, you include your protagonist, maybe antagonist, and the stakes. I’m still experimenting. Our novel is contemporary fiction (mainstream/women’s fiction), with humor, so the pitches have a humorous tone.

If you had to boil down your project for its essence, like distilling vanilla beans for extract, what is the essential heart of your story?

3) Space out your pitches. you’re usually allowed 3-6 pitches across the day. Remember they’re usually EST (not always, so check), so don’t post your last pitch after 3 pm PST.

4) There are no guarantees. Getting a request depends on the right agent seeing the right tweet at the right time. It’s just an increased chance you’ll be seen. You get between 3-6 tweets across one day.

I’ve done a couple of them so far. First one? Three chances, zero requests. Second? Six chances, six requests. Don’t think that getting no requests means your project isn’t good — it can just mean the right person didn’t happen to see your pitch.

5) If you get a request, do your homework on the requester — just like cold querying an agent. There are hoaxsters and even some legit pitch events don’t vet participants. It’s on you to find out if this person seems legit.

6 If you do get a request? Check out the requester. If s/he seems legit and a good fit, check submission guidelines. Go for it.

7) If you get no requests? Look over your pitches. Look at other pitches. Which stand out? Which are interesting? Learn from the competition. If your pitches are sound, then maybe your person didn’t see them (there can be a LOT of pitches). Get back to querying and be prepared for the next event. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Hope something here is helpful to you. Any legit chance to get your work out there is worth pursuing, in my book. Show the industry you’re trying to get into that you have what it takes!

#writing #writingcommunity #writingtips

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