Writing Advice

Don’t Make Your Readers Guess Your Story

By Laura Nsafou


Turning the first page of a new manuscript is exciting. When it comes to meeting new characters, it’s all about discovery. When writers submit their manuscripts, agents experience their stories’ impact like a first-time reader.


We want to find the best stories to represent so as we read, we ask ourselves questions to help us find them.  Is the plot realistic? Is it inventive? Is the journey too fast or too long?  Do the characters draw us in? At Quill Shift Literary Agency, it is through answering these questions that we are able to examine a writer’s work and see their potential.  Unfortunately, many writers stop us from getting these answers for the sake of…suspense.

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Feedback: Why You Need It, Especially When Writing for Diverse Audiences

By Laura Nsafou


Writing a novel needs a critical mind. There’s a plot, some characters, a setting, and the actual words made into sentences and paragraphs need to have a certain style that brings the aforementioned pieces to life. Unfortunately, many times when agents receive manuscripts, there are a few things missing that make the manuscript less than desirable:


  • Balance: the story’s rhythm is unequal. The plot doesn’t succeed in catching the readers’ attention until the end.
  • Authenticity: characters seem like caricatures or are not fully developed. You don’t have to give the backstory to every character, but there needs to be hints that you, the author, know every character inside and out—we’re talking motivations here—so the reader has breadcrumbs to follow that help them create a full image of your characters in their mind.
  • Polish: potential is not enough to get your story published. At Quill Shift Literary Agency, we receive many manuscripts with potential. What we’re looking for is a fully crafted tale without grammar mistakes, in the right format, and with a captivating story arc from beginning to end. Any author submitting a manuscript should have the feeling that it is in a state to be sold to an editor the next day.


How can you accomplish the above? Get feedback. Even though, as the author, you are your worst critic, your opinion won’t be as fresh and neutral as the one of a new reader.

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How to Provide Representation to Those Who Cannot Do It for Themselves

By Laura Nsafou            


When Nathalie McGriff at seven years old complained about her skin color and type of hair, her mother decided to do something about it. With Nathalie’s help, her mom not only created a super hero that looked just like Nathalie, she showed her daughter that a comic book could come out of her frustrations. The result was a visible representation of “little girls like her” in graphic form. That comic proved its merit by winning over $16,000 in a local contest and now Nathalie is proud of the way she looks.


Many children are aware of their absence in the books they read, especially when they start to identify and to compare themselves with others. What makes Nathalie’s path special is not so much that she may not have seen herself represented and therefore did not feel value in her physical identity, but that she became the exception. Through her (and her mother’s) willingness to represent herself, she showed others the importance of representing her as well.


However, Nathalie’s story isn’t the norm. Most children do not have the option to express themselves and to fix their absence from media by producing their own books. Each person has their own story but it doesn’t mean we all have access to tell it. In the case of children, they are depending on an industry much bigger than they are. Authors are responsible for what they’ll see in bookstores and their school libraries.


As an author, you are creating and producing possibilities for children with your words. As inspiring as this sounds, being aware that this responsibility is not enough. What you perceive as needed in children’s literature and in young adult literature could be different from what those readers want, and it can be hard to know where to start. Here are three tips for providing representation for those who cannot provide it for themselves.

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NaNoWriMo: A Writing Exercise for Facing Your Fears

By Laura Nsafou


NaNoWriMo has arrived! Unfamiliar with the acronym? It’s the writing challenge of November–the National Novel Writing Month. You can learn more about it in The List’s article Everything you need to know about NaNoWriMo, but the basic goal of this challenge is to write an entire novel in one month.


Every person who has attempted the NaNoWriMo challenge knows that you experience several obstacles. One obstacle is that you’ve got inspiration, but now you must write it down. So…how do you do it? Writing every day seems easy at first, but what NaNoWriMo teaches many writers is that the act of writing and having an idea are two different beasts.


The next set of obstacles form after the writing is complete. Doubt, curiosity, and fear will creep into the creative process if your preparation has not been vigorous.


Is my piece original? Have I written enough? Can it be a good novel if I’ve only spent one month writing it?


NaNoWriMo not only makes the writer question their personal process of putting ink to paper, it also underlines what we don’t think about when it comes to creating a story.


Below are four tips that will keep your courage strong during NaNoWriMo this year.

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How to Bring Diversity to Your Story

By Nicole Pierce


Here at Quill Shift, we look for and encourage books with diverse characters. When we say “diverse characters” we are referring, but not limiting, to characters of different races and ethnicities, religious backgrounds, sexual orientations, gender identities, and physical and mental abilities.


Thousands of others are asking for these types of stories, too. The problem is that although there are more being slowly published, there are still not an overwhelming number on the market considering the majority-minority status the US is approaching rapidly. One of the big reasons for the shortage in young adult and middle grade fiction with diverse characters is that some writers are not sure how to create these characters. These writers may be thinking:


I want my story to have a ______ main character but I’m afraid I’ll portray someone incorrectly/afraid I may use a stereotype on accident/ I don’t know much about their cultures or beliefs.


First, it’s okay to feel this way. But here’s some advice—don’t think of writing diverse characters as a new concept. Just write! Your character is more than one identity trait. They are more than just their ethnicity or religious beliefs. It’s important to think when writing a story with diverse characters that all of your characters need to be nuanced people with many different facets to who they are.

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