Toni’s advice to first time novelists

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein99% of the submissions I see are from first time novelist.  Seldom do the manuscripts make me care for the protagonist(s).  Seldom have these writers ever taken courses in fiction writing with reputable instructors or in universities with reputable fiction writing courses. Seldom do they turn to  excellent books  that “show” them how to master the skills of fiction writing: story, character development, point of view, voice, plot, pacing, and how to write charged dialogue, setting, other skills.

Recommended Reading

don't use adverbsSeldom do the writers, who send their pages to this agency, know they use “hack” writing.  Hack meaning now overused by almost every writer.  Starting a sentence with the “as” parallel, or its brother, the gerund (e.g  Having shot her, he turned on his heel and said as he passed, “So long, sucker.”).  That’s a double “hack” by the way.  Or the adverb plague that a lot of writer’s still lean on: “I hate you!” she said furiously.  The exclamation point to show the reader how really angry “she” is ( as though punctuation conveys emotions); then the tacked on adverb to make sure the reader knows what the writer meant. (Insecure writer flag)  I see all this over and over and if I didn’t have my dogs to show me how they live with joy in the moment, I’d grow sad. Once in a great while, something will come to the agency that shows writing that reads like  pure silk, my hackles remain smoothed,  my editing pencil goes untouched.

Because I find so many would be novelists, who’ve worked hours and hours, wrote pages and pages, and most of that work needed heavy editing, I developed a course for writers and began giving workshops.  That started in 1992, and continues to this day.  What I learn from some of those who attend my workshops, or the bootcamps in tandem with Shelly Lowenkopf, is that though some have taken courses, worked in writing groups, no one ever taught them to master the basic skills, e. g. point of view.

I’m proud to say, one of these writers, who took the pen name of Robin Winter, I was able to place with a publisher last month. Ms Winter and I have worked together since October 2010. She worked hard rewriting the entire ms over and over. And finally, after submitting to several publishers the last draft, we found an enthusiastic publisher in Imajin Books of Edmonton, Canada. I am so proud.

Several other writers are almost to the point of delivering a finished manuscript to this agency, after working with me for many years. Because writers do have to work at day jobs, keep house, raise children, take care of aging parents,  their writing takes time to polish and refine. I understand.

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Join Toni at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference Sunday, July 22

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Sunday, July 22, 2 pm, Los Angeles Valley College

Join Toni Lopopolo, literary agent and famed lecturer, as she discusses: one-dimensional characters, dull dialog, not writing from real life, POV, telling not showing, and five more essential issues every first novelist should consider.

Learn more about the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference

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June 30-July 1, 2012: Weekend “Novel Lab” Workshop in Ojai

“Novel Lab” – An Intense Writing Laboratory for would-be Novelists and for writers of Narrative Nonfiction

Literary Agent, Toni LopopoloDuring this 5-day “work-off-the-flab, kill-your-darlings” workshop, you’ll get line-by-line feedback on the first chapters of your novel in progress, with emphasis on how the first chapter fits the novel as a whole. Toni will focus on such vitals as Character, Backstory, Dialogue, Plot, Pacing, Rate of Revelation, and Reader Feeder, the stuff writers force-feed readers and shouldn’t, and other skills that must be mastered, i.e. self-editing. (This tough love writing instructor has witnessed enough stuff that didn’t sell to make her an expert.) Every writer attending will come away knowing how to block scenes and revise any manuscript.

Writers will gain a sense of what it’s like to work with an editor in a publishing house, and what to expect when the book finds a home with a publisher. In the bargain, you’ll get a realistic notion of what an agent does, and does not do, for instance, working magic on your novel when in fact it needs revision.

For most of this rare and remarkable workshop writers will find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Toni has vast experience with unpublished writers, did hands-on editing at three major publishing houses. Toni will line-edit your pages and discuss them and the rest of the novel with you, as well as lead you through the reefs and shoals of the necessary scenes toward completion.

WHEN: June 25-29

COST: $499

REGISTER for this workshop NOW!

View Entire Schedule of June Workshops and Events

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Wondering how to end your novel?

When writing a novel you have to figure out where the story begins, and just as important, how the story ends. Literary Agent Toni Lopopolo joins Shelly Lowenkopf, author of The Fiction Writer’s Companion, in a discussion about “Anticlimax”.

“I’ve read several novels I’ve just loved, ” Toni said. “I thought they ended then realized there’s another quarter of the story. Like they just can’t stop.”

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Workshop for First Novelists – March 31

The Ten Most Common Mistakes  First Novelists Make banner

The Ten Most Common Mistakes
First Novelists Make

A fiction and narrative nonfiction workshop lead by
literary agent, Toni Lopopolo

Saturday, March 31, 9 am-12 noon, $49

To be held at World University, Ojai
in conjunction with Ojai WordFest

Are you writing a novel or narrative nonfiction book or a first or second draft? Would you like to avoid the pitfalls that mark a new novelist?

Toni novel writing workshopLopopolo is a former Executive Editor at Macmillan and St. Martin’s Press who opened her literary agency in 1991. Toni got the idea for her list of “Ten Most Common Mistakes” after reading the mountain of unsolicited—and mostly unskilled—novels writers began sending her. She decided to show new novelists what skills they must master to write a publishable and commercial novel or narrative nonfiction book.

“So many people dive into fiction or narrative nonfiction without understanding that writing a novel, or a narrative nonfiction book, is not like writing a thesis for an English Lit class. To become published, writers must meet a high standard achievable IF they know where the bar is placed and why. With the Ten Most Common Mistakes workshop, budding writers learn what skills they need to master. These skills are not taught in schools or writing classes.” – Toni Lopopolo


The Ten Most Common Mistakes First Novelists Make is but one of three workshops presented by the Pacific Institute for Professional Writing during Ojai WordFest. All PIPW workshops are lead by published professionals with many years of experience and a proven track record.

Click here to learn more about the other workshops.

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Example of Narrative Voice in Novel Writing

Toni Lopopolo reads an excerpt from Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell as an example of good narrative voice in a novel. Book editor Shelly Lowenkopf talks about how narrative comes from the character, not the author. In other words, “Stay the f* out of your own novel.”

This is an excerpt from a Fiction Bootcamp Intensive.

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Toni Lopopolo on Literary Gumbo TV

Literary Agent and teacher, Toni Lopopolo, returns Literary Gumbo TV to update host Fred Klein about her ventures since relocating permanently to Santa Barbara. She is active seeking new clients as well as teaching fiction bootcamps with Shelly Lowenkopf and workshops for women writers she calls Tea with Toni.

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