Monday, July 25, 2011

Interview with Agent Elizabeth Kracht

Today I have a special treat for all the friends of the Writing Sisterhood: an interview with agent Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates ! In addition, she will to stop by for a Q&A session on Friday, July 29th from 1 pm to 4 pm (Pacific Time). This means you can leave your questions throughout the week and/or during her visit on Friday. Please join us then!

Elizabeth, welcome to the Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood!

Q: How did you start your career in publishing?

A: I have been writing in one form or another for most of my life. Somehow I never thought about a career in publishing until I took a job as a copyeditor/proofreader for an English newspaper in Puerto Rico. It was an epiphany to realize I was equally as happy, if not more, working with others' words. When I relocated back to the mainland I took an internship at a small, nonfiction publisher in California (Hunter House Publishers) and later became its acquisitions editor. I brought to that job years of administrative, legal and technical writing/editing experience. Once working with books, I knew I'd found my "vein of gold." To further broaden my perspective on the industry, I began reading for Kimberley Cameron & Associates in my free time. When a position opened at the Agency and was offered to me, I did not hesitate to accept it. The Agency has a long legacy, and Kimberley is an amazing mentor.

Q: As an editor for Hunter House Publishers you acquired non-fiction books. Are you planning to focus more on fiction now, or both?

A: I will focus on both fiction and nonfiction. At Kimberley Cameron & Associates we receive more fiction manuscripts than nonfiction, but I have a strong, personal interest in nonfiction books, so if interesting proposals cross my desk, of course I will consider them. I also have a real soft spot for memoir and hope to represent many of them.

Q: What type of fiction do you represent? What are you looking for in a manuscript?

A: I represent both literary and commercial fiction. I also represent YA and genre fiction. In genre fiction I’m attracted to mysteries and thrillers and some science fiction. Right now I'd be interested in looking at anything with a Japanese theme, and rumor has it mermaids are supposed to be the next coming rage. Just to give an idea of some of my current projects: dystopian/science fiction YA, two nonfiction humor, literary historical fiction, commercial women's fiction, and a mystery. In a manuscript I look for great writing first and foremost, and am attracted to writing with a strong voice and compelling story that moves.

Q: What genres/themes you do NOT represent?

A: I don’t represent fantasy, but will consider magical realism. I don't represent horror, although Kimberley does. The science fiction that I am interested in is limited; I like grounded science fiction. I also do not represent romance and inspirational fiction.

Q: What are your top three authors of all time? What about your top three novels?

A: Tough question. Top three authors that come to mind: Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and Jon Krakauer. My current favorite novels: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl, and The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

Q: Since you lived in Puerto Rico for some time, have you thought about representing books in Spanish or Latin American/Spanish authors? Is there a particular Latin author you like?

A: Although I am not able to represent works in Spanish, I would gladly represent a Hispanic author and/or a novel set in a Latin American country. I think my favorite Hispanic author is Esmeralda Santiago (, author of When I Was Puerto Rican. Esmeralda has a new novel out, which I plan to buy soon, titled Conquistadora.

Q: Do you think American Publishers are acquiring more or less multicultural novels than before?

A: I think American publishers are acquiring more novels with multicultural themes, and sometimes the trend is set by world events. In the last couple weeks in the deal pages of Publishers Marketplace I have seen at least three works set in Japan sold to publishers. I also believe we read to learn and be transported. What better way to learn and be transported than by entering a setting where we've never been through a voice that is culturally different from our own?

Q: Young Adult and Paranormal/Fantasy novels are extremely popular among agents and writers nowadays. How do you see the market for Historical and Women’s Fiction?

A: There is still a strong market for both historical and women's fiction, but the projects need to be unique. Agents and editors are attracted to a work by a combination of market trends, whether a work has a place in the market, and personal interest and passion for a project.

Q: Approximately how many submissions do you receive per week? What do you look for in a query letter and what is the best way to submit to you?

A: At the Agency we receive more than two hundred submissions per week. I appreciate brief and concise query letters--no gimmicks. I'm fairly forgiving of poorly written query letters. I have come to understand that the query letter is a technical piece of writing, a type of writing fiction writers rarely engage in. I often don't get through an entire query before moving straight to the writing. I've often been shocked by how well an author can write after choosing to ignore a poorly written, egocentric or gimmicky query. I would strongly urge writers to invest time and money in writing a good query since many literary agencies have intern readers that are much less forgiving of gimmicks and typos. As a writer you never know the conditions under which your query letter will be read, and you've already invested so much time in your manuscript. It's worth the effort to have a polished query so your submission isn't one that can be discarded on a technicality. There is always an issue of volume when it comes to queries at a literary agency. If you are brief, professional and concise in your query, and if you have done your homework on the agent you are submitting to, your work will likely be reviewed.

If a writer feels we are a good fit for their manuscript, we ask them to submit the first 50 pages and a one-page synopsis along with their query letter attached as Word documents or as PDFs. We prefer electronic submissions. Submissions can be sent to and directed to whichever agent seems most appropriate for the work.

Q: What are the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you receive?

A: The most common problems I see in manuscripts are high word counts, excessive description slowing the pace of the novel, stories that don't get moving soon enough, and characters that are underdeveloped.

Writers should know what acceptable word counts are in their genre. Generally, for debut fiction we like to see works between 65,000-85,000 words (historical fiction can sometimes be an exception). Agents will reject you based on word count alone.

Be careful spending time in description of characters and things that aren't absolutely necessary to the forward movement of the story. Description can really slow the pace of a story, especially since the reader's own mind acts to fill in those details many times. If your character is in the elevator with a bike messenger, don't waste story pace telling me what he is wearing if I'm never going to see him again; I can already picture him perfectly. Watch excessive use of adverbs and don't use brand placement to try and give me a sense of the type of person your character is. Should the fact that your character drinks Amstel beer or carries a Kate Spade purse mean something to me? Only use brands if you feel it is important to your character's psychology, if it's an obsession that moves the story forward. If you drop too many brand names, they stand out in the manuscript, and those are not what you want your reader to notice.

To catch the attention of an agent, your manuscript has to move right from the start. Keep your story active and moving. Don't let it get bogged down by excessive description or dialogue that isn't crisp. And give your characters an inner landscape.

Q: Do you consider yourself an “editorial” agent or are you aiming to find manuscripts that are almost ready for submission to publishers? Would you take on a client based on his/her potential even if the manuscript is not ready to be sold?

A: I am definitely an editorial agent in spirit. I love to work on manuscripts with authors. However, because of the number of submissions we receive, I take on these kinds of projects based on both market considerations (is there strong market potential for it) and whether I have the time and strong personal interest. I'm working on developing a nonfiction humor book right now, but it's only a 60-page manuscript and the writer I'm working with is a professional and quick at revisions. In addition, there are hundreds of emails in my inbox that need attention. So, it's a little bit of a juggling act, but if the right thing crossed my desk at the right time, I would take it on and develop it.

Q: Writers are often times frustrated with how difficult it is to get the attention of industry professionals. What do you think is the most effective method for a writer to get noticed: conferences, blogs, query letters, contests?

A: There are many ways for writers to get noticed. If a manuscript is where it needs to be, a writer can easily get published by pitching an agent at a conference or by submitting to an agent online. In some cases it may take longer to find someone to champion your work. If you've gotten rejected by dozens of agents, try and get feedback on why and be open to the notion that your work might not be quite where it needs to be.

Personally, I think every writer should get a freelance editor known in the industry who will give them professional feedback on the market potential of their work, story structure, writing... It's an investment, but one that will speed up the process significantly. Otherwise, a writer may get rejections from agents and not understand from a publishing perspective what the problem is since rejections are usually template. In this publishing climate, the competition is stiff. I think writers spend a lot of time in the dark about their work, and a freelance editor is an unbiased source with a background that can give a writer the perspective that family, friends and writing groups can't give.

Agents usually attend conferences and listen to pitches. I just did eight consultations at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in California. If a writer's manuscript is where it needs to be when I consult with them, I would ask to see more on the spot. A writer can also send query letters to agents listed in literary guides, but should make sure the agent is the right fit for the manuscript, that their query letter is meticulously crafted, and that their work is in the best possible shape. Also, be sure to include any information about yourself and your author platform. Author platform is more important than ever. Invest in an author website and get yourself on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogspot. If you have published clips, let us know about them. An author platform can tip the scale on an agent's decision to represent you.

Q: How do you feel about writers posting excerpts of their unpublished novels and/or creating websites for them?

A: I think I'd prefer to have an author work on an author website rather than one for the novel, to start, since titles often change in the publishing process. I'd rather see an author build up their general online presence first. And rather than publishing or posting excerpts, it might be wiser to write some additional content about the characters in the form of a short story and publish it on a website such as Smashwords for free or $.99. I would love to be able to say to an editor I am pitching that an author I am working with has had thousands of downloads (and great reviews) of a short story of content related to the manuscript.

Q: As a former publicist, do you think every author should hire one? Or do you think most agents can (or are willing) to take on that role for their authors?

A: Agents do not take on the role of publicist for their clients. Because I have publicity experience, I tend to keep my eyes open for opportunities, but agents do not handle publicity at all. We may do some promotion on our website, but publicity is handled by the publisher, and now more than ever, publishers require that authors help promote their works.

I urge writers to hire outside publicists if they have a book in the publishing process. However, the author should be sure to avoid conflict with the publishing house publicist (assuming there is one).

It is in the best interest of the writer to help sell as many copies of their work as possible. If a writer has only sold one book to a publisher (no series deal or two/three book deal), that writer wants to make every effort to sell as many copies of their work as possible so when it comes time to pitch the next book the writer can show that there was demand for their work. Publishers look at Nielsen BookScan, which will tell them how many copies of an author's work have sold. If your first book did not sell well, it will influence a publisher's decision on whether to acquire your new work.

In addition, the more copies sold, the more royalties the author will receive! This is an author's paycheck. Work it.

Why not just rely on the publisher? Because some contracts I have seen are vague about the kind of publicity a publisher will do; meaning, they may not be legally bound to do any publicity for you. I've heard a publisher say that some books aren't important in the scheme of an entire list, which may be accurate from the viewpoint of their financial perspective, but that can be a real bummer for you as a professional writer. Even if your work is published by a big house with an in-house publicist, you will only have that publicist for a window of time unless your book really takes off. Help it take off!

Q: How much marketing/self promotion is expected from a writer aside from Internet interviews/blogs? What are other ways in which authors can promote their novels?

A: If not you, then who? Your book will have a window of publicity with your publisher, and maybe not even much of that depending on who your publisher is and what your contract agreement states. It is in all writers' best interest to research book publicity and marketing. Know your audience. Who will buy your book and where can you find them? Think of your work from as many angles as possible; what are the themes? Does your book have a theme that the National Organization for Women can get behind? Are you an African-American author? Dissect your work from multiple viewpoints and seek relevant publicity and marketing opportunities. Get authors or experts to give you a quote about your work. Get Amazon reviewers to review your book (or galley) or find other online reviewers and/or bloggers on the subject to review it (most people buy books based on reviews, Verso Study on book-buying trends). Review other authors' works and have the review link back to your author page, short story content, or book. Write articles related to some theme in your book and offer the article for free to magazine editors if they agree to include your bio at the end of the article, which will include an "author of..." sentence (you aren't pitching your book in the article, rather your expertise on a theme of your book). Magazines need to be pitched six or seven months prior to publication. Pitch them articles for holidays or another tie-in date with your book.

Write related content and publish it as an e-book for free. Do a book trailer. Get that author website up (check out or and do all available social media (get your kids or grandkids to manage it). Consider getting basic CisionPoint for a year, which is a database that has every media contact you could ever want (not cheap). Organize a book tour in your area and find creative ways to get local media involved. Let your alma mater know you've published a book and offer to write an article for the newsletter. Get all your friends, family and colleagues networking for you, and listen to their ideas on how you can generate interest in your book. Sign up for Amazon Author Central on the site as well as other websites. Pitch a radio show, rather than your book, to your local radio. Do an email blast (Constant Contact is great for this). Write a press release about the book and send it out to relevant media. Get friends and family to review your book on websites such as, Barnes & Noble and e-book retailers if you have an e-book out. Submit your work to book clubs and moms' groups! Google "How do I promote my book?" or "book publicity" and read as many articles as you can.

Be creative. There are so many ways to get your work out there and so many opportunities online. Create a media plan (examples can be found on the Internet) for your book, and begin promoting your work six to seven months before release.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for these very informative answers!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

She Says, He Says: Gender and the Writing Craft

We do know there is such a thing as “Women’s Literature” and it is known that romance fiction targets a feminine audience. Does the author’ sex influence its characters? Are male novelists guilty of stereotyping female characters? Are their feminine counterparts still hooked in idealized masculine protagonists?

In a near future, gender might become an obsolete term. Until then, we accept that men and women (regardless of their sexual preferences) react in different ways to situations and emotions. Just as religion, family life and past romantic history reflect on a particular writer´s work, gender does play a part in his/her craft.

Indeed, certain genres are associated with gender. As much as I try, I cannot remember a war novel written by a woman. Women can describe the effect conflicts have on civilians, but they don´t write battlefield scenes. Perhaps because until recently few women were on the battlefield and none was too eager to fictionalize her experiences. Think of how Margaret Mitchell describes soldiers in Gone with the Wind. They are either in hospital beds, on leave or marching away form Atlanta. She doesn´t show them actually engaged in war games as Stephen Crane does in The Red Badge of Courage.

Wounded Confederate soldiers in Gone with the Wind

There are hardly any women writers specializing in thrillers, adventure novels, epic fantasy or science fiction. I don´t know if there is a predisposition against them doing it or if those are not subjects women care for. This is why the few women who have achieved success in those genres (e.g. Ursula Le Guin) are twice as famous. Precisely why Nicholas Sparks is much lauded for being one of the small number of men who dare to write romance. In fact there are plenty of male romance authors but they hide under pseudonyms. Just as Nora Roberts signs her futuristic murder stories as “J.D. Robb.”

Beyond the question of prejudice in the publishing universe, I’m interested to know if readers notice a difference in voice when comparing genre written by novelists of either sex. Do women authors “feminize” their science fiction and mysteries? Do men authors rely on negative archetypes when it comes to feminine protagonists? Just think about those wonderful hardboiled detective classics and their femme fatales, as dangerous as tarantulas.

Barbara Stanwyck playing femme fatale in Double Idemnity based in a James Cain story

Nineteenth-century literature was full of novels with feminine names as titles, all written by men, all depicting nasty protagonists: unfaithful wives like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina; prostitutes like Camille and Balzac´s Nana; fallen women like Tess of D’Urbervilles and ambitious schemers like Thackeray’s Becky Sharp. Thank you gentlemen, but you did us a disservice. Only Dickens stepped aside from the Scarlet Women-Makers Circle, but he used a worse stereotype: the victim, the damsel in distress that always needs a knight to fight for her virtue.

Women writers are also guilty of stereotyping. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger creates a leading man who is a metaphor for guys unable to commit and who drift in and out of their women’s lives. At least, Henry De Tamble has an excuse. He suffers a genetic disorder that forces him to time travel, but that’s little comfort to Clare, the wife he is constantly deserting. Although the novel should be about Henry, we are hooked on Clare and her plight. He is just a nuisance, an object, and although Niffnegger alternates Henry and Clare’s perspectives, sometime he feels like a cardboard character.

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana in The Time Traveler's Wife

It might sound as a generalization, but biographical data shows us that most romance authors base their masculine characters in “The Man that Got Away” (a former lover), or some approximation to the ideal man they dream to find. Sometimes they combine both and give an impossible happy ending to their botched down affairs. Although it´s legitimate to draw on our own emotional experiences to create characters, sometimes we concentrate so much in developing a leading man or woman that their counterpart ends up being a one-dimensional shadow.

Afraid to fall into that trap, many men writers have qualms about delving too deep into the feminine universe, and some female novelists wouldn’t dream of writing from a man’s point of view. This is particularly true in romance.

When I first started to write “seriously”, my story had a supposedly dead protagonist who resurrected around chapter fourth. Therefore, the first three chapters were written from her bereaved husband’s POV. My Beta Reader wisely said that no woman reader would care for a romance written from a man´s perspective. I went over my collection of bodice-rippers and saw her point. And yet we now have romantic bestsellers like Water for Elephants with a powerful sensitive hero, and he comes from the imagination of a woman, Sara Gruen.

Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in Water for Elephants

Ideas such as “real men don´t read romance” (so far I haven’t met any who dare come out of the closet and confess to enjoy that genre) and women readers shying away from “masculine” genres are hard to kill. That is why to attract female viewers, movie versions of Jules Verne classics or Conan Doyle’s The Lost World insert token ladies that never existed in those books.
What is Arlene Dahl doing in the Center of the Earth? Certainly Jules Verne didn't put her there

I must confess I am an odd duck that don´t need girls in a tale to appreciate it. I have watched the Band of Brothers miniseries about twenty times and never minded the absence of female characters. Moreover, although I concede that women are at their best in the creation of female characters, some men authors are masters in that same craft.
Band of Brothers. Wo needs girls with such gorgeous soldiers?

I enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse Novels (The Southern Vampire Mysteries) but I hate her! She is irksome, silly, and loud. Vampires, get her! On the other hand, I have fallen in love with the women in George R.R. Martin’s saga A Song of Ice and Fire since as characters they are vigorous, varied and they hold up their own in a world terribly biased against their sex.
Sookie and one of her vampire paramours

However, I constantly hear men complaining about the manner in which female writers portray their sex. They say that most male protagonists penned by women are feminine fantasies or nightmares. Even when it comes to “macho territory” such as detective stories they point out to me that Patricia Highsmith‘s Tom Ripley is homosexual and Agatha Christie´s Hercule Poirot is a fuzzy old bachelor, far from the manly private eye epitome created by men authors. I happen to think that P.D. James’ Inspector Adam Dalgliesh is a pretty strong masculine character, but then as a woman, my judgment could be clouded.

Could you give examples of authors who are experts in developing characters of the opposite sex? Do you find it hard to create them? As a reader, do you notice how the author imposed his/her voice to the text? Do you think gender dominates certain genres?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Freelance Writing

Although fiction writing is my true love, professional non-fiction writing has probably honed my craft more than any story I’ve written. Being edited constantly, learning to withstand criticism, and writing on a deadline are all experiences any writer can benefit from.

When people learn I’m a freelancer, they usually want to know more about how that works — especially if they’re interested in trying it themselves. My path is not typical, but I’m not sure there is a “typical” path for freelancers.

My first paid writing job was as a reporter for a tiny newspaper, but after I became a mom I needed something more flexible, preferably something I could do from home. By the time my daughter was born I had moved to a new city so I cold-called the major newspaper there and asked whom I should speak to about freelance writing. Within a few minutes, I had my first assignment.

Thirteen years later I am still writing for that same newspaper, even though I have again moved cities. I’ve done some articles for other publications, which has taught me how good I have it with “my” newspaper. I’ve worked with two editors there now, both lovely people who edit me lightly and who let me write as often or as infrequently as I like. With my energies currently going toward completing at least one of my two novels-in-progress, I’m on a bit of hiatus at the paper, and my editor says that’s fine, just let her know when I’m ready and she’ll have work for me.

This publication also pays well … relatively speaking. Freelancing is not a money-making venture, and those who do it for a living have to be savvier than I am: for example, if you’re clever you ca re-sell the same article multiple times without breaking copyright. My more ambitious freelancer friends work their way up the chain, going from stringers at newspapers (which can pay as little as $15 per story) to writing regularly for magazines that buy their articles for a thousand bucks a pop.

Since I’m not relying on it for the money, and since fiction is my first love, some people (especially my husband) ask me why I freelance at all. The primary reason is exposure: I want to keep up my resume, to have my name out there. I hope that when I finish my novel and begin looking for an agent, it will be noted that I’m a regularly-published, reliable writer who is used to deadlines and to being edited.

For this reason, I’d encourage anyone who has considered freelancing to give it a try. It’s an excellent way to get your name in print, and the feedback you get from editors will only help your writing. Even if it doesn’t pay well at first, the experience is worth it: think of it as getting paid to be critiqued, to take a writing class. When you think of it that way, what writer wouldn’t jump at that chance?

What about you? If you freelance, what has your path been? If you’ve considered it but haven’t taken the plunge, is there anything you’re curious about?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dipping My Foot in the Playwright's World

Or how about just dipping my big toe in?
About a year ago, I was given the opportunity to go swimming in someone else's pool. Now, I didn't go with mischievous intentions (like leaving a cloud of colored water behind because I didn't want to be bothered by getting out and using the restroom, or throwing a Snicker's bar in so I could have the pool all to myself). No, I went willing to take the plunge and enjoy my stay as much as possible. And who knew, if all went well maybe I'd be invited back, or heck, maybe I'd get my own pool and enjoy every minute I spent in it. The name of this pool was "Playwright" and I entered the fluid world of writing my First. Play. Ever.

I'll be honest, I'm not the best at short stories because I think on a broader scale when it comes to my writing. I love great little subplots where each one takes its own path through the maze, but amazingly enough comes out the same side with every other subplot, right where it needs to be. I'd never written a play either. I thought perhaps I would crash and burn because at first glance a play seems similar to a short story. The writing had to be tight, we had only so many characters we could work with, the pacing had to stay even, and we had only a certain number of pages to get the whole thing out there in a timely manner. Needless to say, I believe my co-author and I wrote a pretty good play. If you're thinking of wading into the playwright's waters, then I want to share the highs and lows of what to expect. 

I'd say that first, be sure of whether or not you want a co-author along for the ride. I had a lovely co-author who writes children's stories but, much like me, she had never written a play either. There was a lot of starting and stopping in the beginning because our ideas and our writing styles clashed (I had a much darker take on things that she didn't much care for at times). We had to figure out what would work best if we ever expected our play to see the light of day. In the end, we worked it out where we took two scenes per act (so I would have two and she would have two) and individually we exclusively wrote our two scenes. I should back up a bit and say that we had already brainstormed and had an outline for the direction of the play, so the task became doling out who would write what scenes. We managed to pull it off and the final product turned out much better than if we had continued to battle our way through with each of us writing over the other and then arguing about what worked best. The main thing we had to be careful with was that the characters' voices had to remain consistent no matter who wrote the character for a particular scene.

Next, I'd suggest getting a good guide on how to write a play. Plays are a different monster than novels, the main reason being there is no prose, therefore, no living in the characters' heads. My co-author and I chose The Playwright's Guidebook by Stuart Spencer. Why this book, you may ask? No reason other than out of the hundreds of guidebooks (very similar to all the how-to books on writing novels out there on the market) this one had good reviews and it was affordable ($11.56 on Amazon). The main chapters are divided into first an intro, entitled "How We Tell Stories," which gives some great background info on how the world of plays came about in the first place, and also into three useful parts based on structure, the creative process, and dealing with problems. Each chapter ends with exercises to use in your own writing and these exercises challenge the writer when it comes to things like how to build a scene, how can the story have forward momentum, and how to make the dialogue and action work for your story.

Dialogue is key! Especially in the first few pages. You must grab your audience right out of the gate. If you remember nothing else, remember this. Your dialogue in any given play you choose to write must move the action along, while at the same time revealing who your characters are. As I mentioned before, no prose, therefore no leaving it up to the audience to try and figure out what's going on inside everyone's heads. As a novelist, I must admit that working with pure dialogue was a hard nut to crack. I'm used to working with lengthy descriptions or getting lost in a character's thoughts. The lengthy descriptions aren't necessary because the audience can see what's going on up on the stage. And those thoughts? Toss them out the window when writing a play. 

Lastly, editing is crucial. My co-author and I spent many nights at Starbucks sipping tea and hashing out scenes. When we went to put the whole thing together, it took a lot of effort to make sure everything was on the right track. Be patient with your co-author. Even in the end, ideas will clash, but that's where compromise comes into play. When working with another writer remember that their ideas count just as much as your own. Taking the time to edit out all the inconsistencies and making sure you have a smooth product is worth the blood, sweat, and tears. And enjoy the experience! I did, and who knows? Maybe I'll go for another dip in that pool!

5 Things to Remember When Writing Your First Play

  1. If you write with a co-author, work side-by-side with him/her, not against or over him/her.
  2. Have a good guidebook helping you along the way. Do the exercises!
  3. The opening scene is what will draw in your audience. 
  4. Have conflict with high stakes and high hopes.
  5. Your plot will always be related to your theme. Write something you care about, not what you believe is selling.

For the aspiring playwright:
Here is a sample exercise from The Playwright's Guidebook (Page 47). Give it a try and see if you've got what it takes!
Write a short five-to ten-page scene in which there are only two characters and the first character wants a book from the the second character. All the details of the scene are up to you. In other words, you have been given the action for the scene, but nothing else. 
What did you come up with? Care to share?