Friday, April 29, 2016

Define IT

A popular post from June 2010

by Annette Lyon

I didn't realize until I kept seeing the same thing cross my desk (or, um, monitor) literally dozens of times that one very common way of telling is often overlooked.

Here's the awesome news: this kind of telling is really easy to change into showing. (Easy is the kind of fix we all like, right?)

So what's the weak telling I'm talking about?

When the words THAT and IT are too vague.

Most of the time, sure, the reader will technically know what you're referring to, but if you'd just define IT or THAT, you'd be showing us rather than telling.

For example, you write:

I knew THAT hurt him.
Okay, so chances are we know, thanks to context, what THAT refers to. But what if you were to be more specific? Can you SHOW us?
Switch out THAT with what it refers to:
I knew my words hurt him.
Zing! So much more powerful.

Let's try another:
IT felt like family.
WHAT felt like family? Show us by defining IT:
Being with them felt like family.
Dinner that night felt like family.

And one more:
IT would make things easier.
WHAT would make things easier? Define IT:
Breaking off their relationship now would make things easier.

Simple yet so effective.
In rough drafts, most of us add those extra words without giving the issue much thought. No problem. But when you're going through revisions, try this: search for THIS, IT, and even THAT.
Not every instance will fall under this category, but of those that do, see how many you can replace with showing details. Be specific.
You don't want to get wordy, so there may be places where IT and THAT fit better.
But don't assume as much. Look at each case to see if defining those words with detail makes for a stronger sentence.
Trust me; it can pack a huge punch.
Wait. Try that again: Trust me; defining IT and THAT can pack a huge punch.
Yep. Much better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Types of Editing

A popular post from August 2010

By Heather Moore

I recently turned in a manuscript to my publisher. Although I’m thrilled to have completed another manuscript, I’m thinking of the editing process with some trepidation.

Once you have a publishing contract, you might think the publisher has forgotten about you for awhile. “When will I get to work with my editor?” you might ask. Be careful what you wish for. Although I have been lucky enough so far to have editors who’ve allowed fair give-and-take throughout the editing process, the editing process continues to be daunting.

When I finish my manuscript, I send out the book to several alpha readers on my own. When I get their comments back, I go through my manuscript and revise. So by the time I turn in the manuscript to my publisher, I feel I’m well into the editing process. Yet, from the publisher’s perspective, it has only begun.

Steps of editing that you might face (or look forward to):

Phase 1: General evaluations from the readers who were hired by your publisher to see if your manuscript is marketable and fits the line-up of the publisher.
Your Job: Revise according to suggestions and resubmit

Phase 2: Your assigned editor will read through book and make general comments. Sometimes this might come back very detailed or more overall plot/character/etc. issues.
Your Job: Revise, discuss, revise again, with editor

Phase 3: After both you and the editor are pleased with the book, the manuscript moves onto the copy editing stage (or line editing). My publisher uses two different copy editors for this stage
Your Job: Review copy edit, approve changes, or revise accordingly. This stage is really the last chance to change anything in your manuscript.

Phase 4:
Proofreading. Once the copyedits are finalized, the manuscript is transposed into book layout form. Also called the galley stage or the typeset version. My publisher uses two proofreaders to check formatting and look for typos or other errors.
Your Job: Some writers leave it up to the proofreader, but I like to print out a hard copy and, yes, painstakingly read through it again. During this stage it’s very hard to change more than a word or two since a sentence addition or deletion often changes the layout of the page and/or chapter.

The good news is that with all of these stages of editing, your book will get much stronger, much tighter, and become something to be proud of.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Perfect Pitch

A popular post from March 2010

By Julie Wright

I spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to embed this video into this post, and still can't do it. I hope I write better than I utilize the internet. I wasn't able to figure out how to bring the video to you, so you must go to the video.

This was a little gem I found on You Tube, and it portrays the things that I have personally witnessed writers do to poor agents and editors. It's a good reminder to those of you who might be going out and doing pitches anytime soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What's Your Book Called?

A popular post from September 2010

by Annette Lyon

This is probably the most common question I get from readers about whatever my current work in progress is.

I never have an answer for it. I used to, when the stack of rejection letters was growing.
But I no longer name my books as I write them, and I haven't for many years.

Why? For starters, authors rarely get to have any say in their titles.

That can come as a surprise to aspiring writers who spend hours concocting the perfect title and imagine it emblazoned on a stack of books at their favorite bookstore.

But the reality is that the marketing department gets to pick the title, and an author is extremely lucky to have any say at all. Just about every book I've submitted has hit shelves with a different title than I gave it.

I got close with book #3: the title I suggested had the word "house" in it. The final title was House on the Hill. To my utter shock, my 7th book kept the title I submitted it with, Band of Sisters. But I can't take credit for the title, because I'm terrible at coming up with them; my husband invented that one, and it worked.

I think most authors will be honest by admitting that there's a part of us that hates having so little control over the title. It's my baby; why can't I have a say in what it's called?

But then you have to remember the one and only purpose for a title: to get potential readers to take an interest and pick up the book. If the title does that, it's a good title, no matter how well it ties in.

We write stories; that's our specialty. We aren't nearly so good at selling them. On the other hand, the marketing department specializes in selling books and knowing what kind of title grabs interest. They have entire meetings devoted to picking titles.

Since the publisher is the one footing the bills for editing, design, marketing, printing, shipping, and other costs associated with my book, it's only fair that they get to pick the title that will give the book its best shot. They have a vested interest in seeing the book do well, so they'll pick a title they think will get the final product off the shelf and out the bookstore doors.

That said, I still dislike the title of my first book. When my editor informed me that it would be called Lost Without You
(now available in e-reader format on Kindle and Smashwords!), I sent her an email in hopes she could clarify what in the world the title had to do with my story.

Basically: nothing. It's just a romantic-sounding title.

Since it didn't even almost fit the story or my characters, I added a line of dialogue in the final scene so the title would both make some sense as well as reflect what I felt was the entire point of the book. (Which, by the way, wasn't the romance.)

Side note: I've had many readers tell me they had no clue why it was called that until they reached the added line. Glad I made that change!

Aside from the fact that I know whatever title I pick won't be used, there is another reason I no longer use working titles for my projects: It's emotionally and mentally tough to rename your baby.

With Lost Without You it took me a good year to be able to refer to the book by name. For months it was just, "my book." (That worked at the time, since it was my only one so far.) Since my stories always become such a part of me, it feels like an appendage gets cut off when they're renamed.

Instead of giving them working titles, I refer to my books by a significant element in them, like a character (
House on the Hill was my "Lizzy" book), part of the setting (At the Journey's End was my "Honeymoon Trail" book), or the topic (Band of Sisters was my "military wives" book.)

The good news is that my publisher now asks for at least five title suggestions, along with lists of significant locations, objects, ideas, words, etc. so the marketing folks can have a better idea of what's inside the pages, and then attach a more-fitting title.

I love that it gives me some input in the process, and I must admit that all of my other titles rock; they fit the books
and are catchy enough to grasp a reader's attention.

Even better, with each one, I haven't had to call them my second, third, fourth, and so on, while getting used to them. Without batting an eye, I've been able to call my babies by their final titles even before they're in print.

Next up: my cookbook, which the marketing department brilliantly titled Chocolate Never Faileth.

I never in a million years would have come up with that, but readers are clamoring for the book weeks before it's on shelves.

See? Those marketing people really do know what they're doing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Time to Please

A popular post from January 2011

by Annette Lyon

After yesterday's inspiring and fun post from Julie, today's topic will sound downright dry. Maybe even wrong. She made some fantastic points about loving what you do and that if you aren't having fun, if you aren't writing for yourself, it'll show.

And yet.

There is a time to write to please. Learning how to do literary acrobatics can be useful and profitable.

But I'd better back up. First of all, know that I'm not talking about fiction here. Everything Julie said applies to fiction, and I say a big, "amen!" to her post.

Today I'm talking about freelance non-fiction.

While I'm a novelist, first and foremost, I make twice as much from freelance work each year as I do in royalties, split pretty evenly between editing work and other freelance writing projects. (I'd like to think some day that will change, but most writers who make a living at it earn more on non-fiction than on novels, alas.)

In this economy, the extra money has been useful. When a child comes to you with dreams in their eyes to join a school team and perform, the last thing I want to do is squelch that with, "Uh, sorry, but we can't pay for it." So I continue to wear three hats: novelist, editor, freelance writer.

With one of my first freelance writing gigs more than a decade ago, I also got one of my most valuable educations. Fortunately, the editor who'd hired me was willing to teach me (and rehire me, because I'd learned from her lesson).

I finished and sent off an article she'd requested, pleased with how it turned out. It was published with a completely different opening. Several phrases and words were changed rather dramatically. My gut reaction was annoyance; I knew full well that everything I'd written was grammatically correct and just fine.

But with a second reading, I clued in: What I'd sent in didn't match the voice of the publication. Their voice was far less formal that I'd written the piece, more like good buddies having a chat. I studied the final version and realized that if I wanted to keep writing for them, I'd have to learn to write in that voice, stat.

Writing that way was hard; their voice was so specific, and it didn't come naturally to me. (Ironically, when done right, the voice came across as easy and breezy, but each word was wrenched out of me.) But I did learn. The result: I was hired again for several other projects for about two years, when the editor changed jobs.

I was lucky; not everyone would be willing to train a newbie. I knew that. So moving forward, I studied magazines in a different way, looking for length of pieces, voice, evergreen topics, angles, the advertisers, and much more. Even if I never wanted to pitch to a particular magazine I was reading, I still tried coming up with article ideas, just for practice. And it's paid off.

Recently, the lesson of writing for an audience/boss was hammered home again, in a good way. I was hired by a company to write technical scripts. (That alone is funny to me; there's a reason I freak out when the printer fails and I cry out, "Honneeeeeey!")

They gave me two trial scripts. Before starting, I read the company's style guide, which took a couple of hours all by itself. (And whoa, what a style guide it was! SO specific on phrasing and terminology and usage . . .) I researched my tail off on the topics and worked hard on those trial scripts to make them as close to what the company was looking for as I could.

When they came back edited, a comment said, "Wow. I don't think I've ever seen a trial script so clean!"

I was promptly asked how much work I could handle a week.

Just a hunch, but I'm thinking not all their first-time writers spent as much time studying their style guide. My extra effort paid off in spades. (And helped finance some Christmas presents and several other things.)

Booyah, people.

Lesson of the day: She who reads the style guide, does her research, and turns in the copy they're looking for, comes out on top.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Vilify Me

A popular post from October 2010

By Julie Wright

In a book I finished several months ago, I had an epiphany about villains. They don't think they're villains.

The evil cheerleader who picks on the ugly girl with glasses? She doesn't think she's evil. Maybe she's picking on the ugly girl because the ugly girl did something that hurt her when they were in grade school, and she's holding a grudge. In that case--according to the cheerleader, the ugly girl is the villain and is only getting what's deserved.

Let's consider Professor Snape in Harry Potter. He's the ultimate complex character. He's the bad guy, a constant thorn in Harry's side. And yet . . . he's also a sympathetic character. We feel sorry for him, we understand his motivations, and sometimes he's helping our protagonists achieve their goals. Sometimes he's doing things that good guys do.

So is he good or bad?

That depends on who you're asking. Harry would say Snape's the villain. Snape would call himself the hero. He made the hard choice, did what had to be done, and he did it all for the love of one woman. Isn't that heroic? Doesn't that deserve our approval? Or if not approval, at the very least, it deserves our understanding, and certainly doesn't deserve our censure.

In fact, all bad guys are the heroes of their own stories. They don't think of themselves as diabolically evil. They usually think of themselves as avengers of wrongs done to them. Or they're egomaniacs who really think the world would be better if they were in charge, and they can't figure out why everyone's trying to stop them.

This is important to remember when writing about bad guys--he usually has some strong motivating factor to act the way he does. A bad guy with the depth of the puddle isn't very interesting. Your hero is only as strong as his nemesis. You write a strong villain, and it will force your hero to step up to the plate and be equal and surpassing of that strength--because the hero has to win and he can't if the villain is stronger. But if you have a weak, two-dimensional bad guy, your hero will also be weak.

The best way to give characters complexity and therefore make them interesting is to avoid the "absolute" personality. No one is absolutely evil. No one is absolutely good. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

I truly believe that the very best humans are capable of horrible acts if given the right circumstances, and the very worst humans are capable of great kindness if given the right circumstances.

Keeping in mind that everyone has their reasons for the things they do will enrich your story and make sure that the characters stay in character. So now you know Snape is my favorite villain and why, who is yours?

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Different Kind of Rejection

A popular post from April 2012

By Josi S. Kilpack.

The kind of rejection I want to talk about today isn't from agents and editors; it isn't letters in the mail we open while holding our breath, or emails we stare at until we have the strength to read the body of the message. Those rejections suck. Really, really suck and if you're going to be a writer, you have to find some way to deal with those rejections. However, this post is about the rejection that sometimes comes from people you love and care about, people who may have cheered you on in the past, who may have even encouraged your toward your writing goal. These people might be friends, neighbors, siblings, parents, children, or even a spouse--the people you expect to be in your court, the people who are supportive of many other things in your life. But then you proclaim yourself to be a writer and things change.

Here are some examples--not necessarily writing related:

A very close friend of mine is also an entrepreneur. He's started numerous businesses in numerous industries for many years and has been very successful. A few years ago he was telling his mother about the new business he was starting and she stopped him and said, point blank, "I really hate hearing about your businesses, can't we talk about something else." It's been three years, and he hasn't talked about his work or his passion since.

One of my closest-girl friends was so excited for me when I wrote my first book. She was the first person, other than my husband and sister, that I dared tell about it and she was so encouraging to me . . . until I got a contract. We had moved to different homes by that time (we previously were neighbors) and so we saw each other less frequently, but when we spoke, she never brought up my book or asked about my writing. Not one time. At one point, around the time when my second book came out, we met up and I brought up my book that I was so excited about. I actually saw her face stiffen and her eyes narrow and after a "hmmm, that's nice" she launched into things about her kids. It was so blatant and so hurtful, but I never brought up my writing again, even though by this time it was a major force of my life.

Another friend of mine chose to pursue writing but her husband thought it was a waste of her time. He saw it as a hobby, and a time-consuming one at that, and does not want talk to her about, listen to story ideas, or read her work. At this point she's hopeful that when she gets a publishing contract, he'll be more supportive and he'll see her writing as a real thing, but for now it's a secret affair she works hard to keep under wraps.

Lastly, another friend--a writer--found the success he'd been working towards for years; a national contract. It didn't take long before he started noticing some of his writer-friends pulling away. Through the grapevine he heard of things some 'friends' said about his book, that it wasn't that good, or they didn't know why it was selling that well, and they stopped talking to him about their books and their careers. It was as though his success became a barrier between him and some of those people he thought would be on the first row of his cheering squad--people who had encouraged him when he was working toward his goal.

Obviously, there is an element of sadness in all of these examples. Because you're reading this, you understand what an innate part of yourself writing can be. When someone rejects our writing, it's nearly impossible not to take that personally--our words and our stories are a part of us. When the someone that rejects our writing is someone we care deeply about, it can be emotionally damaging. But what can we do?

First, arguing doesn't work. If you set out to 'convince' someone who isn't supportive to be supportive, you will likely be disappointed with the results--it's like paying someone to take you to prom, you'll never think back on the night and feel like your date was there because he/she wanted to be. The entire experience will be tainted and even if you successfully get them to cheer you on, you'll always doubt their sincerity.

Second, people are entitled to their opinions. As much as we would love to have their support, and as dependent as we feel on their approval, they have the right to feel the way they feel. It might not be fair and it might really hurt us, but it's still their choice to do so. Each of us likely has opinions about someone else in our lives--maybe we hate a friend's wife, or our politics aren't the same, or we value something like education or marriage or fry sauce that someone else feels is superfluous. We are entitled to a difference of opinion on these things, just as other people are entitled to theirs.

Third, we are in charge of our own actions. Just as they get to choose how they feel, we get to choose how we respond and we are then accountable for our actions. We can react any way we want to--rage, tears, sarcasm, but we then own what comes next. We can not blame them for what we choose to do with our feelings about their treatment so choose wisely the best way to move forward in your relationship with them.

In the example about the entrepreneur friend, he could have chosen to tell his mother she was rude and that she was rejecting a big part of his life if she didn't want to hear about his businesses--he'd be right, it was rude and rejecting of her to be so dismissive. And then what? Perhaps some mother-son relationships could sustain that kind of conversation, but he didn't feel that his could. Their relationship was tenuous and he didn't want to lose what he had, so he shut up and though it's been hurtful, it's less hurtful than losing the relationship entirely. He chose to take what he could get and is content with his choice.

In my example with my friend I didn't have to make much of a choice on how to react, life has taken us different places and we no longer have much of a connection. Likely a big part of the distance between us is because my life became more and more focused on my writing, and she had already chosen not to be involved in that part. I didn't fight for our friendship, and I miss her, but I've made other friends that better understand what my writing means to me and I feel a 'whole' acceptance from them that she could not offer.

In the example of the husband and wife, she only writes when he's not home, she only goes to events or conferences that are held when he's going to be out of town or that are during the day so she's back home when he gets there. They don't talk about her books, ever. Now, in this case I would probably suggest that she be a bit more assertive than I was with my friend. Marriage is a complex and sacred relationship, and her husband owes her more support than he's giving, but, then, I don't understand the complexities of her relationship and maybe she's doing the just right thing. I don't, however, think her husband will change his mind when she gets a contract--more on that later--which means she'll have to make some more decisions if she reaches that point and realizes the problems are not solved.

And, finally, in regard to my friend who noticed walls go up when he became successful, he had other friends who did encourage and support his accomplishments. He also went on to develop freindships with other similarly-successful authors who helped fill the voids and, perhaps, had gone through the same struggle. There were no confrontations or battles with the previous friends who had a difficult time, he allowed to be where they were, but nurtured more encouraging relationships.

You'll notice there are some similar reactions in all of these examples--none of the people were confrontational with their detractors, none of them put up a fight, and none of their relationships turned around--at least not yet. There's a reason I included these situations instead of a dozen others I've seen or been a part of, and it goes back to the second point I made in regard to how to react to it. People are entitled to their opinions and if we make it a priority to change their mind, we will likely fail and make these relationships even more painful. What we need to do, instead, is the following:

1--Love them anyway within the sphere or your relationship. Understand that their lack of support likely has less to do with "you" and more to do with "them." Perhaps they're jealous, perhaps your writing and/or success makes them feel small, perhaps they are afraid your writing will take them away from you. Imagine, if this is the case, how hard this must then be for them. We all know that creating sympathy for our characters is important--imagine writing this 'person' sympathetically, think about what might be in the way for them in regard to accepting and supporting you, and love them anyway. If however, the relationships has always been ugly and unsupportive, perhaps you should be evaluating the relationship in it's entirety--I have no specific advice in regard to that. Find a good counselor :-)

2--Stand up for yourself. This doesn't mean putting on a face mask and confronting them, but it also doesn't mean completely hiding who you are to make them more comfortable. If it's someone in your own home you need support from, tell them you need it and set up ways they can support you such as respecting a certain space as your writing area, or specific times as your writing time. They might not like it, but if you don't respect what you do and find room for it it in your life, they never will either. This can be tricky--you don't want the paid-for-prom-date scenario--so just do one thing at a time and see where it takes you. I do know writers who have successfully changed these types of relationships, and it happened because the non-supporter finally realized how important the writing was to the person he/she loved. Don't try and ignore this part of who you are, but don't throw it in their faces either. This is especially important in marriage relationships, where people have promised to support one another--it's not inappropriate for you to pull the 'married' card on this, but do it in a loving way and see it as a growing experience.

3--Find relationships that do support you. And keep looking until you find them. They are there, I promise you they are, but they might not come from the people you're surrounded by when you start your journey--then again, they might. You may be able to make changes in long-standing relationships and make them more positive through this, but keep your eyes open for new freindships and professional relationships that can also nurture your writing.

4--Make sure you are supportive of the people around you. You could very well be an un-cheerleader for someone you love and not even know it. Take a look at your family and friends, your spouses and children--are you in the front row, cheering them on in their passions, or are you in the back corner, nurturing your own resentment and envy? If you are bitter, why? What is it about their choice that is so difficult for you? Do you see YOUR writing as more important than their goals or passions? If so, I challenge you to take the journey to identify what might be in your way of supporting them and see if you can't do better. Self-awareness is a valuable experience.

5--Write anyway. Even if you have to make adjustments or have limits with your writing in order to keep important relationships in tact, don't let someone else choose for you in regard to making writing fit into your life. Writing for most of us feels like a calling, a role we were designed to fill, find a way to fill it, even if no one thinks you should. If you don't have the support of the people who could make this easier for you, don't give up--find a way to make it work somehow, pray for guidance, continue to grow. While the husband-wife scenario related earlier is troublesome and easy to judge that the husband is a jerk-face, I very much admire the fact that the wife has kept writing anyway. THAT, more than anything else will likely be the factor that changes his view of her. She is being diligent, and I admire that very much.

If you haven't yet dealt with any of this, prepare yourself for it because I don't know a single writer who hasn't faced this at some point. Some 'rejections' are more intense than others, but I think all of us will have someone who otherwise loves us but is threatened by our writing in one way or another. It's a sad reality, but reality all the same and, as I stated, once this happens, it's up to us how to deal with it.

May we find those people who will always be on our front row and may we never be the un-cheerleader for someone else's accomplishment. I'd love to hear your stories and how you've dealt with it in the comments if you feel like sharing.

Happy Writing!