Friday, September 23, 2016

I Love You . . . But You're Boring

A popular post from January 2010

By Julie Wright

It's a song, I Love You But You're Boring by The Beautiful South. Sometimes it's more than a song. Sometimes, it's your manuscript. Worse . . . sometimes it's mine.

So what happens when you wake up and realize you no longer love your manuscript? (well, I mean, you love it, but it's just so boring)

Do you try to figure out how to break up with it? Or do you muddle through and hope the relationship will improve with time?

I usually muddle through. Years ago, my grandma taught me that life is sweetest when you finish what you start. And by the time I get to the end and then go back through the book for edits, I can't seem to ever find that uninteresting, lacking-in-spark place where I'd fallen out of love. I know it was there, but much like a fight in real marriage, I can never seem to remember what it was about, or why it bothered me so much.

Other authors call this moment of disillusionment "The sagging middle." Usually this occurs when you've written out your original idea and come to a road block (or writer's block if it makes you feel more professional about your situation).

How do you get out of it?

-Move the plot forward.
So often we get caught up in writing the story, that we forget to write the story. If the scene you're writing isn't moving the plot forward in some way, or developing that character, you might not need that scene. And you might want to replace it with a scene that DOES move the plot forward and develops your characters.

-Build on conflicts.
Some authors get so panicked about the moment where they look at their manuscript and think, "Dude, that's boring." that they cut out the scene of conflict, assuming that it's the conflict that isn't working. But unless you're SURE the conflict is at fault, rather than cut it out, build on it. Make it stronger, deeper, scarier, richer. Put your characters in greater peril. Maybe put a traitor in their midst--something that will increase tension and conflict.

-Build your character
This ties into the other two but gets its own place on the list because this is important. You know how people are always saying garbage about trials and stress are character building? Well, don't punch them out just yet, because it's true. It's true in fiction too. By building the conflict and moving the plot forward, you force the character to act and react to the new situations. You force them to grow and make hard decisions. You build their character. People, even fictional people, with strong character are certainly NEVER boring.

So take my grandma's advice and finish what you start, even if that means muddling through something far removed from the honeymoon phase. It really is sweet to reach the finish line.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pronouns Hate Apostrophes

A popular post from January 2010

by Annette Lyon

I know, I know. This one is so easy to confuse, which is why I'm writing about it. I've gotten this question a few times, so I thought I'd address it.

Daniel's coat and Megan's shoes need apostrophes to show ownership. As a result, we're used to adding the little curly mark to tell people that the car's tire is flat or the cat's litter needs to be changed.

So it's SO easy to let the little squiggly bugger sneak in where it's not welcomed and where it doesn't belong: in a possessive pronoun.

In English, we have two pronouns in particular that tend to get an apostrophe shoved into them incorrectly on a a regular basis. It's so common that many people don't even realize it's incorrect. After all, Mrs. Smith's class gets an apostrophe. So does Mom's car.

When I'm taking the dog to the vet, why don't I say mutt is getting it's shots?

Or when someone drops a dirty sock on the floor, why isn't it correct to ask who's it is?

Because possessive pronouns don't take an apostrophe. They are special: they're already possessive. Adding an apostrophe makes it redundant.

Actually, that's not entirely true. The apostrophe turns the word into a contraction, giving the sentence a meaning you didn't intend.

Taking the sentences above:

The mutt is getting it's shots.

When a word has an apostrophe, it's usually a contraction of two other words, like do and not creating don't, or can and not making can't.

In the same way, IT'S comes from IT and IS.

So what you are actually saying is: The mutt is getting it is shots.

Come again?

The same thing applies to who's and whose.

Think of the apostrophe as a big, red flashing light that warns you:

This is a word that originally came from two words. It's NOT a pronoun.

Let's take the other commonly mistaken pronoun:

WHO'S is a contraction of WHO and IS.

Look at the sentence above, and you'll realize it doesn't make sense when you pull the contraction apart:

Who is sock is this?

Okay . . .

For me, an easy way to remember the rule is to focus on that apostrophe and imagine it elsewhere. Think of possible replacements. Could they fit? In other words, what other other possessive pronouns fit?






Note how none of them have an apostrophe. But hey, let's try adding one:






Um, no. That doesn't work. So ITS and WHOSE don't get the apostrophe either.

Not even when you're adding an S, such as, "Is this sweater yours?"

Still NO apostrophe. Same with OURS, THEIRS, HERS, etc.

Pronouns hate apostrophes. Say it to out loud. Say it again. And again, until it's ingrained in your mind.

Wash and repeat.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Show Me The Money!

A popular post from April 2012

Josi S. Kilpack

With tax day over and done, inquiring minds want to know what you made on your books last year. With an ever changing industry, there are more factors determining success than ever and yet, as always, money is that elephant in the room. We're all curious about how the other guy is doing, we're all setting goals and working toward them, but we hear very small bits of information and we're always a little nervous to just put our info out there when everyone else is nervous too. This is your chance to share your earnings anonymously so as to avoid anyone making judgements or hitting you up for a loan. Unpublished authors get to see what they can expect, and those of us who have published, get to see how we fit into the spectrum and how the money works between multiple markets and formats.

Here's what we're looking for in your comment:
  1. Choose "Anonymous" for your comment profile.
  2. State your GROSS royalty or advance income, stating which type it is.
  3. State whether this is from traditional publishing agreements or self-published works.
  4. State whether this is LDS specific or national market.
  5. State how many titles are included in this income statement.
  6. Share your personal thoughts if you like.
Here are some comment format examples:

Traditional publishing
National market
2 titles. 

*It's been a good year for me, I'm happy with my sales and hopeful that 2012 will be even better

$1,200--royalty, self-published (Kindle only) 
National market
1 title.
$3,500--royalty, traditional publishing
LDS market
3 titles (All at least two years old)

$125,000--advance, traditional publishing
National Market
One title--first of four series.

*Book won't be out until 2013, this is what I got after paying my agent but before taking out taxes. It's the first of three installments I expect over the next year assuming I can fix the plot holes my editor found.

So, those are the rules--thanks for taking the time to educate all of us! I've featured this a few other years on my personal blog. If you'd like to see previous years, click HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing for Free: Part One--Why?

A popular post from November 2012

By Josi S. Kilpack

Part One: Writing for Free. Why?

I am a writer by trade, and craft, and determination and while there are other reasons for me to write, if I didn’t make money from my writing, I wouldn’t do it—or at least I wouldn’t do it the way that I do it now. As much as I appreciate and respect the idea of writing because I love it or that money should never be a writer’s motivation—I don’t necessarily agree. I write to pay the mortgage and orthodontist and to buy cute shoes from time to time. Before I was making decent money, I was writing so that one day I would.

And yet, I also write for free. Sometimes. But writing for “free” is actually a little mis-leading because the word “free” makes is sound as though it’s valueless. And that is certainly not the case and I recommend always, always, always writing for value. While I write some things without getting a direct monetary kick-back, I only write for free when I believe that the value, though not in dollars, is worthy of not only the time I put into the writing, but the time that free-writing takes away from my paycheck-writing.

There are two main reasons to write for free: Building a name for yourself and expanding your audience. I have done both and made a lot of important connections, while also honing my abilities, through blog posts, articles, and book reviews I wrote when I was a complete newbie. I first met Annette Lyon through an article I submitted to a magazine. It wasn’t very good and she told me how to fix it. It was the first article I’d ever done but led to many other opportunities (The most important opportunity was getting to know and becoming very close to Annette who has been a very important part of my journey since then--i.e. value in spades!) Back when I started, I needed people to recognize me, to know that I was here, I was relevant, and part of this community. It took a long time for me to get “inside” but it started with writing for free and making connections.

These days, I write for free chiefly to expand my audience. I want to capture new readers for my novels and getting my name out there, in multiple places and venues, helps me find people who will never find me on a bookstore shelf.

For example, I contribute to the Newport Ladies Book Club blog that is designed around the series I have done with Julie Wright, AnnetteLyon, and Heather Moore. We each try to post once a month. I don’t get paid for it, but it supports the series and I believe that the value both in marketing and networking is well worth the value of the time spent on the blog posts I contribute. I gauge its effectiveness through comments left on the posts I put up there and people who mention the posts later. Blogs are interesting because it takes time to build them up and it takes consistency to keep them in the forefront of the reader’s minds. I have backed off a great deal on my personal blog that I’ve had for years because of time and because I lost my focus and started talking more about me than I did my books. I haven’t quite determined what I want to do with it, which makes it ineffective, but I’m glad all the posts I’ve written are still there and available to people if they want to learn more about me. Maybe I’ll pick it back up again, but maybe I won’t. I’m struggling to see its ‘value’ whereas I feel like the Newport Ladie’s Book Club blog has value in it already.

I have written free-articles for my local paper, for online magazines, and for other people’s blogs for the exposure it gives me to their audience. I try to use a variety of formats (online vs. in print) in order to capture the readership that can be found in that location. I recently signed up for a large community of ‘free’ writing opportunities that pays nothing, but has a good reputation and often has articles picked up by larger venues. It’s my hope that writing for this company will perhaps help me break out of local-community type writing.

All that said, I am aware that every hour I spend writing for free, is an hour I’m taking away from my novels. I have to choose this carefully but I find when the balance is good, writing short stories or articles helps me to relax from the longer format works. I suppose it's the equivalent of taking a walk at lunch everyday for someone who works behind a desk. I get to explore different skills I’ve developed, learn new things, and challenge myself in new ways. I’ve found this to be a very important part of my writing and encourage other writers out there to look around themselves to see what “free” writing options might be available to them.

Next week I will talk about what to look for in “Free” opportunities and how to best plan your writing and make it work for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's in a Name?

A popular post from August 2010.

By Julie Wright

We are defined by or names. It is who we are and there’s usually a long and detailed backstory of how we came to have our own names. Stories like: She was named after her great grandmother who crossed the plains, or he was named after his uncle who died in the war, or sometimes less noble but no less noteworthy, we named her that because I hate his mother and he hates my mother, and this was the only name we could agree on.

I am named after my grandmother who, as luck would have it, was my very best friend growing up.

Some of us acquired our names because the name means something. Such as your name might mean nobility, beautiful, or strength.

Names mean things to all of us. I have certain prejudices against people named Becky because of some unfortunate incidents growing up. But I have a particular fondness for the name Cindy. A name is more that what we’re called; in so many ways, it is who we are.

Which is why a title is so important to a book. A title is so much more than just something to call your book. It is an intricate part of what that book is. My agent refused to send out my manuscript until I had a title that worked for her—that spoke to her on some level as to what the book was about. It was agony naming the book—pinpointing that one thing that made me sit up straighter in my chair and cry out,“Ah-ha!—so that’s what you’re about!”

When I sent her the title Death Thieves, she wrote me back and let me know she’d be sending the book out the next day. Once I’d distilled the book to its most basic form, I found it was about a girl who’d been kidnapped from her moment of death and taken to save a future where mankind is dying out. Oh, sure . . . it’s about love, and fear, and courage, and society, and family, and action—everything a good novel should be. But the title calls it what it is at the core.

A name defines us. It has meaning and depth. Our titles should do the same. A picture is worth a thousand words, but your title has to be worth at least the word count of your entire manuscript. People judge the book by its cover *and* by the title. If those two things do their job right, the guy standing in the bookstore just might pick the book up and flip it over to read the back-flap. And if that back-flap does its job, he might just wander over to the register and make a purchase.
The moral of this post is to be prudent in your choices for titles. You spent all that time to write your manuscript; it would be tragic if no one ever read it because the title didn’t do its job. Take the time to get your title right. Because I doubt a rose called stink weed really would smell as sweet.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Writer's Life

A popular post from March 2012

By Julie Wright

I've been doing a load of school assemblies lately with the release of the second book in the Hazzardous Universe series, and I play a writing game with the kids to help them understand the basic elements of a story. I take them through the many joys of What If.

The things kids come up with are totally awesome, and I have loved being able to speak to schools almost as much as I love writing itself, but last week a friend of mine said the words, What if . . . and followed them up with a sobering thought.

She said, "What if this is as good as it gets?" This was in reference to our writing careers.

My personal journey as a writer was:
  • As soon as I get that first contract--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I see my name on a book jacket--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I get on a best seller's list--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I win an award--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I get an agent--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I get published in this new market--then I'll be happy. No wait!
  • As soon as I get published in THAT new market.
When I signed with my agent, Jeff Savage took me aside and said, "I know you're thrilled right now. I know this moment is huge--and it should be. But I want you to remember to let it be huge. Don't be looking forward to the film options and foreign sales and then get disappointed if they don't come immediately. Live in the moment right now, and don't let discouragement get in."
I only half listened, because I knew my awesome agent would sell my book to one of the big six for a seven figure deal within the month. Two months later, his words sank in. Things didn't happen exactly the way I wanted. Not that bad things happened. I've had two books come out in the last few months and am furiously writing on three new books. But the events weren't exactly as I'd pictured them in my mind.
I've spent a lot of time in the place of, "Well, when THIS happens--THEN I will be happy." I allowed depressions to kick in so hard that I retreated emotionally from my family, my friends, and in many ways from myself.
If this is as good as it gets, and I am still waiting for some enigmatic event to happen to make me happy, does that mean I will never be happy?
Like I said . . . a sobering thought. There are a million reasons standing in our lives TODAY to be happy. We all have families, friends, life around us. What a tragedy if we miss it because we're waiting for some life defining event that we can't guarantee will come. I was so worried about writing life, I forgot to live.
I have a great career. I am fortunate to find success in traditional publishing, and I know it. But this last year has taught me that if this is as good as it gets . . . I am incredibly glad for what it is RIGHT NOW.
And that is enough.
Live in today, my fellow writers. Live and be happy right now.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Primer on Using an Electronic Edit

A popular post from October 2012

by Annette Lyon

So you’ve hired an editor to go over your manuscript, and you’ve gotten the electronic file back. It’s covered in changes—additions, deletions, comments, and formatting.

How do you work with such a file? Do you pull up your original version, looking at them side by side, and make one change at a time? Sure, you could.

You could also count a haystack one piece of hay at a time—a laborious and awfully inefficient method.

As editors, sometimes we forget that clients haven’t worked with Word’s Track Changes feature before, and we send off a file assuming the person on the other end will be familiar with what they’ll see when they open it, and they'll know what to do with it.

Over the years, I have learned that that’s not always the case. Here’s a primer on how to use the Track Changes feature in Word. Knowing this stuff will make a huge difference in how much time and effort you put into your manuscript when you get your edit back.

Create a New File
The first thing to do when you open your edited file is to save it in your manuscript folder under a new name. You want to keep every version you have separate, so if you ever need to look back at an old version (or revert a section to the way it was), you can. An easy way to do that is by adding the date to the file name, such as: My_Brilliant_Novel-9-1-12.

Using Track Changes
Editors have their personal editing styles and preferences. I like to have deletions show up in the margins in bubbles, and I add comments (also margin bubbles).

When you open a file that I have edited in Microsoft Word, you'll see every change made, including additions (right in the text), plus comments, deletions, and formatting changes in those bubbles in the margins.

If you have a relatively recent version of Word, you can easily accept or reject any change. On the ribbon (that newish, button-covered menu at the top), go to the REVIEW tab.

In the CHANGES group, click the arrow buttons to navigate through the edit. Use NEXT to go to the next change. It will be highlighted. Then you can accept or reject that change and move along with the NEXT button.

If you see a chunk of the edit you're happy with as is, select the section (such as a full a sentence, several lines, or words, a paragraph, etc.) and click either the ACCEPT or REJECT button. That will accept (or reject) all of the changes in that part and move to the next change. 

The same goes for rejecting changes in large chunks—select the section and click REJECT. The ACCEPT and REJECT buttons are next to each other, so they’re easy to find and use.

Be sure to look for vertical lines in the left margin. Those indicate an addition-type change in a line. If there's been no deletion or format change (which show up in the right margin in bubbles), you could easily miss a change such as an inserted hard return, space, or punctuation mark.

Note: When you think you're done with the edit, do a final search for changes using the NEXT button. This will help you track down any lingering changes (likely additions) you missed.

Comment Bubbles
Search for comments (also under the REVIEW tab) to read and address those, although you can also do that as you move through the Track Changes. When you're done with a comment, simply right-click on it and choose DELETE COMMENT from the menu.

Note: As with searching for edits, be sure to search for comments one final time when you’re done with your edit to be sure they’re all gone!

Next Step: Proofreading
After you've gone through the accept/reject process, it's worth reading through the entire file to proofread it. It’s a good idea to have another reader (or two!) proofread it as well, because it's easy for an author's or editor's eyes (someone who's already familiar with the text) to fill in what's supposed to be there and miss errors. (This is why I almost never proof a book I also edited. The only exception is if the edit and proof are months apart so my brain has forgotten most of it.)

A good proofer will catch about 80% of mistakes, which is why it's wise to have multiple people proofread your work. With any luck, the 20% one person misses will be caught by someone else's 80%.

Inline View
Some clients prefer to see track changes inline instead of in margin balloons. (So you’d see a strikeout through a word that’s been deleted, but it’s still on the line of text, along with an inserted new word.) If you fall in this category and receive an edit from someone like me who uses balloons, you can switch the view and then use the same Accept/Reject process as with the bubble view.

To switch the view to in-line Track Changes, follow these steps (for Word 10—I imagine other versions have a similar method):

-On the ribbon menu at the top of the screen, click the Review tab.
-In the Tracking Group, next to the Track Changes button, you'll see smaller menu options.
-Click the middle option, Show Markup. A drop-down menu will appear.
-Hover over where it says Balloons, and another menu will show up.
-Click Show All Revisions Inline.

More and more editing is done electronically. I believe about 95% of Precision Editing Group’s work is electronic, which is also why we rarely edit manuscripts in WordPerfect. (It’s the superior word processor in almost every respect except this one; it has no Track Changes feature. That, and Word is the industry standard now, thanks to Bill Gates.)

Whether you’re hiring an editor or waiting for the editor at your publishing house to return your edit, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Word’s Track Changes feature. When you receive an electronic edit back, you’ll know just what to do with it, saving you time—and, likely, prevent new gray hairs.