Saturday, December 29, 2007

And Then You . . .

By Josi S. Kilpack

There’s an aspect of publishing that isn’t often discussed, isn’t often considered, but has the potential to drive you crazy far more than lay/lie every could. This issue isn’t about getting the characterization just right (though, of course you’d be an idiot not to do a great job at characterization), it’s not about making sure your heading is in the right place (upper left hand corner; last name and book title along with the page number), and it has nothing to do with the disgustingly, grotesquely, annoying over usage of adverbs (thank goodness that’s not my problem)—this issue knows no boundaries of word count, genre, publishing history, or age, race, gender. We’re all equally annoyed by it, and yet there is no way around it. So it’s about time you knew that an absolutely essential part of being a writer is learning to wait.

1—After you’ve written the perfect story and given it to trustworthy manuscript readers—you wait for it to come back. For me this is anywhere from 2 weeks to a month per reader.

2—After you’ve made the suggested revisions and sent our your query—you wait for an acceptance. I know people that have sent our literally dozens of queries and heard nothing back for months and months. I know of others that have heard back in a few weeks.

3—If you’re shooting for the national market, after your agent accepts you—you wait for them to sell it to a publisher. This can take anywhere from a few months to a couple years. Should your agent find that they can’t place your book it will be returned to you and you can go back to step #2.

4—Once a publisher has accepted the option of looking at your full book, you send them the electronic copy—and wait to hear their suggestions. Just because you’re previously published does not mean you skip this step.

5—If you get revision suggestions, change the manuscript accordingly, and resubmit—you wait to see if those are accepted. If the changes are acceptable, you move on, if they aren’t, you go back to #4.

6—Once you get officially accepted by the publisher—you wait to get the signed contract, sometimes this can take a few weeks. Sometimes there are different boards that must also accept your book. They may suggest more revisions which will take you back to #5.

7—Once you sign the contract—you wait to see your cover and get your galley proofs. This is usally about 2 months or so. The good news is that this is where you know this book is going to be published. You have a contract and they have put in a lot of time to edit and typeset your book. You’re very close! But that doesn’t mean you don’t have more waiting to do.

8—Once you get your galley proofs, and proof them (hence the term)—you wait for the fateful day when your book comes in the mail to you. This is anywhere from 4-10 weeks or so after submitting your final galleys. Some authors choose to do a second set of galley prints which will extend this.

9—Once your book is off the presses and on the shelves you GET TO WORK SELLING IT!—and wait for the first statement telling you how many you’ve sold. Most statements don’t come for a few months.

What do you do with all that waiting? Gear up for your marketing campaign, promote any other works you’ve already published, and of course work on your next book. Publishing is a long process, it takes patience and if that’s not your strong suit (Me! Me! Me!) then you . . . well, you’re out of luck cause there is no way around it. It helps to take yoga, clean out lots of closets, blog, e-mail, and rant at your spouse now and again. If they’re a keeper they nod and commiserate you, if they threaten to cause bodily harm you might want to find someone else to rant to. As much as the waiting annoys you, it’s necessary that you act as if you’ve hardly noticed. Valium is good too.

Can you tell I’m in a waiting period right now, or was I too subtle?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Remember to take notes when visiting the relatives this holiday season. They'll make great characters in your next book.

We'll be back soon. In the meantime, check out the latest Monday Mania.

Have a fabulous holiday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hopeful or Hopeless?

by Annette Lyon

When it comes to the dream wagon, I'm one of the first on board. I held onto my dream of publishing for many years through a large number rejections, and even though I have some publications under my belt, I still dream big.

I love cheerleading fellow writers, especially those who haven't seen their name in print yet. It's exciting to encourage and inspire others to keep going even after another rejection, to never give up. It's one of my favorite parts about speaking at conferences.

But this week I read something that stopped me in my tracks. It was a letter to the editor of a writing magazine, wherein the aspiring writer discussed how many decades (I think it was four) he/she had been working on a book, revising, submitting, getting rejected, and trying again with the same (theoretically improved) manuscript. "I'll never give up my dream" was the point of the letter.

I had a two-fold reaction to this:

1) Good for them for keeping at it and never giving up.

was quickly followed by:

2) How pathetic that they've put all their eggs in one basket for forty some-odd years.

Had this writer been regularly coming up with new ideas, writing new books, and following publishing trends, for forty years, I wouldn't have had this reaction.

But they've been working on the same book for forty years? Where is the logic in that?

Almost every published author I know has several manuscripts gathering dust that will never see the light of day, books that they cut their writer's teeth on. You learn to write by doing it. Many times. On different projects. In different ways. It generally takes writing a few books, going through the entire process, before you're good enough to be published.

Revising the same book forever isn't going to do that for you.

Additionally, there's a good chance that this person's book will be horrifically unmarketable; assuming for a moment that their idea was hot back in, oh, 1967, I'd bet my birthday chocolate that it wouldn't sell today.

And then there's the element of productivity: A publisher doesn't usually make much money on a first novel. They hope to eventually make a name for you and sell more with each book. If you can't promise that you'll produce more than one decent idea in forty years, you won't be on their happy list.

Cling to your dreams. I'll never tell anyone to give up. But I will tell them to be a tad realistic. Write your way toward your dream. That means doing everything it takes to be cross the finish line.

Don't kid anyone; circling the practice track forever is not called "pursuing your dream."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Mania: First Page

One of our readers submitted the first page of her novel. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.
Critique Archive 0014:
PROLOGUE
(April of last year)


In 1864, Gregor Mendel published a study revealing the results of an experiment that used ________ to determine the principles of genetics.

A. Pisum sativum
B. Garden peas
C. Legumes
D. All of the above


I rolled my eyes and circled ‘D’. This was a trick question since Pisum sativum and legumes were each terms for ‘pea.’ The question was especially tricky since you not only needed to know the correct answer (peas), but you also needed to know that the other two choices were still, technically, peas.

Pencils swished and tapped and, for one student directly behind me, screeched against paper; there were mutterings and the occasional deep sigh; the smell of sweat and fear was thick in the air.

I finished the last question of the section I was on (the two major kingdoms of unicellular organisms are: C. Protista and Monera.) and sucked in a deep breath, stretching my arms above my head and letting my gaze travel across the room. Because the final took so long, the two honors classes had been combined and the students seated in alphabetical order.

The twenty tables in the testing room were arranged in two symmetrical rows. The tables were designed to seat four people but with the scratch paper, calculators and extra pencils each student brought, plus snacks and water bottles, the tables were pretty crowded with just three of us at each one.

I was in the first seat of the first row, second table. This was because my last name was Bean. Abigail Bean. Next to me was Riley Porsche Bennett. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She was the kind of pretty that made your breath catch in your throat. The kind that made you want to ask her to be still and not speak for a moment so you could just look at her. She had long, silky brown hair that was pulled back into a stylish ponytail. Her eyes were ice blue and her lips were full and naturally pink. Yeah, she was pretty, but she was also meaner than a deadly parasite and dumber than a single-cell organism.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Self Objectivity

By Josi S. Kilpack

A friend called me the other night to discuss a point in her book. I had edited this work for her a couple years ago, so I was familiar with the story despite the fact that she'd done several revisions since then. The reason she called was because there was a magical element in the story that wasn’t sitting right with her. She’d gone over it a few times and just felt like it wasn’t sensible, that it didn’t work. She wanted to know what I thought.

I thought it was fine, very creative in fact, and I told her so. She was not appeased.

“Then why is it bugging me?” she mused. So we continued talking about it and over the course of a few minutes she came up with a solution that didn’t necessitate cutting the element—it really is very clever—but added a dimension to it that would work and make it more plausible. In once sense it was a very small, a minor detail, to her overall story, and yet in it’s own way it was huge.

After I hung up, I thought about scenes I’ve had in my own books that have stuck out to me. A couple specific ones came to mind after this conversation and I realized just how impressive it was that this friend of mine would take the quality of her work seriously enough to want to make sure she was good with this detail. It occurred to me what a brilliant thing this was for her to do and what a reflection of her skill as a writer it was as well.

Fact is, it’s relatively easy to make changes people tell us to make, it’s rather simple to cut things when we’re told to cut them. Letting someone else point out our mistakes makes us feel more secure somehow, but it’s a matter of skill to be objective enough about our own work to not only see our own mistakes, but then to ponder, discuss, and brainstorm on them enough to find a solution for the singular reason of making our book our best work.

My challenge to each of you, today, is to think of your work—maybe something on the shelf, maybe something you’re working on right now and objectively think of one detail that isn’t ‘settled’ in your own mind. Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a name, or a place, or a missing line of dialogue. Maybe it’s a magical element, or the sequence in an action scene; perhaps you’ve missed an opportunity to foreshadow, or you’ve laid it on too thick and exposed a plot line you weren’t ready to expose yet. I challenge you to find a quiet spot or a blank piece of paper and brainstorm that detail. How can you fix it? What would make it stronger? What would help you make peace with it?

It’s fabulous to have outside readers and it’s wonderful to get professional advice, but honing your own ability to objectively tweak your own brilliance, therefore admitting that you don’t always get it right the first time, will improve your overall writing far more than another person ever will. Then, when the time comes to ask someone else to give you an opinion, you can have confidence, rather than na├»ve hope, that you are presenting your best work.

Get Ready, Get Set, QUERY!

by Heather Moore

The holiday bustle is in full swing. Everyone is checking their lists twice. Lines are already obscenely long and panic fills the eyes of many a shopper.

Slow down. Breathe. If you haven’t finished your gift shopping, what are a few more days?

NOW is the time to send out those queries. Like most of us, other writers are preparing for the holidays, planning vacations, sending out cards to everyone they’ve known since a toddler.

But the agents are still in their offices, putting in full days . . . reading queries, requesting partials. Yet, the writers aren’t submitting at their usual pace.

Right now, agents are in the “zone” or the “evil dry spell” as referred to by Kristen Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency:

Ms. Nelson says, “For unrepresented writers, this is actually a good thing because that means we are looking furiously for something new to take on because in the dry spell, we start reading our queries faster. We ask for more sample pages then we might ordinarily. We’ll take a chance on reading full manuscript of a work that maybe didn’t win us over entirely initially in the sample pages but because it’s so dry, we’re more lenient and will request a full.”

Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Literary calls it the “December Publishing Coma”

He says, “This is a time when agents and editors alike catch up on their reading and try and get things in order for submissions in the new year. So if you are polishing off a query, go ahead and send it now (but I'd avoid the week around Christmas and New Years).”

So get busy. Put off that shopping and work on your queries!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Mania: First Page

One of our readers submitted the first page of her memoir. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0013:

1979

· The USSR invades Afghanistan.
· Sony introduces the Walkman at a retail price of two hundred dollars.
· The price of gas is a staggering eighty-six cents per gallon.
· China institutes the one-child-per-family rule to help control the population.
· The Knacks are at the top of the charts with, ‘My Sharona’.
· Fonzie is king (“Eyyy,”).
· Robin Williams is running around in really tight pants, coining phrases such as “Shazbit” and of course “Nanu, nanu”.
· In the Sahara desert, it snows for thirty minutes.
· The world says goodbye to long-time idol John Wayne.
· And, on August 22nd at 12:26 a.m I enter the world

OK, so maybe me for John Wayne isn’t the best trade you’ve ever heard of but one would think that at five pounds some odd ounces I was fairly cute at least. I’d like to go on and on about how I was born. I’d like to tell you about how my entire family gathered around, happily anticipating my arrival and how joyous they were when I finally came. How they passed me around from one person to the next, cooing and smiling and tickling my little toes. I’d like to tell you all of these things and more, but I can’t. Although I’m sure my mother at least was happy to see me, this is a story that I cannot tell because it’s a story I’ve never heard. No one has ever told me about the day I was born. There is no baby book of which I’m aware to record the memories, no pictures that I have seen. The earliest picture I recall seeing of myself was taken when I was nearly a year old, practically bald with a rather large forehead.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Death and Rebirth

by Annette Lyon

One of the most powerful recurring themes in all of literature is that of death.

I'd go as far as to say that every story is about death, whether that's a literal death or a symbolic one. Quite often the death is followed by a rebirth of some sort.

If we use the 3-act screenplay format to describe a novel, the most dramatic death/rebirth generally occurs near the end of the second act, or with about 1/4 of the story yet to go, but others generally occur along the way as well.

Literal deaths include times when a character is experiencing or is around death, perhaps witnessing a loved one pass away.

Symbolic deaths can include cheating death and coming out the other side with a new perspective on life and the goal for the story, sort of a "NOW I get what it's about" moment. That realization turns the story in a new direction for the final act.

Stories often have a number of death/rebirth moments, because any time a character changes, leaving behind a former self, it's a symbolic death of the old self and rebirth of the new. It can take something dramatic to shake up a character's status quo, to make them change course, and a death/rebirth can do that.

These are powerful moments for the reader, which is why so many classic stories, blockbuster movies, and best-selling books include death and rebirth moments.

As an example, let's look at Disney's movie Beauty and the Beast, and at the Beast's character in particular. (Belle changes and has deaths/rebirths, too. Think how the concept applies to her as well.)

The beast's first brush with death is when he saves Belle from the attacking wolves. After he saves her, he collapses in the snow and even appears to be dead.

Belle decides not to abandon her rescuer and instead nurses him back to health. This prompts their first significant conversation ("Ouch! That hurts!") and provides the first turning point in their relationship from captor/prisoner to being icily tolerant allies.

As their friendship progresses, the Beast moves into the death of his old self. His pride and selfishness peel off like a snake's skin, and he learns to love another person. An outward expression of the birth of his new self is the scene where he bathes, dresses, gets a haircut, and otherwise gets ready for a special night with Belle.

(Side note here: An outward sign of Belle's inner death and rebirth occurs during their dinner that night, when she abandons her expectation that he use a spoon and instead raises her bowl and drinks from it. She's accepting who he is and no longer requiring him to fit her mold.)

Later on, the Beast frees Belle from her obligation, which shows his complete transformation but also sends him into essentially a death of the heart, which he doesn't recover from until Belle's return.

At that point we get the nearest to death the Beast ever comes: he and Gaston have it out, and the latter comes after the Beast from the back. In true villain fashion, such underhandedness is promptly punished, for after he stabs the Beast in the back, Gaston falls to his death. Belle pulls the Beast from a certain physical death (apparently with miraculous strength) onto the castle tower.

It is in that moment we see the final death/rebirth: the spell is broken when Belle declares her love for him, and the Beast melts away and transforms into the prince he's been inside this entire time.

Without such dramatic external and internal shifts between life and death, the story would lack much of its power.

As you read and watch movies in the next little while, pay attention to the deaths and rebirths. It might be Luke Skywalker apparently dying and in the trash compactor and managing to get out alive anyway. Or maybe it's Buzz Lightyear who faces the death of who he has always believed himself to be--a space ranger, not a toy--and in trying to hold onto his former identity, nearly kills himself physically by falling and breaking off his arm.

Look at your latest story and try to identify when your main characters face death, both literally and symbolically. What parts of them die? What parts are reborn? What do they learn from each death and rebirth? Does someone actually die? What is the rebirth that follows? Do you have one final, powerful death/rebirth scene that propels your character into the final act?

Don't start killing off characters for the sake of playing with your reader's emotions, but do take a look at where you can use those moments of change to enhance your characters, their problems, their goals, and their ultimate rewards.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Motivation

By Julie Wright

This isn't about you--the writer. If you're not motivated to write, go yell at your muse and get back to work.

This is about your character.

I recently finished the book Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George. Her characters intrigued me. I believed them--all of them. I believe the things they did, because I understood what motivated them. Jessica took a young girl, not destined to become much or do anything grand, and made her marvelous.

It didn't happen over a single page-turn, but throughout the entire book. Little by little her motivations were molded and shaped into a moment where she alone decided the fate of a country. In the beginning our heroine, Creel, would never have punched a princess in the nose or faced down a small army of dragons. But things change for characters--or at least they should.

What changes our characters? Motivation.

A woman who loves chocolate needs no motivation to eat a chocolate cake. She sees the cake and eats it because it's there. But that same woman who has a deathly fear of heights might need some motivation to cross an old rickety bridge spanning a deep chasm. She isn't going to cross the bridge merely because it's there. She needs some motivation.

Say we have that same woman, who has never so much as used a mousetrap to kill a mouse, and we need her to kill someone. She doesn't kill people, she can't even kill mice. But a properly motivated woman *could* kill another person.

That person she needs to kill might be standing in front of that bridge she has to cross. That person is blocking her way. On the other side of that bridge is her two year old son, who's been kidnapped by terrible people for terrible purposes. She's in a hurry. She's a mom. She is desperate and there is a person and a bridge standing in her way.

Now that she's properly motivated, she could conceivably kill the man in her way and cross her bridge.

On the other hand, it is conceivable that we could get the nefarious character to do something noble and even, dare we say, good. In the right circumstances anyone is capable of doing anything.

Characters need motivations that are compelling--motivations such as fear, anger, pain, desire, greed, hunger, love, and morality.

The nice man who cares for his sister's child isn't going to break a window and steal a loaf of bread. But if his sister's child is starving and close to death and he himself is starving, he would break that window.

The motivation has to exist--even if it is only imagined. Much Ado About Nothing is a perfectly executed plot driven by imagined motivation.

It's your job as the author to make certain I believe in your circumstances. Ask questions while you write. Ask your characters why they are doing something (and don't feel insane when they answer, writer's are allowed to be slightly schotzophrenic). If your why reasons sound shallow and even lame, you need to rework your story. If you aren't sure, ask someone who you trust to tell you the truth.

Always ask why.