Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking a Critique, Part 2

by Annette Lyon

REMEMBER TO REGISTER for the PEG Live Writing Workshop! $35 for the full day, Saturday, August 13. Sign up HERE.


A few weeks ago, I posted about how to take a critique.

That post has a lot of important points, so if you haven't read it, do. Then come back.

Now for the next step: actively using a critique. I'll use the term editor below when referring to the person who did your critique. That could be a critique group member, beta reader, editor, or anyone else who is giving you feedback.

1) Before changing anything, do an initial pass.
Read through the entire edit quickly, without making any changes. You'll get a simple overview of what's ahead. Take stock of what's been changed, suggested, noted. Get a feel for what kinds of changes your editor sees for the book (or chapter or scene) as a whole. If you don't know your editor personally, this also helps to give you a feel for their personality.

2) Set it aside and take a deep breath.
If you're anything like me, even if you can take a critique because you've built up thick skin, you'll still get butterflies (or, say, nausea) opening up and reading an edit for the first time. That feeling may not subside (and it may get worse) after that initial pass. Sometimes setting the work aside for a bit (an hour, a day, a week, whatever it takes) lets you come back without the nerves but with a clearer, more objective view. Making changes is so much easier when your stomach isn't an emotional knot.

3) Attack the small stuff first.
That means addressing anything that you can change in short spurts, whether it's punctuation, grammar, and other line-editing stuff, or fixing somewhat bigger stuff, like showing this scene instead of telling it, upping the characterization in that scene, and so on.

4) When you find "big stuff," skip it. For now.
You'll be cruising along on your edit, with pages behind you, when you hit chapter nine and a big huge comment that you know is valid but is going to require some serious changes. The changes could mean rewriting entire sections or going through the entire manuscript to fix the same problem in multiple pages. Whatever it is, "big stuff" can be overwhelming. It can also be discouraging. With any luck, you won't have more than about ten or so "big stuff" issues.

5) THEN attack the hairy parts.
There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a lot of work done, whether it's manuscript pages or notes in an electronic file. Relish in the victory of finishing that "easy" pass (because even the easy pass isn't easy; it is work). Now go back and deal with the bigger stuff, one issue at a time, as your creative brain (and, let's face it, your emotional stress detector) can take them. If you get stuck, set the work aside again and think through the big issue you're facing to find the best way to address it. Don't rush big fixes.

6) Go over it again.
When you've addressed every note and change in the edit, do a final pass. You may catch new problems you've inadvertently inserted into the text through your changes (time lines, character or location details, overall consistency). Fix them as you come across them.

And while you're at it, be sure to enjoy reading through a cleaner, better version of your work.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Mania--First Page

One of our readers has submitted a first page for critique. Please offer only constructive comments.

Critique Archive #46

“Well, it’s not much, is it?”

The landlord’s forehead wrinkled up like crumpled paper. “I give you the deal of a lifetime, you tell me ‘not much?’”

Soren scratched his shoulder where the strap of his satchel had begun to rub through his thin shirt. His eyes scanned the building before him again. It looked like the innards of a sandwich squashed between two chunks of bread, pressed so close to the neighboring buildings that he doubted he could squeeze between the peeling old walls without turning sideways. A layer of grime coated the front windows and the door sagged pitifully crooked on its hinges. He thought the building might have been all white at one time, but now it displayed bare, muddy-looking brick with streaks of peeling gray and only specks of remaining white. An uneven patch of rough boards had been nailed just below one front window and Soren forced his eyes to the roof before he could think about a possibly gaping hole in the wall. The shingles were either missing or curling up on themselves like dead spiders; he winced at the prospect of placing buckets around the place to catch leaks. The thing did have two floors, but they couldn’t possibly amount to more than four rooms total, and only if two of those were bathrooms the size of broom-closets.

“It is affordable,” he admitted. He pursed his lips. “But it’s still not much.”
The landlord harrumphed. “This my only business vacancy. You don’t like? Go pay a fortune at someplace ‘much.’”

Soren chewed on his lip for a few seconds. He thought this would be an appropriate time to weigh his options, but found there was nothing he could put on the opposite side of the scale—the building before him really was the only thing he’d found that he could pay for. What had happened to the time when people could pay the same price for ten times the quality?

Of course, the answer to that was simple—the invasion had happened.

He sighed and held a hand out. “I’ll take it.”

With another harrumph, the landlord slapped a rusty key into his palm.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Guide for Adolescent Literature



Many of us have been following Lu Ann Staheli's book reviews for years. This week, her new Guide to Adolescent literature has been released, called: Books, Books, and More Books: A Parent and Teacher's Guide to Adolescent Literature.

Congrats to our own PEG senior editor, Lu Ann!



If any of our blog followers have a book release, we are happy to announce it here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Future of Publishing

by Annette Lyon

FIRST, A REMINDER:
The registration deadline for the Precision Editing live critique workshop is less than two weeks away. A refresher: Saturday, August 13, 10:30 to 3:30, $35. CLICK HERE for more info.

The internet's filled with people rabidly taking sides on the debate about what the future holds for publishers and writers.

Will independent authors publishing e-books become the norm?

Will agents become obsolete?

Will publishers become obsolete?

Are agents and publishers quaking in their boots because people like J. A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and Victorine Lieske have made good (like, really good) money self-publishing e-books?

Some people take the side of the traditional publishing route, saying that while there are some random successes out there in the indie e-book world, that really the only good way to publish is still the mainstream way, and writers should shun the indie e-book path altogether.

Some on the opposite side of the spectrum insist that traditional publishing is somehow an evil plot and the gatekeepers (agents and editors) preventing great writers from breaking out are finally out of our way.

These last people are the ones who sort of wigged when Amanda Hocking signed a traditional publishing contract.

The others cheered when Barry Eisler turned down a contract to go indie.

From what I've seen online, it appears that neither writer is choosing one side or the other. They're pursuing both paths.

Which goes to show that there is no single right answer. It's a complicated issue.

Seth Godin (famous for Purple Cow, Tribes, and other books), insists that he'll no longer publish traditionally because he doesn't need anything the publishing houses offer. He can do it all on his own.

Well, sure he can. Now. His former publishers helped him get to the point he's at, with an eager audience just waiting to buy his next (self-pubbed) e-book. But he wouldn't be in that position without having had a traditional publisher first.

E-books are definitely going to be a big part of the future in publishing. I doubt anyone will argue that. How big a part and in what way is the question. More and more people own e-readers and devices that can read books (iPads, smart phones) than ever. Last Christmas reportedly had the biggest spike in e-book sales ever thanks to all the people who'd opened up Kindles that morning.

What's a writer to do? Should you embrace the indie e-book world? Shun that world and cling to traditional publishing?

How about shunning neither?

Educate yourself on what your goals are for your writing and what it takes to reach that goal. What does success look like to you?

Be realistic. Don't use Amanda Hocking as reason to self-publish e-books (that's just as silly as using JK Rowling as an excuse to go the traditional route).

I've done both: I've traditionally published seven novels and a cookbook. I've self-published a grammar guide (originally in hard copy, but now also in e-book form). After my first two novels went out of print and I got the rights back, I spit-polished them and made them available as e-books. Very soon I'll have a totally different e-book up too, one that's never been published (and one that's not in my usual genre: it's a YA fantasy).

I have every intention of publishing more e-books, because it's been as successful as I intended it to be.

But I also have every intention of pursuing traditional publishing as well, for different reasons.

When forecasting the future of publishing, the only thing we really know right now is that we don't know.

Bob Mayer is a hugely successful writer who straddles both worlds. (And he's got a great blog. Here and here are two posts to read if you're at all interested in this issue, but he's got lots more.)

By pretty much any definition, he's a success in both. First he published something like 40 books the regular route over the course of 20 years before dipping his toes in indie waters. He's been there for two, and now sells over 1500 books a day.

At the end of THIS POST, he says:
No one really knows what is going on. All the industry experts can predict all they want, but the reality is they’ve underestimated digital and the effects ebooks would have on authors and readers—the people who drive this business. It really is an exciting time to be an author. The key is to educate yourself, know and understand your options and make the right decision for yourself.
So write the best book you possibly can. Learn your options. Learn what to expect. Know what you're getting into. Define "success" for yourself and know the likelihood of reaching that through either path.

And then review that path (and your definition of "success") as the industry changes and grows, because what's true about publishing and e-books today very well may not be true in a year or two.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Journey

By Josi S. Kilpack

Attend a writer's conference or talk to another writer and, inevitably, you'll get to hear about that writer's journey. How they started. What their initial goals were. The failures and the successes.

For a long time, I would hear another writer talk about their successful signing and I would envy that--mine never felt like they were that great. I'd hear them talk about their two dozen rejections and I would find myself envying that too--I hadn't put myself out there enough to get rejected. I would covet this writer's schedule, this writer's life long goals, and wish I had a great story to tell too. For many years I directed attention away from how I got started or how I moved forward because it just felt ... lame compared to the other stories I'd heard.

Of course I did have a story all my own, but I had pretty much ignored it because everyone else's story sounded so much better. I hadn't dreamed of being a writer since I was young. I didn't get a college degree. I didn't get rejected by half a dozen houses before I was accepted, therefore fully appreciating the thrill of victory. Instead, I hated to read as a child. I finished a year of college and was glad to leave it behind me when I got married and became a mom/aunt to my husband's niece. My first book was written almost on a whim and it was eventually published. What a lousy to story to tell. Where were the inspiring moments? Where were the turning points?

I wish I could better remember the moment that my perspective changed (it would be a wonderful chapter in my story if I could) but I don't remember exactly how it happened. I do remember realizing during a presentation to one of my kid's classes that being a reluctant reader as a child could be inspiring to someone else who also struggled with the same thing. I realized that not having a college degree could be an example of both how I could have better prepared, but also that just because I didn't have that degree, I could still write. I then looked back and realized my mom's love of reading and my 7th grade English teacher's stupid book report worksheets made a significant impact on my writing, even though none of us realized it at the time. And as I started identifying these landmarks in my past, I started to see the journey I didn't know I had had been on unfolding behind me.

I had a 3rd grade teacher who gave us unlimited extra credit if we'd write a one page story about a picture from her box--that made an impact. My dad isn't a die hard reader, but is a passionate artist and influenced my perspective of how to pursue one's talents--impact. A college professor told me I was really good with words--impact again. That I expected nothing great from myself and yet I did something that amazed myself--impact on steroids!

All these details have come into sharper focus as I've kept moving forward and I can now look back on the journey I've taken and marvel at the view. I can take pride in MY story and MY journey, while better appreciating everyone else's. I find that I envy less the successes and sympathize better with the hardships of other writers. I find that I want to be someone who helps other people on their journey, rather than being the defeatist who discourages their goals. I find myself excited as I watch other people's journey's unfold and ache to convince them that the set backs they are facing are a necessary part of their development. Push through it, keep going, the vistas are worth it, I swear.

Wherever you are in your journey, and despite whatever road block seems to be in your way, think of it as a great part of the story you'll eventually tell. A sunset is made all the more breathtaking by the clouds lit up with color. A desert landscape is made beautiful by the patterns the wind draws in its sand. The perspective that hardship creates necessary texture will not save you the frustration and discouragement, but, when kept in your pocket and rubbed for good luck now and again, it can give you the reminder that by being a writer, you've taken on a world that you do not have whole control over. Writing gives you opportunities that are subjective to the moods and grooves of other people. It will not be easy. It is not easy for anyone, but that lack of ease is why it's rewarding when you accomplish what you set out to do. Double knot your shoes and pack that rain parka everyone thinks is a waste of space--the path is not paved that you embark on and the umbrellas are not free--but one day you'll look behind you and marvel at the distance you've come. You'll point to that mountain and say "That one nearly killed me," and that river "I didn't know how I'd ever get across it," and take well earned pride in your accomplishments. In the process, those people still on the far side of that mountain will take your journey as inspiration for their own.

If you need help seeing how far you've come:

  • Identify two people who have no idea they had an impact on your writing.
  • Recall a time when you couldn't imagine ever moving forward in your writing, why did you?
  • Look for a specific goal you set in the past and acknowledge your achievement of it.
  • Write these things down so you never forget the journey you've taken.

*The image I used on this post is actually linked to a poem called "The Journey" by Mary Oliver. It was very fitting for this post so if you'd like to take a look, follow this link http://www.panhala.net/Archive/The_Journey.html

*Also, don't forget out live critiquing event on August 13th in American Fork. There are only a few spots left. http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=175697319151138

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons Learned

by Julie Wright

When my first book was published, I thought I'd arrived. I would never have to submit with fear of rejection ever again, because I now had a PUBLISHER! Having a publisher surely meant that whatever I wrote from then on out would end up in print.

So when I finished my third book, turned it in, and received a rejection letter back from my publisher that was so scathingly cruel, I ended up in a year-long funk of depression, I was surprised. This wasn't the expected turn of events.

I wondered what that meant about me as a writer. Had I really been fooling myself for those first two books? But then I'd read over the rejected manuscript and be completely baffled. It was the best thing I'd written up until that moment.

And then I met someone. Her name was Valerie Holladay. I was at a luncheon for my online writer's group and someone brought her with them. She had once been the head editor of a larger publishing house, but at the time of the luncheon, had recently quit that job.

I was still in the throes of depression when someone introduced me to her. She asked me what I was working on. Well . . . she asked, so I spilled. I spilled all my frustration, all the belief I had in the rejected manuscript, and all the bafflement of a rejection a newer author could muster.

She did something rare, something spectacular, something that changed me forever and made me who I am right now. She offered to read it and give me some advice. With very little hope that she could really help, I boxed the manuscript up and sent it to her.

Bear in mind, I had no idea about second drafts and self editing. My first publisher was a bit relaxed on their editing methods, and I'd received no guidance in that area. So it was with astonishment and tears of gratitude that I received a letter back from Valerie Holladay. It was my very first editorial letter.

In that letter, she taught me how to make a gritty, caustic, bitter character loveable. That was the problem my publisher had with the book. My character wasn't loveable. No one wanted to root for her--they wanted her to die of a drug overdose (which was actually what they said in the rejection letter . . . classy, right?).

I made every change Valerie asked me to make. I treated that editorial letter like a blueprint for an unrelenting building inspector. And when I was done with the book, it was a million times improved. I had written a good book before, but this was something different. This was a whole new level of writing. I'd never known what a difference a SECOND draft could make. I'd never known what people meant when they used the phrase self-editing.

I finished the rewrite, and turned it in to a much larger publisher. They published it. I wrote an acknowledgment to Valerie, and though I thanked her profusely for saving me the way she had, we never really communicated any further.

I'm writing this post for several reasons. The first is that I found yesterday that Valerie Holladay had passed away on the third of July. And it struck me how much I owe her, how grateful I am for that chance meeting that changed a so-so writer into something more. The second is that I hope you all don't make my mistake. I hope you work to make the draft you turn in the very best you can. I hope you don't get cocky or too comfortable with your publisher, because getting a publisher and keeping a publisher are not the same things at all. The third is that I hope you all take editorial advice seriously. Yes, it's your work, and you should only make changes that you are comfortable with, but seriously consider the advice you've been given. If I hadn't taken Valerie's advice seriously, I would not only have wasted her time, I would have wasted my chance to find successful publication for that manuscript.

Good luck to all of you, and to you, Valerie Holladay--thank you for saving me from myself. I know I speak for more than just myself when I say you have impacted many lives for the better.