Friday, January 29, 2016

The Fear

A popular post from February 2011

By Josi S. Kilpack

I had the chance to talk with a Humanities class at Utah State University on Thursday about being a writer. After the class, a handful of students came up to ask me some questions. We talked for about half an hour about their own personal journeys with writing, much of what we talked about was fear.

I'm afraid to let anyone read it.
I'm afraid that I'm not writing fast enough.
I'm afraid I'm wasting my time.
I'm afraid of being rejected.
I'm afraid of not knowing my ending when I start.

I did what I could to help alleviate the fears that each of these budding writers had and encourage them to move forward. On the way home I felt almost silly. I talked a good talk and I do hope I inspired them to work on what's holding them back, but I worry that I talked as though I have no more fears. I mean, I'm Published! I've arrived! I reached that goal! What do I have to be afraid of?

I'm afraid my current book is garbage.
I'm scared to death of Goodreads reviews.
I'm afraid all the stories are starting to sound like each other.
I'm afraid that my children will grow up to resent what my writing took from them.
I'm afraid my publisher will have a month of revisions for me.
I'm afraid my sales will go down.
I'm afraid that my lifestyle is adjusting to my current royalties and it won't last.
I'm afraid of the newer, younger, hipper writers doing such great stuff.
I'm terrified of ever having to find an agent.
I'm afraid of my publisher deciding they hate working with me.

I'm afraid that my writing isn't as good as it could be.
I'm afraid that I'm writing too fast.
I'm afraid that my current scene will end up being cut, wasting the hours I've spent on it.
I'm afraid of coming across as arrogant.
I'm afraid of writing blog posts that don't sound as good as everyone elses.
I'm afraid that one day I'll realize I hate writing.
I'm afraid that one day I'll run out of stories completely.
I'm afraid that my house will never be clean again.
I'm afraid that one day I won't be HERE and I'll miss it.
I'm afraid I'll never get THERE and I'll feel like a failure.
I'm scared that I'm at page 239 and don't know the ending.
I'm worried about finishing by my deadline.
I'm scared to ask my beta-readers to read another book.
I'm afraid that I haven't taken advantage of every opportunity out there.
I'm afraid my fears are holding me back.
I'm afraid of taking on anything new.
I'm afraid of not using my abilities in every way I can.

I know that fear is part of life, that overcoming our fears makes us stronger. But it doesn't feel that way when you're in it, when the fear is pressing down on you and you can't imagine opening the door to see what's standing behind it. I am afraid. Of many things. And yet I keep writing. Sometimes I wonder why. Sometimes I know the answer. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I'm so tired of it, and sometimes I feel like I'd shrivel up and die without it.

So why do I do it? Why do those students do it? Why do you do it? I think each of us are driven by different things, but I believe all those things tie back to something divine--some way in which our writing is meant to not only bless the lives of other people, but bless our lives as well. And I don't think that blessing for ourselves will be a published book on the shelf of a library. At least, not the biggest blessing. I believe that the blessing is in the hunt, the journey, the digging down within ourselves as we seek for that buried treasure. I think we'll find other things along the way--discipline, goal setting, learning, re-learning, friendships, teaching, lifting others, and lifting ourselves. I believe as we drop our chin and push through the storms of our own self-doubt, we will become stronger people, not just stronger writers. But I also believe that the fear will never entirely leave us. There will always be something to be afraid of--always. And sometimes we'll drown in it, even though we tell ourselves we're stronger than that. And sometimes we'll thrash about and swim for shore and make it out of the quagmire enough to see the distance we've covered.

Anytime we commit to pursue something akin to creation, something that will stand in our way. Because creating is divine, there will always be those influences determined to stop us, to leave us cowering in the corner, to have us giving in to the belief that there is just no way we can do it. I'm not going to tell you to embrace the fear, or stab it through the heart. You can't kill it. You can't ignore it entirely. The best you can do is move forward anyway, accepting that while you write your stories you are living your own. And your story will be fraught with difficulty and triumph, whimpering and song, success and failure. Accept it, and keep going, and be sure to take the time every now and again to look over your shoulder at the battle fields you've already passed through, count the enemy you have slain and then look into the eyes of the next one. Bit by bit, day by day, one sentence at a time. The fears you face now CAN stop you if you so choose, but understand that if you keep going and this fear eventually lies dead at your feet, another will rise up. Do not look at your writing as a solitary goal, rather see it for what it is--a journey that does not end until you throw up your hands and decide the game is over. It's all up to you. Every bit of it. Allow yourself to get stronger by writing despite the fears; putting yourself out there despite all the reasons you don't want to.

Now I'm afraid I've gone on too long about this...

Happy Writing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Which Way—DO-IT-YOURSELF or Traditional

A popular post from February 2011

By Lu Ann Brobst Staheli
(Originally published in The Writer, February 2010)

Publishing has gone through a dramatic upheaval in recent years, with conglomerates gobbling up small houses, while desktop publishing and print-on-demand options have opened the doors for anyone to become a published author. With publishing budgets tightening and promotional dollars almost nonexistent for all but the guaranteed bestsellers of “brand” authors, traditional publishers are passing over many well-written manuscripts.

A number of well-known authors with high- volume sales have come from the nontraditional route, and traditional, bestselling authors have turned to self-publishing for niche or quickturn-around products, rather than wait for a publisher.

But a history of poorly designed and edited self-published books leaves most authors struggling with the age-old dilemma: What do you do when you can’t find a traditional publisher for your work? Should you self-publish or continue your search?

Several self-published bestsellers have proved themselves and their authors worthy of notice. Authors William P. Young (The Shack), James Redfield (The Celestine Prophesy), Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box) all made their debut with self-published works, thereby launching their careers.

For every successful self-published book, though, a thousand more sell only a handful of copies, mostly to family and friends, often leaving cases of unsold books. According to Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, a nonfiction marketing title, the average book in America sells about 500 copies, so perhaps traditionally published books face a similar fate.

Neither kind of publishing is a guarantee of success. Traditional publishing has fewer risks, but self-publishing could be a place to start if the conditions are right for your book. As someone who has published both types of books, let me offer a few thoughts to help you weigh the pros and cons.

Why traditional publishing?
The obvious answer is because that’s the way the market currently works. Books that traditional publishers put out offer a sense of built-in credibility that self-published books have a hard time earning.

Plus, big name, big-budget houses can offer authors advances and promotional materials and garner book reviews from important publications—perks that are often difficult, if not impossible, for the author of a self-published book to arrange. These houses can also get your books into stores where customers can buy them, whereas self-published books may not be accepted by book buyers for retail stores.

Do you want to publish in order to begin a writing career, or to obtain self-gratification—to be able to say, “I’ve published a book”? Earning royalties is a more secure route than paying for editing, design and printing costs yourself. Having a professionally prepared product represents your talent better than the poorly produced book you might get if you choose the wrong self-publisher.

Why self-publishing?
First of all, a rejection by a traditional publisher does not automatically mean self-publishing is right for you. Perhaps your book isn’t as ready as you thought. Maybe its scope is too large or the competition too fierce, or the readership isn’t there, or the writing lacks polish. A rejection could also mean that a house’s list is full, that it recently published another book on that topic, or that your book doesn’t quit fit what it needs. None of these reasons would necessarily keep
your book from success.

Second, don’t self-publish to impress a traditional publisher. It might be a foot in the door, but few small houses will elect to reprint a book that’s already been self-published, especially if your book sales have saturated a niche market. Larger houses might be impressed by a significant sales volume and offer a contract because of your efforts, if they think they can tap a new market.

These caveats aside, let’s look at whether self-publishing might be right for you. Consider whether your book fits into one of the following categories:

Your project doesn’t fit the format of the traditional publisher’s other releases. “When I first tried to publish The Christmas Box,” Evans says, “publishers didn’t know what to do with it. The manuscript was too long for a short story and too short for a novel—so they rejected it. The book had already proven it had an audience when I printed copies for my friends and family, so I went the self-published route to satisfy local demand. Four hundred thousand copies later, Simon & Schuster bought the rights to publish the hardcover.”

You don’t have time to wait for acceptance. With my book When Hearts Conjoin, speed was of the essence. The book is about conjoined twins Kendra and Maliyah Herrin, of Salt Lake City, who were separated in a 25-hour surgery in 2006. The twins had been invited to make their third appearance on Oprah, and the TLC Network was doing a documentary about them that would air soon. We were working on a tight deadline to have the book published in time—a deadline that did not grant us the luxury of writing, pitching and working within a publisher’s calendar. It was only nine months from the time the twins’ mother and I started writing until the book was in our hands.

You face closed or limited publication opportunities. Sometimes a story needs to be told, even when publishers don’t have a place in their catalog. David Farland, author of Chaosbound, a bestselling novel from a traditional publisher, recalls, “I felt deeply touched by the story of the Willie Handcart Company —a group of Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains with only what they could carry in handcarts—and so I began to study it with an eye toward writing the tale. Unfortunately, In the Company of Angels [a novel] was too long for my regular niche publisher. I knew the other few houses within the target market had recently released books on the same topic, so I decided to self-publish.”

You have a targeted niche market for your book. Annette Lyon, author of the novel Tower of Strength, has a loyal fan base not only for her traditionally published inspirational fiction, but also for the weekly Word Nerd column on her blog. “Readers of my column kept asking for a grammar book,” she says, “but I knew the kind of thing they were looking for wouldn’t be a good fit with a traditional publisher. I decided to self-publish and promote a book [titled There, Their, They’re: A No-Tears Guide to Grammar From the Word Nerd] for my readers and [to sell it] at writing conferences where I taught grammar and editing workshops. So far, I’ve been pleased with my sales, I’ve satisfied my target audience, and I continue to look for ways to expand my readership.”

Here are some other issues to mull:
Do you have a built-in readership? “After rejections by the big publishers,” author Kenny Kemp says, “I self-published my first novel, I Hated Heaven. My next book, Dad Was a Carpenter [a novel], won the grand prize in the 1999 International Self-Published Book Awards. Within days I had secured a top-flight agent and in just a matter of weeks, we made a great deal with HarperCollins to reprint Carpenter. My writing had found a wider audience, but that never would have happened if I hadn’t first taken the step of self-publishing.”

Do you know how to market to your audience? When Evans wanted to publish his first nonfiction book, The Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me, he returned to his fictional roots in self-publishing. “I’d been teaching the concepts from ‘The Five Lessons’ at workshops for a while and I knew I had an audience, but I wanted to experiment with how best to sell the book,” Evans says. “So, I self-published in order to test it. Once I knew how to market it, I sold the book to Fireside.”

Do you have access to your audience? Many authors find themselves giving workshops, lectures or performances that put them in front of an audience that wants more. Making books available for purchase after a presentation can play an important part in your marketing plan. A great example is Psychic Madman, which I’m collaborating on with mentalist/magician Jim Karol. Most of its sales will directly follow Karol’s college appearances. The Betrayed, my collaboration with a former police officer who believes he was unfairly fired, will be pitched in his TV appearances. Another of my collaborations, The Book of Alan, an upcoming memoir by Alan Osmond, part of the performing Osmond family, will be marketed to the vast number of Osmond fans around the world. In other words, if you already have a platform—an audience to sell your work to—then selling the book is easier.

What types of books lend themselves well to self-publishing? Self-published nonfiction books tend to be more successful than fiction. Business and self-help books in particular find success because they can be delivered so many ways: as e-books, PDF files and print-on-demand books. Fiction can find an audience when the marketing is done right, but the process of building a readership may take more time.

What do I do when I publish? If you self-publish, nonfiction or fiction, plan on doing the following, or your book is unlikely to ever be successful:

• Hire a professional editor/proofreader and follow her advice.

• Hire a professional illustrator or graphic artist for your cover design and interior illustrations.

• Consider hiring a typesetter to design the interior of your book to look like those currently on the market.

• Read the fine print in your book producer’s contract before signing.

• Know what your remunerations are and what rights you keep.

• Obtain endorsements.

• Have a marketing plan in advance.

• Make personal appearances.

Of course, this list is nearly the same when you are marketing a book with a traditional publisher. The differences are that the latter provides editing, design and typesetting, and may help you get endorsements. In addition, the work of its marketing department (theoretically) leaves you more time to write instead of using your time to self-market.

Self-publishing can be a rewarding proposition when the book is right, but weigh your options carefully before you decide to go with this more difficult road. It can be a springboard to future projects, but so can a successful release from a traditional publisher.

Know what you want, then don’t be afraid to follow your dream. Whether it leads you to a traditional publisher or to self-publishing, a book will move you into the enviable category of published author—a place thousands of people would love to be.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reading Like a Writer

A popular post from September 2010

by Annette Lyon

We've mentioned it before many times here: writers should read a lot. And they should.

Even inferior stuff.

Awhile ago, I finished some less-than-stellar novels. I pushed myself to finish them, even though I was afraid of losing brain cells in the process, for one big reason: reading bad stuff even to the bitter (sometimes literally) end can be a powerful teaching tool.

Now, I don't recommend finishing every single book you don't like, but finishing some can be worth it purely for the education you get as a result.

By finishing an entire bad book, you get to see poor plots (and how they don't resolve well) firsthand. How to make flat character arcs (you can't tell that from a few chapters). How conflict can fizzle when it's supposed to be ramping up. How dead wood flattens a story. How telling instead of showing weakens the entire effect.

Any time I purposely read bad stuff, I make a point of analyzing it. Why is this bad? Specifically? What could the author have done to fix this part? That one? Why does the voice drive me crazy? Why can't I connect to this character? Why am I bored during what's supposed to be the climax?

If I ask those questions and try to find the answers, then the time I spent on the book isn't wasted. I can apply what I've learned to my work, avoiding problems I might have made if I hadn't seen close-up how this or that doesn't work.

A few gems from some recent reading:
  • Make your hero/heroine ACTIVE participants. Having your MC react to everything and not take action is boring.
  • On the flip side, don't make your MC act rashly. If you must get them into a dangerous situation, find a way to do it that doesn't make your reader think the character is a total blockhead.
  • Assume your reader is at least as smart as your MC. Or smarter. Readers will get it. No need to spell things out. They'll also catch plot holes the size of Alaska. And even ones the size of Rhode Island. Remember, readers are smart.
  • Keep the pace clipping along, especially if the story is supposed to be suspenseful. Nothing like your MC spending weeks or months (and wasted paper and words) on, well, nothing.
  • Show. Show. Show. No, really. SHOW!
  • Make conflicts big enough for the MC. That means not building it up to be something big and then having it resolved in one paragraph like magic.
  • Make sure the MC's actions are properly motivated. Just because you need X to happen doesn't mean that readers will buy it when the MC does W to set the wheels in motion. (See the "man, that character is a blockhead" bullet above.)
  • After the cool, intense, climactic part hits, don't spend another 80 or more pages wrapping things up and trying to throw in additional minor conflicts for the sake of tying up every little detail.
  • Don't belabor points. We got it the first time. And the second. By the ninth time, I'm trying to find a hot poker for my eyes. (Remember that "readers are smart" bit?)
  • Make each character unique. They must sound different, not all like versions you.
Anything you've learned from reading crappy stuff lately?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Consumption Vs. Production

A popular post from 2012

By: Josi Kilpack

A few months ago I was talking with some friends and explaining that I used to be able to watch TV or listen to music while I wrote, but lately I can't do it. My mind is split between the things going on and I end up frustrated. Marion Jensen put into words what I was getting to--that our brain has two modes, consumption and production, and while some people need background noise, or learn to drown out other things, most people can't do both at one time. At least not well.

This got me thinking about how this concept has worked for me. When my children were small, I could write with them running around my ankles, with Barney in the background, and giggles bouncing off the wall. It wasn't 'peaceful' writing and I only had short snippets of time but it was my only option and I was able to make it work. I wrote my first 8 books this way. As my kids have gotten older, I have gotten better at making quiet time to write in and apparently I've been amazingly successful at my goal to write peacefully because, other than plain piano music, I can no longer listen to music or watch TV while I write. While I used to be able to block out all kinds of things, I struggle to have many distractions this days and rarely write if I don't have at least 2 hours to put into it. The writing environment is very personal to each writer, but something worth evaluating on occasion.

However, the other part of this concept is the need to consume in order to produce when you have that time and place that best serves you. In order to give our best work, we need to be consuming information and ideas; processing the world at large so that we can put those things into our own work. I remember when I was breastfeeding and struggling to keep up with the demands of my baby. My midwife had to remind me that I had to eat and eat and eat and drink and drink or drink or my body could not produce enough for my baby. For her to consume what she needed, I had to do the same for production sake.

Not everyone consumes the same way. I have many friends who read 50 plus novels a year. I am in awe of it. I don't read nearly that much, but I watch a lot of TV and movies--while I'm cleaning or cooking or avoiding my writing :-). In the past I have tried to cut down on my TV watching and while I'm sure it's good for me to limit the time the TV is on in a lot of ways, it is stifling for my mind when it comes to creating plots. Over and over again something will happen in a show that will spark an idea for a character, or twist, or location.

I know people who feel the same awakening from music, that listening to certain types or certain artists helps their brain kick into gear. Other people listen to audio books when they don't have time to sit and read. Other's watch Movies, or favorite TV shows, and others people-watch in public places, or engage all different types of people in conversation. Different personalities will seek out different things, but the important thing is that every writer is consuming. We need to become sponges, soaking up information, learning about people, observing weirdos in their natural habitat, learning about occupations, time periods, cultures, illnesses, lifestyles, religions, and personality types. We need to keep our reserves full if we're going to pour truth into our words and make our stories feel real to our readers.

I'd love to hear what types of consumption allows you to write at your best. What have you learned? Where do you go for inspiration?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What I See Most Often

A popular post from September 2011

by Annette Lyon

As an editor, I see a lot of the same things. If you can avoid these few issues in your work, you'll automatically be a step ahead of the competition.

Here are three of the most common problems I see:

Back-story Dump
Also known as "info dump." This is when the story comes to a screeching halt so we can learn the characters' history, what led up to this moment, and so on. It includes flashbacks, long strings of thought, dialog where characters recap the past (things they already know and likely wouldn't actually say to one another), and so on.

At the beginning of a story, this is a real problem. Back story may be important, although I'm betting it's less important than you think. We really don't want to hear about it in the first chapter. If the reader needs information from the past, tell us in small pieces . . . later.

Point of View Problems
I highly recommend reading Orson Scott Card's book Character and Viewpoint as a primer for learning how point of view works, how to pick the right one, and how to use it well.

Common POV problems I see include head-hopping, picking the wrong POV, having no point of view whatsoever, and having inconsistent POV characterization. POV problems pull the reader out of the story. They can make the narrative confusing. When handled well, POV helps the reader get immersed in the story.

Telling Instead of Showing
Show, don't tell, is such a common piece of advice it's almost cliche, but it's crucial. Telling creates a shallow story with flat characters. Instead of readers feeling and experiencing the story, getting wrapped up into it, they'll remain at a distance, as if reading a summary.

Good showing appears on the sentence and paragraph level (what I call micro showing) and in the overall scene, chapter, and full-length work level (what I call macro showing).

Interestingly enough, back story dumps and POV problems are often also telling problems. If you learn how to avoid these three common weak spots, you'll automatically find yourself knowing how to fix a lot of problems in your work--and avoid them altogether in the future.

Monday, January 18, 2016


A popular post from April 2011

By: Julie Wright

Today I cut 40 pages out of my work in progress. Even the Dr. Pepper and chocolate bar didn’t make this surgery any less painful, but it had to happen. If the leg is infecting the rest of the body, cut the leg off and save the body.

These forty pages were infecting the manuscript, so I cut them out—to save the manuscript.

It hurt.

A lot.

I did save them over in a cuts document (a little trick I learned from Josi Kilpack) so that if I need to mine something out of those forty pages, I can. But now I have fresh pages to work with. I can recreate the cut out part into something that functions with the rest of the manuscript. If I’d simply tried to edit those pages and force them to fit (which I did try to do for a few weeks until I finally realized I was being stubborn) I would have put the entire manuscript in jeopardy.

I’ve done a lot of editing over the years with Precision Editing Group, and there have been times where I’ve had to advise people to cut out huge hunks of their manuscripts. I don’t know if they always take my advice, but it’s something I don’t hand out lightly. Telling someone to carve away ten or more pages is almost as cruel as having to do it on my own manuscripts. I feel their pain and feel guilt for inflicting it on them. I only advise it when I genuinely believe there’s no way to salvage those pages.

It took a long time for me to understand what other writers meant when they said “kill your darlings.” I’d cut out a few words and figure I’d done the job asked of me. But it’s so much more than that. Killing your darlings isn’t about changing a passive voice to active. It isn’t about slicing off the errant adverb. It’s sometimes cutting the stuff you love.

There was some seriously good writing in those forty pages I amputated this morning. There were things that made me laugh. There was some new sci-fi technology that thrilled me. There was a heart pounding action scene that made me wonder if my characters would ever survive it. There were new creatures that were so awesome, I can’t believe they came out of my head. I cut all of them. They were darling to me, but I cut them all. The scenes were great, but they didn’t push towards the overall arc of the story. They didn’t *work*

That’s what they mean by killing your darlings. It hurts, but if something isn’t working after weeks or longer of trying to force it, the problem might not be the glue you’re using to force it all to stick . . . the problem might be your unwillingness to use the scissors.

Now, I feel a certain relief with those pages moved away from the body of the manuscript. It’s another chance. And another chance is refreshing—filled with hope and possibility.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Reader Etiquette

A popular post from September 2011

by Annette Lyon

Writers are avid readers. (At least, they all should be.)

In today's interconnected world, that means entirely new things for the reader/writer relationship.

When I was a kid, I didn't necessarily have any idea who the authors of the books I read were, beyond a tiny bio at the back of a book, and a photo if I was lucky. The authors could have been dead half the time, for all I knew. (And many were.)

Today, however . . .

Almost all writers are a few clicks away on the computer. There's a very good chance your favorite writer has a website, blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account (or at least some combination of those things).

A side note: all writers should have some kind of online presence, even if it's a single bio page and an email address for publicists, book stores, and others to be able to reach you, such as if you've been nominated for an award.

Authors often interact with their readers through social media. Many writers have huge followings. Neil Gaiman has such a large Twitter following that often when he posts a link, the server on the other end crashes, leading to the Twitter hash tag #neilwebfail.

How writers can or should use social media isn't the point of this post, however.

The point is how you as a reader should approach writers online.

In the simplest terms, just remember two things:
1) The person on the other end is an actual, breathing human being.
2) They have feelings, especially about their work.

That may sound obvious. But the ease with which we toss out texts, status updates, tweets, and emails, we often forget basic courtesy.

It's one thing for me to rant about why I really don't like one of Faulkner's books when he's dead and gone.

It's something else entirely to shoot off an angry email to a living, writing, publishing author, right after I read a book, if their latest release didn't live up to my expectations.

The writer ego is a tricky thing. One minute you feel like you can take on the world and can really do this literary thing.

The next second, you're ready to curl into the fetal position and rock back and forth, certain that you're an idiot for putting your work out there because it stinks and people hate it.

We writers do this to ourselves already.

We don't need the help of trigger-happy readers.

I'm not talking about readers giving honest reviews on GoodReads or Amazon or on their blogs. That's part and parcel of the whole publishing gig. Writers who react poorly to bad reviews need to grow up, and never go on the attack. Not cool, people.

But it's a good reminder for all of us that when we're reading books, and the writers are out there, right now, ready to hear what we have to say (and are likely watching the internet for references to themselves, as most writers have Google alerts set up for this), they will catch what's going on. Word gets around.

And if you decide to write a hasty, angry email in the middle of the night directly to the writer? You may well regret it in the morning. And the writer may well wake up, eager for a day of writing, only to be shot down by someone the moment they check their email.

Again, I'm not implying that reviewers can't be honest. Or that readers can't contact writers. Not at all.

Reviewers serve an important role, and honest, helpful reviews go a long way. (Nasty, bitter reviews aren't useful for readers or for writers, however.)

And as a writer, I love getting reader feedback. At least I do when it's written with the understanding that I'm human, I'm not perfect, and I'm trying hard to improve.

Think of it this way: If you wouldn't say it to the author's face if you met them, don't send a DM or an email saying it either.

And to mix metaphors: If you're an aspiring writer yourself, remember that you may be in the hot seat one day, and any bridges your burn today will almost certainly come back to to bite you tomorrow.

Be kind. Be courteous. Be helpful. That doesn't mean putting on a fake face, but that does mean a bit of restraint.

And basic manners.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Loving the Competition

A popular post from February 2011

by Julie Wright

Several years ago, I attended World Fantasy and made a new friend who was new to the novel-writing world. She'd spent several years in the screenplay writing world. I loved her immediately and spent pretty much the whole weekend laughing with her.

I already had an agent at the time of this conference, but several of my friends didn't. So I made a point of agent trolling for them--introducing them to agents, talking them up to agents, and making sure that they had opportunities available to them. I wasn't the only one doing this. We were friends helping friends. It's what you do.

My new friend made a comment that stuck with me. She said, "I've never seen a business model where people are so willing to help one another--especially when those people they're helping are also their direct competition."

I hadn't ever really thought about it in terms like that before. They were my friends, and they were writers. I already had an agent and they didn't . . . so why wouldn't I want to help them? The other authors who were in my same shoes obviously felt the same way, because they were all there--helping each other.

This last week, the 2010 Whitney Awards finalists were announced. The Whitney Awards are a niche awards system for writers. A lot of my friends were eligible. I was eligible. And a lot of people who I love didn't make it into the finalist round. It was hard not having them there. It was more than just hard--it actually hurt to not have them there.

There have been times when I've felt left behind as an author. Times when my friends have acquired agents and national contracts and New York Times bestseller status. And they did all this without me.

Being left behind in that way feels like going to summer camp. At this camp, your friends all get put in the same cabin over by the lake where they have bonfires and canoe races. And while they're having a great time in their cabin, you're stuck in the bed wetters cabin. And it hurts. You feel lonely and left out and . . .

Jealousy kicks in.

I admit to this. Jealousy has reared its ugly head on several occasions for me. I'm so happy my friends are in good places--so happy when they hit the Times list, so happy when they get a six figure advance, so happy when they sell foreign rights in countries I haven't even heard of. And yet sometimes, it's easy to feel left behind.

When the finalists were announced, I thought a lot about the cabins and jealousies and love. I was a finalist, but several people I love weren't. Not having them with me hurt as much as when I couldn't go with others. I want their careers to be successful. I want them to succeed and believe in themselves.

And I know they're rooting for me in that same way. They want my success. They want me in the cabin with the bonfires and canoe races. And it occurred to me today that it isn't a race to the end where only one person can win. There is room for good books. There is room for a LOT of good books.

It's a matter of being brave enough to improve in your craft, to keep putting yourself out there, and making sure that you're paying it forward. Helping others get where they want to go feels really good. And loving your competition goes a long way to keep from feeling frustrated in your own endeavors.

Monday, January 11, 2016


A popular post from November 2011

By: Julie Wright

I took the kids to Disneyland a few weeks ago.  There is something absolutely right with a place that allows people to feel comfortable wearing mouse ears, princess costumes, and pirate hats--not only comfortable, but in style.

Something I'd never noticed before (and I've been to Disneyland a lot in my life) is how much reaching happens at the happiest place on Earth. There were bubble machines and tiny hands stretching out to touch the perfect orbs floating on the breeze. On Pirates of the Caribbean, there's a smoke screen with an image of Davy Jones reflected on it. Hands reached up as the little boat passed through the screen of fog, the mist slipping through fingertips.

It was the tribute to Captain EO 3D show where I realized a problem in society. The 3D image of a little creature floated in the air in front of me. I wanted to reach out, but the logic in me wouldn't allow me to do something so childish. Logic stated that the creature wasn't really there and therefore reaching was foolish. But I wanted to reach--wanted to see my hand in comparison to the picture, not because I thought I could touch the little creature, but because I wanted to simply SEE.

I smiled to myself when my youngest son did reach--doing the thing I could not allow myself to do. But then my teenaged daughter snatched at his hand and whispered, "Don't! You just look stupid. There's nothing there."

He quickly dropped his hand to the side and I could feel his shame in his own sense of wonder.

My heart broke. It broke because she is growing up and with that, she is putting aside wonder for the solidity found in grown-up logic. And it broke because he stopped reaching and I worried he might not reach again.

I wanted to be so many things when I grew up--a ballerina, an advertising agent, a writer, a photographer, an archaeologist like Indiana Jones, an actress . . . and so much more. And then came a time where I stopped reaching. I even put aside writing for a time while I chased solid things like steady paychecks and a 401K.

And then one day I realized I could reach and be solid--all at the same time. I simply gave myself the present of fifteen minutes a day. In fifteen minutes I could stretch out those reaching muscles and live in the realm of wonder.

Anytime the arts are pursued, there will be people to snatch away your hands and whisper that you're being foolish--there is nothing there.

But if you never reach, you prove them right.

If you give yourself the present of a little time each day, you will create the thing you're reaching towards. There is nothing there--not until you create it into existence.

That's what Walt Disney did. That's why there is a Disneyland out there, encouraging other people to do the same thing.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Promote This!

A popular post from January 2011

By Julie Wright

I am going to talk about evil things--demonic things--things that make you cry, shudder, want to hide.

Everyone wants to be a writer. And because technology is pretty cool, lots of people get to realize that dream. Writing is the fun part--the satisfying-I-want-to-do-this-again part.

But there's this other part . . . it's ugly, it's not fun. It almost cheapens this great creative work of yours.

It's called marketing.

See! I told you I was talking about evil things today!

Publishers expect authors to self promote. They want us to get out there and peddle our little hearts out! We are pretty much required to keep blogs, to have a Facebook page, to Twitter, to have book launches, and to basically drive our neighbors insane by always mentioning how our books make great Christmas gifts.

At World Fantasy this last year, I was hanging out with Guy Gavriel Kay (and he bought me chocolate covered strawberries; is there anything in the world better than a cool author buying you chocolate covered strawberries?). Guy and I were talking about the need to self-promote. if you've never had the chance to meet and speak with Guy, you are missing out. His voice is rich and adorable. He's incredibly intelligent, and he's funny, funny, funny!

We talked about the good old days where authors were asked only to write books. Those days are so over. Ah the bliss of nostalgia.

So, what's an author to do? Well, if you don't have a blog--get one. On that blog find your own voice. Figure out your blog persona and be that. Follow other blogs and leave comments. Try to be consistent. I have problems with this a little because if I'm blogging, then I'm not writing. Writing is my first priority, and words written on my blog do NOT get to count for my daily writing goal. Get a Twitter account. Follow other people, make friends. Get a facebook account. Friend people. Be social.

That's what you do, but there are lots of "don't do" mixed into the things you do. My first bit of advice for don't do is:
  • DO NOT REPLACE WRITING WITH MARKETING. It can get overwhelming. Keeping up on all these mediums sucks time away. Don't let it become the reason you miss deadlines, or the reason you missed your kid's soccer game. Keep your head while engaging in social media. Keep your priorities straight.
  • When you're following other blogs and leaving comments, those comments should NOT be: "Hi I wrote a book, come over to my blog and take a look!"
    That is annoying. No one will go take a look at your blog; they will likely delete your comment and create a rule that everything you do should go in a spam file.
  • When you're friending people on facebook, every status update should not be: "Hey I'm selling books! Buy my books!" and do not overuse the "invite" feature on facebook that tells people of events. It gets tiresome. You will get blocked. The same goes with Twitter.

The point of these Internet tools is to make REAL friends. To care about their lives as much as you want them to care about yours. The point is not to lose the friends you already have by bludgeoning them with promotion.

We were discussing this several months ago on my writing group list, and Tristi Pinkston wrote:

Are you knocking my Tristi mugs, My Tristi T-shirts, my Tristi pens, my Tristi
flying monkeys, my Tristi fingernail decals, my Tristi water bottle covers, my
Tristi, shoelace decorations, my Tristi nose rings, my Tristi sports team (the
Tristi's), and the hospital wing named after me?

Well . . . yes.
Please note that Tristi was being funny to make the point that over promotion is well . . . overpromotion. Be yourself when writing your blog. Blog, tweet, and facebook update real things about you. This is not to say you can NEVER blog about writing. Of course you can! It's part of who you are. But balance it with other things so your friends don't run and hide when they see you coming.

Like everything in writing, a healthy dose of balance goes a long, long way.
Oh and just so you all know--I've got these great books coming out in March and I thought you'd all want to join my fan page and . . .

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How Much is This Gunna Cost Me?

A popular post from October 2011

By Josi S. Kilpack

Awhile back I was approached by someone who'd just finished their first book. I'm always excited to encourage other writers and share the excitement of such an accomplishment. The woman then asked me what she should do next. I asked if she'd attended any writer's conferences and she said "Oh, those are so pricey, I couldn't afford that." I went on to tell her of some up and coming conferences that are very reasonably priced. "Oh, that's way too much money. What else can I do?"
So I told her of some free options: read writing blogs, find comparable books to what she's written and figure out who published them, follow agents on Facebook and Twitter, join a writing group. She asked how she would find a writing group and the first thought that came to mind was where I've met several members of the writing groups I've belonged to--writing conferences. But she'd already nixed that option, and yet it was the answer I had. So I told her and she, again, reminded me that she could never possibly come up with $100 to attend a writer's conference. I mentioned joining The League of Utah Writers which has monthly meetings, she asked (can you guess?) "How much would that cost?"
"About $25 a year."
She shook her head and explained, again, that there was no way she could pay anything. At that point I smiled and wished her luck. I watched her leave and wished I could have made her see beyond her determination that she couldn't afford the best options out there. The thought that's come back to me ever since is "How can she afford not to invest in something that's obviously so important to her?" The exchange has sat with me ever since and therefore here I am pontificating about it you guys.

On the one hand, I understand that there are people in some really tough financial situations. They are struggling to pay their mortgage and worry about the upcoming winter. They are working hard to make ends meet and there is no room for anything extra. I remember when I laid awake at night wondering how on earth I was going to pay the power bill. I would never tell anyone to pay for a conference instead of filling their children's cavities and I carry no judgment for them not seeing room in their budgets to invest in something far below milk and bread on their list.

On the other hand, I really don't know how anyone can expect and hope to make a career in writing without making an investment in it somewhere. IF you want writing to be a career, IF you want it to pay you money someday, there are going to be expenses. Here are some of the basic things that a writer can expect to spend money on:
*A decent computer
*A backup service of some kind for that computer
*Software--Microsoft Word is the standard right now
*Printer Ink for printing manuscripts (though with e-submission this isn't what it once was)
*Paper for printing on
*Writing Books--there are some you'll want to own for future reference
*Postage for mailing things
*Dues for writers organizations--At $25/year, that's $2.00/monthly meeting
*Writer's Conferences--in my opinion this is where you get the most bang for your buck

To me, this list is essential. It provides you with somewhere to write and store your words, mediums to send those words out, and opportunities to learn not only about the craft, but about the career you're striving toward. Without investing in these things it will be difficult for you to learn all the nuances of the writing profession. That said, there are some solutions that don't require big buck investments:

*Computer.  A friend of mine wrote for many years using two very old computers. One hard drive was used for writing, the other one was connected to the main computer and backed up everything from the first computer, which meant he had two hard drives with his book on them. It took some technical know-how to set it up but cost him about $100.
*Software. Most computers come with a word processing software. If yours doesn't, or if you're still working off of Word 2000, look on eBay for discounted upgrades. If you need to (or feel better about) buying new, look for a student copy, assuming you have a student in your household. It can save you a lot of money.
*Ink and postage can be use minimally if you do all your editing on the computer and focus on e-doc submissions and critique sharing.
*Writing books. Check your library sales or check thrift stores, but understand that books on writing are very niche and therefore hard to find amid the general mass of books out there; you might get lucky though. Many of my favorite titles sell for less than $5 on Amazon.
*Dues for Writing Organizations. Would mom pay your dues as your birthday present every year? Can you sell something on eBay. Get creative.
*Writing Conferences. Sometimes you can volunteer to help with the conference and get a discount, but you really need to know people before they will trust you to be helpful. You can also ask for the admission as a gift from people in your life, or save up for it. Don't feel like you have to travel to another state or go to a conference every month to benefit--one writer's conference a year close to home is a great start.

The fact is that a writing career isn't free. It takes time and it will take some money and each person has to figure out what they can do. However, if the book you're writing is worthy of the time you put into it, isn't it worth the necessary financial investment it will take to make it the best it can be? You don't have to fly to Maui, you don't have to have your own personal writing library or buy the newest computer out there, but you do need to ask yourself what you can do, and then you need to do it.

Also, keep in mind that once you get published, the expenses will increase and you don't get paid right away--unless you get an advance. You will have to carry expenses for awhile before you get paid anything even after your book is out there so finding a way to work some of these things into your current budget will help prepare you for that end.

Happy Writing!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Time: Friend or Foe?

A popular post from February 2011

by Annette Lyon

Recently on a forum, I saw a question from a struggling writer that amounted to, "How do I know if my writing is any good?"

The man had reread what he thought was good yesterday, and suddenly it didn't sound so good.

Was it good?

Was it garbage?

Several people gave great advice. Here's mine.

When you first draft something, it's "hot off the press" as they say. You're too close to the piece to view it objectively. It really might be atrocious. Or a diamond. But you can't tell. At least, not yet.

This is when time is your best friend. Keep writing, and when you've finished the draft, put it away. For some people, a week or so is enough. For others, it could be a month or months.

However it long it takes for you, let it cool off. Let yourself forget parts, including that paragraph you slaved over and the one you thought was sheer brilliance.

When it's cooled off and you open the file again, you'll be reading it with completely new eyes, almost as if someone else had written the piece. This is one part of writing I love: inevitably, I do find parts I forgot I'd written (but there they are!) and I might even love them.

And sure, I'll find glaring problems as well: clunky prose, lame character motivations, sagging conflict, and more. But because I'm no longer so emotionally tied to the work, two great things happen:

1) I can see clearly where it needs improvement.

2) I can make big revisions without wanting to sit in a corner and cry while eating a dozen chocolate-chip cookies.

What do you do while a piece is resting, cooling off? You write something else.

After you've come back to the old piece and made whatever revisions you can, you're still not done. Send it out to other people, trusted beta readers who will see more ways to change (and improve!) your work.

Time is certainly a frustrating element of being a writer. During the submission process we wait for rejections and requests. If we're lucky, we wait on a contract and editorial notes. We wait on press dates and more.

Don't let all of that make you rush things. Take your time early on. Create a fantastic piece.

If you rush things, you'll submit sub-par work. And the end result: you won't have the opportunity of pulling your hair out while waiting for your release date.

Time can most definitely be your friend.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Revision Time: Over-Used Words

A popular post from January 2011

We all do it. It's nothing to be ashamed of . . . unless you don't fix it in the revision stage.

What is it? The dreaded repeated word curse. It's dead wood that sucks the life out of your sentences. Pulling out the dead wood of repetition isn't hard, but it does take time.

Doing a search of your document for these is worth the effort. Some of the most common culprits include:

The empty verb/action:
90% of the time, find a stronger verb. And don't resort to passive and other awkward constructions to avoid it.

Another: would
I see this one a lot: Every day, she would make her children their lunches.
Try: Every day she made her children their lunches.

Much cleaner. Also avoid gerunds (was -ing).

Finding fresh ways of showing emotion and small actions and gestures can be hard, so those and other verbs tend to multiply like rabbits if you aren't careful, such as:


Empty words:
You may find a time where one of these is needed and adds to the work. But those times are rare.

Often, these words are meaningless modifiers. If I say something is "really big," what does that mean? Big compared to what? A boot? A watermelon? A truck?

As a general rule, avoid meaningless modifiers, including:
A bit

Sometimes we go overboard explaining the how and where. When in doubt, cut it. Especially when you have two directionals next to each other (such as "she looked over at her mother").


Other words
The most common extra word I see is that. Sometimes it's needed, such as to clarify which of something. But often, it's just a filler word, such as:

Paula saw that the class was staring at her.

Talk about a weak sentence altogether:
1) Since we're in Paula's head, don't tell us she saw anything; we'll figure out she's the one with the eyeballs.
2) We've got a weak gerund verb with was staring.
3) And then that is shoved in with no purpose.

A stronger sentence: The class stared at Paula.

(Then show her reaction.)

Every writer has their own pet words or phrases, and sometimes they vary from project to project. I've been known to catch myself repeating one word, and then in an attempt to avoid it, I inadvertently find a new favorite word and repeat it realizing what I'm doing.

Several years ago, an editor pointed out the overuse of heart in one of my manuscripts. Puzzled, I almost challenged her. How could I overuse such a specific word and not realize it? I searched the document, and lo and behold, oodles of emotions mentioned the heart in some way.

If my heroine saw the hero, her heart rate sped up. If someone was in pain, their heart thumped against their ribcage. Fear? Heart raced. Heart, heart, heart. I think I took out a good 10 instances in that book.

The Takeaway
Search your work for the most common repetitions. Several writers I know have lists they keep of words to search their manuscripts for. That's a great idea. Cut most of them.

Then have someone else read it for you. I wouldn't have known about heart without someone else catching the repetition. Your readers may find a repeated word you never imagined.

As always, don't even worry about this stuff until the revision stage. Don't paralyze your creative drafting mind by stressing out over repetition. This is for when you put on the editor hat and clean things up.

Just be sure the hat does come out at some point.

For other sneaky self-editing issues see Stephanie Black's great post.