Monday, April 24, 2017

Top 10 things I Wish I'd Known Before I Became Published

A popular post from January 2008

By Josi S. Kilpack

10--I wish I'd known about the need to become a public speaker. It might have talked me out of it had I known how important this skill would be. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I went to Toastmasters for 6 months and I have never turned down an opportunity to speak out of fear. I've had some successes that I smiled about on the way home, and I've cried all the way home too, but I'm improving.

9--I wish I'd understood that putting something personal out into the world invites the need for people to advise you, whether they know butkus about what you do or not. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I learned to stop arguing when people felt the need to teach me how to write or why what I wrote was all wrong. I also learned to keep copies of complements to fill my bucket when people unceremoniously dipped from my confidence stores.

8--I wish I'd realized that getting that first book published was the BIGGEST step, but not the last one. Rather it was struggling with a sticky lock and then throwing the door open to find another door, and opening that one to find another one, and another and another, some are easier to push open than others. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I realized I will never solve it. I just keep writing my best novel. When it's done I start writing my best one again.

7--I wish I'd realized that the writing would get harder. That the ease I had of putting those first gripping thoughts together would one day run dry and I'd have to dig for the stories. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I dig.

6--I wish I'd realized what a lonely endovor it can be when you're best freinds become fictional creations. It's depressing when I have to remind myself that I don't get to go shoppign with them, or talk on the phone and that I actually have to deal with real live people. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I got to know other writers and I came to realize that though not perfect (they are not fiction after all) other writers will understand me better than anyone else. We share the same disease. I've met wonderful people that have become my dearest freinds.

5--I wish I'd realized that holding a finished book in my hand was like a drug and at times that memory would be the only thing to drive me forward on my current work in progress. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep publishing books, and when I get a new one I take that first copy and write down the feeling of holding it my hands. I can then go back to those thoughts and remember that's one of the reasons I do this, for the rush of holding that finished product.

4--I wish I'd realized that I wouldn't make much money. I really thought I'd be making a good yearly salary, and I'm beginning to, but right now I have $62 in my 'book' account and just mailed off a bill for my writers digest bookclub for $26.32. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep writing and spend my royalties wisely (sorta). I am also very clear on the fact that I don't write for money, though one day I hope to.

3--I wish I'd kept all the articles and ads ever done on my book. It's been almost 9 years now and I started keeping mentions a couple years ago but I missed a few really cool reviews and articles that would have been a fun keepsake. Even though I'll have more, I'll never have those first ones again. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep them now.

2--I wish I'd realized that great accomplishment aside (and I do consider it a great accomplishment) that I'm still me. I have my same weaknesses, my same obsessions (and some new ones, the same confidence issues and the same frustrations with not doing things the way I think I should do them. I believed that publishing my first book would change this, fill in the gaps, and I do think it's helped but it hasn't 'fixed' me. I guess it was silly to have ever thought it would, but I did and it didn't happen. I still have to work on me. HOW I SOLVED IT: Obviously, I haven't, but I'm learning to take things one step at a time and not expect one talent to suddenly take care of a dozen unrelated weaknesses.

1--I wish I'd realized that despite the drawbacks and unanticipated struggles, that writing would fulfill a part of me, a part of my reason for being here, in a way that nothing else did. It does not replace the role I play in the lives of others, it doesn't solve all my problems, but it has created a connection with Deity that I don't believe I'd have found any other way. It's challenged me in ways I never imagined and ultimately I know that I'm better for that and that here and there is a reader or two that in some small way is better for it as well. THIS one I've solved already. I found a place for myself, a place I have toiled and traveled through and because of it I am a better, smarter, and more content person that I would be otherwise. And in the dark moments, the hard times, I know that if I never wrote another word, if I never contrived another story, I would be at peace with what I have done, what I have already created. That peace makes it all a glorious journey.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Rewriting Rule #2

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Right up there with what is probably the most touted rule about writing, "Show, don't tell" is another rule, one that pretty much drove me crazy when I was a young writer.

You'll remember this one: "Write what you know."

This is such an ingrained rule that my university creative writing professor even had us write down a list of 100 things we knew and could therefore write about.

My list had things like braces, camping, and growing up with three siblngs.

Oooooh. Exciting stuff.

Here I was, staring at my list as an aspiring writer, thinking that—crap—I didn't know enough of anything to write. I had a bit of panic as I looked over my list of 100 things. I had wanted to write since second grade. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for it, because, well, I lacked the interesting life, the angst, that came with being a writer.

I came from a family with two parents that were still married. I wasn't abused. No one I knew was drug-addicted or homeless or otherwise having a more "interesting" life.

What in the world could I write about when I knew about nothing?

Fortunately, I tossed my list into the trash just as soon as I could. That teacher, despite being a great writer himself, didn't have the slightest idea how to teach writing.

I've read far too many early novels from beginning writers that are nothing more than memoirs in disguise—all because they were trying to write what they "knew."

I've since learned to tweak that all-knowing rule. It should say:

Write what you're willing to learn about.

Isn't that freeing? Suddenly an entire new universe of writing possibilities opens up.

Writers are by nature a creative lot, which is in our best interest. We read up on weird things that may appear later in our work, or we seek out topics that we need to educate ourselves on so we can write about them.

Here are a few of many things I've written about that I didn't know before but researched so I could write about them:
  • Profiling criminals
  • Poisons
  • Weapons
  • The history of denim
  • Horse illnesses
  • Flora and Fauna in Arizona
  • Boot styles in the late 1800s
  • printing press history
  • Early rock quarry tools
  • Blacksmithing
  • Police procedure
  • International laws on restraining orders
  • and much more
What would have happened if I had decided that gee darn, oh well, but I can't write about a house burning down because I've never been in a burning house? I wouldn't have written what became my break-out novel in my market.
Toss out "Write what you know" and pick up "Write what you're willing to learn about."
You'll be a better writer for it. Your work will thank you.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Savvy or Sell-Out?

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Some time before my publication days, I was bemoaning the fact that my latest manuscript had been rejected.

A well-meaning friend discovered a "hot" market, bought me a book in that genre, and said, "Read this. You should write a book like it. These kinds of books are selling like crazy right now."

I took the book and stared at it, trying to find a way to explain to this person that I couldn't just up and write a book for a market for no other reason than the fact that lots of people are currently successful at it.

Trying to fit myself into a mold like that would suck out any life that my writing and story might have naturally. (I know; I tried once. That pathetic manuscript will forever gather dust.)

But at the same time, writing anything my muse fancied might not be the best plan, either. I had a stack of rejections (with lots of great feedback, but rejections nonetheless) that showed something wasn't working.

It's a fine line to walk between selling out (abandoning your passion, your voice, and who you are as a writer for the sake of a market) and being market savvy (tweaking your work to make it more marketable).

It's one thing to find in yourself a passion that happens to be something agents and editors are looking for, or to adapt something you love into something that is more likely to sell.

It's quite another to decide that since books about young wizards are selling like hotcakes that you should write one too--only make it a girl . . . and give her a birthmark instead of a scar . . . and . . . you get the idea.

Even if your hot idea isn't a copy of what's already out there, there's a very good chance that the huge trend on the bookshelves right now (today, think vampires) is over and done with in the publishing houses.

Taking a book from manuscript to press can take upwards of two years, so bookstore shelves are essentially two years behind what publishers are hungry for now. If you try to write something new to ride a trend, chances are, you've already missed the boat.

The upshot: Trying to twist your writing self into a pretzel to fit a mold is selling out.

So what does a writer do when there's still that marketability factor to contend with? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Don't write a supernatural-mystery-Victorian-romance just because you heard that several agents are looking for one.

On the other hand, if mysterious Victorian-romances happen to be your cup of tea, jump all over it. You can probably work supernatural elements into the genre you already love to give it the angle the agent is looking for.

That's being market savvy, not selling out.

The manuscript I mentioned earlier saw several rejections until I learned that the heroine was a few years too young for what the market's demographic expected. I aged her about five years, tweaking a few scenes as a result, and the piece sold.

Being market-savvy is important, but never lose contact with the more important element: your muse. The trick is finding a happy marriage between the two.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Your Personal Legend

A popular post from January 2008

By Heather Moore

Recently, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s an international bestseller that many of you are certainly familiar with. The novel is brief, filled with a thought-provoking story and peppered with insight. But what struck me the most was the author’s introduction at the beginning of the book.

He explains that each of us have our own personal legend, or personal calling. I’d like to relate it to the writers in each of us.

Coelho says that not all of us have to “courage to confront our own dream.”

He gives us four reasons or obstacles as to why this is the case. As you read through them, think about your own goals and reasons for writing:

1. “We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea . . . there comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible.”

2. “Love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream.” Coelho points out that those who love us want us to be happy.

3. “Fear of the defeats we will meet on the path.” Defeats happen and we will suffer along the way. “Once we have overcome our defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence.”

4. “The fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.” Coehlo says the “mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt.” We forget about the challenges it took to reach our goals—“this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.”

This rang true for me. I could see a definite pattern as I look at my writer-self. I’ve been told that getting published is nearly impossible. I’ve worried about those I love and the sacrifices it might take to follow my dream. I worry about giving it my all, only to come away as a failure. And finally, when I do have successes step by step, I wonder if I should renounce it since I don’t want others to feel like they couldn’t reach their dreams.

But I love Coelho's closing comment: " . . . if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God . . . and you understand why you are here."

I believe that all of us are "worthy" to follow our dreams.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Get to the Point

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Where should you start your story?

That's the magic question so many writers wrestle with. I'm one of them; I usually rewrite my first chapter a dozen times before it's right, and often it'll end up as a different scene altogether, starting at a different moment in the story.

Regardless of how difficult the beginning is to spot and capture in your writing, doing so is critical. A reader (or, more importantly, an agent or editor) won't give you the benefit of the doubt and keep reading to page 63 where it really gets good.

You must hook the reader immediately and give them a solid reason to keep going. You have to earn the reader going on to the second sentence, the next paragraph, the next page.

In my editing experience, the most common mistake with beginnings is that the writer tries to tell too much of the back story too soon, as if we just have to know right away what got John to this point in his life.

When this happens, the reader doesn't get to the actual story without wading through the history, perhaps in flashbacks or large sections of "info dump." (Big hint here: if you're beginning your story with a flashback, you're starting in the wrong place.)

Your beginning should open at a time of change for the main character. By the end of the first chapter, their life has to be turned upside down.

And most importantly, something must be happening. Never, ever, have your first chapter filled with a character sitting on a mountaintop (or in the car, or by the beach, or in bed) recalling past events or what they need to do about them.

Remember "show don't tell"? Do it here. Show your character in a difficult situation. Show your character reacting to it, struggling to decide what to do next.

When past information is critical to include, drop a tidbit here and there, just enough to keep the reader informed while the story keeps moving forward. Avoid writing more than a couple of sentences of back story at any point; when you do that, you stall the story, no matter how fascinating the history is. Let us discover the past a piece at a time.

The majority of manuscripts I see with the problem of opening overload eventually find their beginnings. I can often spot it two or three (or more) pages into the piece. Sometimes I'll star that spot and say, "Start here. This is the real beginning."

What about everything before it? Hit the delete button. Really. It's all what David Fryxell from Writer's Digest calls "throat clearing," where you're just warming up and finally you reach the point you've been trying to make all along.

Reread your work with an eye out for any "throat clearing." You might just find you've already written a brilliant opening . . . on page 4.

Monday, April 10, 2017

You might be a writer if . . .

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

Today I am in the middle of edits, and have no time to be clever or original. So I have taken something I wrote as a creative exercise several years back and am doing a reprint here:

You might be a writer if . . .

Your spouse refuses to take you to the movies anymore because you mutter editing advice on how to tighten the dialogue and strengthen the plot.

You read books with a red pen in hand.

You pass judgment before hitting the period of the first sentence in any novel on whether the author has any intelligence at all.

All major relationship decisions are based on whether the other person knows the difference between lay and lie.

You got kicked out of Sunday School for pointing out a place in the Songs of Solomon where you felt the author lacked vision.

You cry in bookstores when you see a new book published by the imprint that recently rejected you.

You get caught eavesdropping on conversations, but insist you're not being nosy, just doing research.

Anyone who ever wronged you back in high school is now either a victim or an incompetent villain in one of your novels.

You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the garbage disposal.

You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the toilet.

You've ever said, "Well they just didn't read it!" after getting a rejection letter.

You've ever believed you could pay off your house with your first royalty check. HAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!! And now that you know you can't, you find that it isn't really that funny.

Your children eat corn dogs and Happy Meals when you're on a deadline.

Your children eat a lot of corn dogs and Happy Meals.

You named your dog Victor, your fish Hugo and your two parakeets Jane and Austen.

You hear voices in your head conversing, arguing, falling in love . . . and somehow you're sure this doesn't mean your crazy,

merely a writer . . .

Friday, April 7, 2017

Increasing Your Funny Quotient

A popular post from January 2008

by Annette Lyon

Humor in writing is tough to get right. It's all too easy for a joke to go just slightly off the mark and miss the laugh.

I think many writers do manage to be funny to a degree, but their problem is that they don't take it to the next level, the unexpected place where the laugh comes at you from the side so that you can't help but wipe away tears.

One great way of taking your humor to the next level is to analyze the laugh you're trying to make. What's the obvious joke (even if it's a funny one)?

Now, how can you take that joke one step (or even better, two steps) further?

An example:

In a recent essay I read, the author described a soul-sucking job and the manager she worked for. A good comparison (and a funny laugh) would have been to say her boss was a vampire, sucking the life out of her employees.

But this author took it a step further:

"[S]even years later, I voluntarily left a good-paying, soul-sucking, part time job as the records clerk for an office of remarkable neurosurgeons and one prickly office manager (who I am still convinced has no reflection in a mirror) to take a position at a veterinary hospital."

The reader deduces that she's a vampire without the writer ever saying so. It's a classic case of show-don't-tell.

Chandler from the sitcom Friends is another terrific example of taking the humor past the obvious. Take, for example, the time when he and Joey try to determine the identity of two babies, one of which belongs to Ross. One baby has clothing with ducks on it, and the other has clowns.

Joey decides to flip a coin about it, saying that the baby with ducks on its clothes will win if the coin lands on heads because ducks have heads.

It would have been funny enough had Chandler said, "What, and clowns don't have heads?"

But in a sense, that's what the audience is already thinking (and already laughing) about.

Chandler instead comes out with something that uses the first joke (clowns have heads too) and creates a second laugh by planting a comical image in our minds:

"What kind of freak clowns did you have at your birthday parties?"

Bull's eye.

Show-don't-tell is powerful no matter what kind of writing you're doing. Learn the skill well.

Then learn to take the humor past the obvious joke. Find out how far you can take it to create funny, fresh, and unexpected images.

It helps to read books, essays, and columns by some of the best funny men and women we have writing today. Also, watch comedians. Pay attention to how they craft their jokes, how the punch line flips the joke on its head and makes you laugh. Notice how jokes often come full circle later in the book/sketch/essay and take on new meaning the second time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

And Then You . . .

A popular post from December 2007

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, April 3, 2017

Hearing Voices?

A popular post from January 2008

By Julie Wright

Of course you're hearing voices. You're an author . . . we can't help it. But that's totally beside the point.

I met an author who hasn't read a single book authored by another person since he got his first book published. His reasoning is that he doesn't want his literary "voice" tainted by someone else.

Not only is his attitude excessively narcissistic, but he has trapped himself into a limited world. His voice will never grow--never improve; his characters will never stretch or be different from the ones he's already created. He has written many books, and it's the sad old case of "if you've read one of them . . . you've read them all."

Most serious writers know that their first couple of books are practice. If you don't get them published, you'll be saved from lamenting over your shallow voice and two dimensional characters. If you do get them published, you'll have that lamentation, but you can laugh yourself all the way to the bank. So there is comfort in having your first books published. ;)

But how do you develop you voice so that you move beyond your first tentative steps as an author?

1- READ!

And don't be afraid to read outside your preset genre. Read everything. Read drama, literary stuff, comedy, romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction. As you read, your own voice develops. Your brain subconsciously picks out what works for you in writing and what doesn't.

I read 39 books last year. That doesn't count the myriad blogs and articles I read. And that doesn't count the reading I had to do on my own books to get edits done.

2-WRITE!

There is no way around it. If you want to be a writer, you have to actually (gulp!) write. And you have to write a lot. Try your hand at writing everything that holds a spark of interest to you. I've written music lyrics, poetry (badly), short stories, novels, commercials for products (I once fantasized that I would grow to be a high powered advertising executive dressed in a black power pant-suit and riding the subways). I've written articles for both newspapers and magazines and, of course, I spend some time blogging (which I count for good practice, but don't count towards writing goals).

And after you've written quite a lot, go back over your writing and look for recurring themes. It took me several years to notice that I am primarily a young adult writer. I read mostly young adult literature and when I write, I can't stop myself from writing with a youth audience in mind. I didn't set out to write for this age group . . . it just worked out that way. Even when I wrote for adults, I ended up with a riot of teenager fans. I also find I gravitate towards the fantastic, the paranormal, the time travel, the space travel, the beliefs of fringe society.

Time spent on poetry, on a short story, and the full-on novel help you to stretch your voice. Play with all forms of writing. Have fun with it.

3. Resonate!

If you write about things that resonate to the marrow of your bones, you won't be able to help but write in your own voice. If you're passionate about your topic, your characters, your story, your voice will convey that passion. If you're from the deep south, you will have a different angle of resonance than someone from Ireland. Write in the language you know--the language you speak. I am a firm believer in increasing your vocabulary, but you want your book to resonate to others. By speaking plainly, you will achieve that.

most people are searching for themselves. Writers are searching for their voices. To help you on your quest, read, write, and resonate (I love alliteration). Have fun!