Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is e-Publishing for You?

by Heather Moore

Today, I’d like to share an interview with Maria Zannini, author, editor, and artist. I visit her blog regularly because she offers great writing and publishing advice. She also posts current writing contests. Maria recently had her first e-book published: Touch of Fire. Since e-publishing is becoming more and more predominant in the market, I thought we could learn from her.

Welcome, Maria, to our blog. Tell us a little about how you became a writer.
I had a couple of false starts actually. I had been writing the occasional nonfiction article on things I knew well, such as advertising, dogs and homesteading, but it wasn't until much later when I got bitten by the fiction bug. I had placed in the finals for Writers of the Future contest and that was all it took to hook me for good. It didn't take long to figure out I had a lot to learn, so I pored over every writing book and group I could find.

Perhaps the most unusual thing I did was give myself a deadline to become published. I had seen so many people who had been writing for years, but had never been published despite the fact they were amazing writers. I came to realize that not everyone has the same chances in this business, so I treated it the way I would any other challenge, with a plan, a goal, and a time limit.

I felt seven years would be enough time to see if I had the chops for publication. If it didn't happen, at least I can say I tried. Fortunately, it happened in under three years. (A happy dance ensued shortly afterwards.)

You are also a graphic artist. How do your two worlds of art and writing come together?
I started out as a graphic artist and illustrator almost 30 years ago, so I had some grasp of the publishing world before I became interested in writing. Art and writing have similar requirements. They are crafts that need to be honed and practiced. I like to think that good storytelling paints a picture and a good illustration tells a story.

What inspired you to write Fantasy?
I've always been fascinated by the mysticism of ancient religions, the paranormal, and conspiracy theories. Odd mix, I know, but I think it's the element of the unknown and misunderstood phenomena that enchants me. I started out writing science fiction, but somehow fantasy always crept in and took over. I love the arcane. I think there's a kernel of truth in every myth.

With the face of traditional publishing changing, tell us about your decision to publish an e-book.
It was an accident! LOL. A friend of mine, NY pubbed Maya Reynolds told me about a contest Samhain Publishing was holding for the best opening lines. The contest was unusual because it took five weeks to pick out the winners. You had to survive five rounds to make it to the finals.

At the time, I wasn't peddling anything to agents or traditional publishing houses so I was in shock when Samhain offered me a contract right away. My first reaction was not to sign TOUCH OF FIRE to Samhain until after I secured an agent, but the contract had a time limit and I felt Samhain offered reasonable terms, so I ran with it.

Looking back, I think it was a good decision. Not only is Samhain considered a leader in e-publishing, but their entire operation is exceptionally professional and well run. I'm getting a first hand education on how a proper publishing house is run, I receive personal attention and advice from my editor, and there is an entire legion of other authors at the house that go out of their way to help you with questions and promotional opportunities. It's a nice family.

That's not to say I wouldn't consider a traditional publishing house. If anything, signing with an e-publisher has made me more empowered to make intelligent decisions about contracts and deadlines. I highly recommend it.

Your publisher is Samhain Publishing, an award-winning e-publisher. What do they have to offer that specifically appealed to you?
I was pleasantly surprised and enormously lucky to have found Samhain. They have been very hands on, offering me direction from editing to promotion. They have a full staff that handles everything from promotion, reviews, cover art and editing. I am especially pleased with the editing. There are no shortcuts and I really appreciated that.

Many of our readers will be interested to know the process of submitting and working with an e-publisher. Describe the process of submitting, editing, and how your release date was set.
In my case, I got in with a contest win. Some e-publishers are not open to submissions all year round. Samhain at the time was closed to new authors. The contest was my ticket in.

After I had learned that my entry had been selected, I sent the editor a partial to see if she was still interested. She was. So I worked my tail off to get TOUCH OF FIRE as polished as I could get it. Within a couple of days of sending the full I had learned of the contract offer.

Once all the paperwork was done, the next step was the first edit. I was lucky to fall in with the senior editor at Samhain, Angela James. She was so patient, despite my incessant questions. And it was remarkably pain free. I had heard "horror" stories on how tough Angie was. LOL! I didn't want to disappoint her; neither did I want to be a burden.

We did two edit passes together and then she sent it on to a line editor who made sure all my threads were complete and there were no glaring technical issues on the sentence level.

Angie set my title's release date to a slot that she had available. Originally, TOUCH OF FIRE was scheduled for late summer, but Angie had an earlier opening and I grabbed it.

What inspired TOUCH OF FIRE? And describe the journey from inception to publication.
I adore post apocalyptic stories. I love the struggle and sacrifice necessary to live in such a world. But there had to be a love story too because I feel relationships are important. So I created a world 1200 years in the future where technology no longer exists and the Earth is divided between plainfolk and the fae, humans that have evolved to control one of the four elements, earth, water, air and fire.

A dangerous book has surfaced that threatens to restore technology to the wrong hands. Now everyone wants it, but not for the same reasons. My main characters have to set aside their prejudices in order to work together.

I did not want a sappy romance where the hero and heroine fall into formulaic love. Real life is far more complex than that. I wanted them to keep their differences and their prejudices to a point because that's not something you can turn on and off. I wanted to show you could still love someone and not agree with them a hundred percent of the time.

The opening hook sets the stage for the entire novel. We have two fiercely independent people who fall in love despite themselves.

As a graphic artist by trade, you must have an advantage when it comes to marketing. With the recent release of your book, what marketing avenues are you pursuing?
As it happens, I decided to create an entire series of blog posts on marketing that I will run every Friday. I find when I write things out they become clearer to me, so I'm listing every venue I can think of and listing the pros and cons of each. I'm calling it Killer Campaigns and you'll be able to follow along with the tagged posts.

Because of my day job as an art director, I have a strong sense of color and design and I think that helps enormously with website design and promotional collateral. I limit my promotional pieces to things that are multipurpose. Business cards are tops on my list. You can use them for so many occasions and people take them without a second thought. I use them as bookmarks myself.

Tell us about your writing methods with fiction. Do you plot, do you research? Also, what kind of writing schedule do you keep?
Oh, I am a big plotter! I always write an outline first so I have a good feel for the action and to make sure none of my threads gets lost. I also do a ton of research. You wouldn't think there would be so much research involved in fantasy, but I had to dig deep to see what kind of materials would last 1200 years. I also had to be part social scientist and extrapolate how people would perceive things centuries after an apocalypse.

What advice do you have for other writers?
Find thee good critique partners, people who want you to succeed and will tell you the truth, even if it's not pretty. I love my crit partners! They rock!

What are you working on next?
Well, there is the sequel to TOUCH OF FIRE, which will require feats of time travel and general mayhem when the future meets the past. I suspect there is going to be more humor in this one. That's the plan anyway.

Thanks for the interview, Maria. Best of luck with your new release!

Thank you, Heather! I always enjoy visiting you!

Maria’s new e-book can be found at:
My Bookstore And More
Samhain Publishing

More about Maria can be found on her website, blog, or MySpace.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Adjectives Demystified

by Annette Lyon

Following up on my post about overusing adjectives, we received a reader question:

Ages and weights? To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question.

For example: nineteen year old eighty pound girl

Hyphens? Comma? Help!

Here's a relatively simple rule of thumb for compound adjectives:
1) Groups that belong together need hyphens.
2) Connect groups with a comma.
3) Other adjectives need only a space.

Let's discuss #1:
If two or more words function as a single image, it's almost as if they're one word, so they need to be connected with a hyphen for clarity.

In the example above, it's pretty simple to distinguish which words are working together, so here are the groupings:

nineteen year old

eighty pound


Obviously you wouldn't be lumping "old and "eighty" in the same grouping, because they aren't describing the same thing. "Old" is part of explaining "nineteen" and "eighty" clearly belongs with "pound."

Remember that not all groupings will have multiple words. You could split a phrase up this way:




"Tall" and "ugly" belong in separate groups because the two adjectives are functioning alone, with equal weight. You could describe the guy as the "tall dude" or as the "ugly dude," and both make sense.

Putting "tall" and "ugly" into the same group would mean he's some funky, tall version of ugly.

If your final groupings have more than one word, connect them with hyphens:




Note that "girl" still stands alone. It's the thing we're doing all the describing about, so she doesn't have anything to connect to.

In our second example, we have no hyphens at all. It's still:




Now, if we were trying to say that tall is ugly (or there really is a kind of ugly unique to being tall), we could use a hyphen and make it:



That would be an awfully weird image . . .

One exception to this rule: you don't hyphenate after an -ly adjective, so this would be correct, without any hyphen even though the two adjectives are working together:

The slightly overgrown grass needed mowing.

On to #2:
Connect groups with a comma. Each "group" (whether it's one word or several) describes the object equally. Test the sentence by flipping the order of the adjectives around. Or throw in "and" between them. If you can do either, then a comma is correct.

nineteen-year-old, eighty-pound girl

(You could also say: eighty-pound, nineteen-year-old girl)

tall, ugly dude

(You could also say: ugly, tall dude OR tall and ugly dude)

#3: Other adjectives need only a space.
Say that the first adjective isn't part of the same group as the second one (so you wouldn't use a hyphen).

It's also not describing the object with equal weight, so you can't use a comma.

Instead the first adjective is separate, and the second one is already attached the noun. In this case, you don't connect them with anything besides a space:

The cute little baby.

See? We're calling the little baby "cute."

You can't flip the two adjectives (or throw in "and") or you come up with something completely different:

the little, cute baby

the cute and little baby

(Yes, the baby is little and cute, but that's not what we meant.)

Likewise, "cute" isn't acting as a way to explain "little," so you would NOT say:

cute-little baby

(There's no such thing as "cute-little.")

Now for a review. Ask:

Are all the adjectives describing the final object with equal weight? (Can you flip them around or add "and" between them?)
IF YES, USE A COMMA: The big, red car was parked out front.
(Or: The red, big car . . . OR The big and red car . . .)

Is the adjective part of a bigger group?
IF YES, USE A HYPHEN: The cherry-red car was parked out front.
(It doesn't work to say, "The cherry car," since "cherry" needs to be attached to "red" to make sense.)

Is the first adjective describing the next adjective and noun as a separate group?
IF YES, USE A SPACE: The cute little baby laughed.

Adjectives can be a powerful tool. Be aware that punctuating them incorrectly can mean things you never intended.

Take this example, where leaving out a comma changes the implication:

The lazy freckled writer didn't want to proof his manuscript.

(In other words, there are lots of other freckled writers, but we're discussing only the lazy one.)

Add the comma, and suddenly it's one writer we're discussing, a person both lazy and freckled:

The lazy, freckled writer didn't want to proof his manuscript.

Either one works, but you need to know which one you mean.

Punctuation is like magic; you can create nuances of meaning by adding these little marks into your work. Knowing how to use them well is almost an art, guiding your reader like a conductor leads a symphony: where to pause, where the emphasis should be, where to stop.

Learning how to wield the baton is well worth the effort.

Read here for more about using hyphens with compound adjectives and using commas with adjectives.

Monday, May 19, 2008

On Writing for the YA market--genre toolbox

By Julie Wright

On Writing for the YA market

Genre Toolbox

Since the Harry Potter craze, there is good news for writers. It’s called READERS. More youth are reading for the pleasure of reading than ever before. If you write for that market, this is great news. I happen to write for this market. I love great news.

• Wonder— Wonder is that moment when you discover something for the first time. It’s the first time of seeing snow falling, or the first kiss. Wonder is something that astounds and leaves the person breathless and awe inspired. I don’t care that teenagers think they know everything, the fact remains that life still holds wonder for them and in order to evoke emotion in your writing you need to create a sense of wonder in your story. The teen years are a definite time of discovery. It’s where we learn who we are and how we fit in the world. It’s usually the time you fall in love for the first time. Wonder is simply wonderful.

• Age—YA generally means a character in the age range of 12-18. It doesn’t matter so much how old your character is as much as it matters that they ACT THEIR AGE. A senior in high school has vastly different concerns and perspectives than a ninth grader. Make sure your character speaks and acts the way they would in reality.

• Just because you can— Doesn’t mean you should. I know; I know, everyone says that it’s cool to be edgy--to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in YA novels. Besides that, you can’t get in trouble because YA novels are so under the parental radar that no one will ever know that you wrote a book about ********(pick your own taboo) Don’t forget the power of the pen. Words change society. Be prepared to answer for the words you choose to use. You are responsible for what you write. And I’m not preaching about what I think you should write . . . I am warning you to be prepared to stand up for it. Keep in mind that the younger edge of YA can handle “scarier” conflicts if it’s at a distance. They can handle the teen pregnancy if it’s the main character’s friend dealing with it, not the main characters themselves.

• Character—I am a character driven writer. I have a book that was pretty plot driven on the first draft but by the third draft, it was ALL about the character. Teens are pretty self absorbed (I can say that because I once was a self absorbed teen and liked it so well I grew up to be a self absorbed author) Because of this, they need characters they can relate to on a deeper level. They need characters who think things, and do things, and feel things. They need characters who are like them on the inside. Plot is important. Character is vital.

• Overcoming—Those really fabulous characters need to overcome. They need to grow and stretch and be more than they were on page one. Think of Star Wars. Luke started off as a whiney little brat who wanted to go with his friend to get power converters rather than clean up a couple of silly droids. By Return of the Jedi, our whiney brat has turned into full on Jedi and he is awesome. He’s in control of himself. He grew and overcame all the things he’d gone through to that point. He *became* the person he was meant to be. He found his inner greatness. That doesn’t mean your character has to wield a lightsaber and control the force, but they must find their own magic inside, even if it’s only metaphorically.

• Copycat-- A lot of people think writing for children is sooooo easy, but I am here to tell them, they are totally WRONG! I’ve heard people say, “Yeah, well, I think I’m going to write something like Harry Potter, and make an easy sweet million. Anyone can write that.” Copy cats always get caught for what they are. Bad copycats are the worst.
Kids these days are savvy and sophisticated in ways we can’t even dream. Do not assume you should write for the YA market simply because you think it might be easier. Consider why you want to write to teens. Consider your motives. Consider your *knowledge* because YES it takes some know-how to write in this genre. If you aren’t currently reading YA novels, don’t even think about writing one until you’ve read twenty. I mean it. Twenty. Publishing in the YA market is a lot tougher because the competition is fierce. There are a lot of wicked awesome writers out there setting the standard. You do not want to be the one to fall short of that standard.

Meet me back here next week for the non-fiction toolbox.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fantastic, Cool, Totally-Awesome Adjectives

by Annette Lyon

Of late, my post topics have been drawn from recent reading or editing projects. Today is no different.

Today's topic: adjective abuse.

First, a background issue: Most writers are aware of the need to pull back on using -ly adverbs too much. For example, if a character yells, "You idiot!" you can assume he said so "angrily," but saying as much dilutes the effect. Adverbs tend to be the easy way out, because instead of finding a great way to show what's going on, the writer tells you.

Search through your document for adverbs and find better ways to show what's happening. But please, when you do that, for the love of Pete, don't start throwing in large doses of adjectives in the adverbs' places.

If someone is tired, you could describe their "red-rimmed eyes," but don't make it, "teary, stinging, red-rimmed eyes." Additional details do not always make a sentence stronger, and quite often they just detract. It's easy to get so caught up in the sensory stimuli that you're peppering every sentence with several adjectives. Trust me here: Your readers won't be nearly as enamored with your descriptive prowess as you are.

A recent manuscript I worked on is like that. Great writing overall. (Few adverbs, even . . .) But I don't think I ever came across an adjective riding solo. It was always a compound adjective (two adjectives working together) and at times three or even four adjectives in a string. Worse, sometimes the same sentence would describe two or three different things, and each one had two or three different descriptors, yielding a sentence with half a dozen (or more) adjectives!

Something along the lines of this (I made this sentence up, but it's demonstrative of the kind of thing I saw over and over again):

He looked up at the dark, gray, roiling clouds and stroked his short, brown beard with his long, slender, bony fingers.

Heaven help me.

The image gets so cluttered up with adjectives that we can't see the scene for what it is. Keep only the most relevant and powerful adjectives.

In the example above, you can probably take out dark and gray, since roiling clouds are probably not going to be white and fluffy, and roiling is far more powerful than the other two anyway. With the beard, decide which part is more important: that it's short or brown? Or can you show that it's short by how he strokes the brown beard (if the beard is long, he could tug it, but if it's short, he can rub the whiskers, perhaps). And the fingers? Any one of the adjectives (long, slender, or bony) would work (they provide similar images anyway), but all three are overkill.

Every single adjective should show something fresh and interesting. Any word not pulling its weight should be cut.

For the more technical side of things, here's how you should punctuate adjectives:

Compound adjectives (adjectives working together for one image) need to be hyphenated. Take this sentence:

She used a green based color scheme.

The two words acting together are "green" and "based," so the hyphen belongs there:

She used a green-based color scheme.

It's not a green, based-color scheme. That makes no sense.

The punctuation may sound like no big deal, but not putting the hyphen in there (and in the right place) can be confusing.

Take this sentence:

Her relaxed fit boot cut jeans stretched over the tops of her cowboy boots.

At first reading, that sentence can be monumentally confusing (Her fit boots? Cut jeans? What?). But add the hyphens in the correct places, and suddenly it's crystal clear:

Her relaxed-fit, boot-cut jeans fit over the tops of her cowboy boots.

On the flip side, if you're not using a compound adjective (which needs a hyphen) and instead have a series of adjectives (and please, don't do this often), combine them with a simple comma:

He parked his red, mid-size convertible out front.

Pare down your use of adjectives. Make the images you use powerful. And when you do drop in the occasional adjective, punctuate it correctly.

Your readers (and editor) will thank you.

Monday, May 5, 2008

On Writing Romance--Genre Toolbox

By Julie Wright

On Writing Romance

Genre Toolbox

Ah love, what we do without it? Some people criticise the romance writers of the world, but they are fools to do so. Romance represents fifty percent of the fiction market. All the other genres combined make up the other fifty percent. Here's a few tips to throw in your toolbox and grab your share of the fifty percent.

• Internal Conflict-- A lot of people deeply believe that the, "You say tomayto and I say tomahto" conflict is enough for riveting romantic conflict. I say, "Yawn." There needs to be a lot more than a few little differences in personality to make me believe your characters have real internal conflict with one another. Maybe it is a religious difference, or a political difference of opinion. Maybe the internal conflict comes from knowing they are perfect for each other, but he's her best friend's fiance. Something that cause an internal obstacle to the hero and heroine getting together is absolutely necessary.

• External conflict-- A great romance always incorporates both internal and external conflict. External conflict could consist of people pulling our lovers apart, a nefarious competitor for the main character's affections usually works here. it could be the romeo and Juliet scenario of family pulling them apart. Maybe the hero got drafted to war, Maybe the heroine got an all ride scholarship to the university of her dreams and has to make a choice. Whatever your conflict, you need to make sure it remains continually an obstacle until the end. No one wants to read about a couple who get together in chapter one and have nothing to overcome.

• Sexual tension— No matter what it sounds like here, I am not talking about sex as in a roll in the hay. I'm talking about the sparks that fly from pure chemistry . . . Ever wonder why Twilight is such a hit? It's all about the sexual tension. It's all about the restraint of actual sex. You can have "steamy" without one bedroom scene and it all comes from the way the characters interact together. Don't believe me? Go read Twilight. A finger caressing a jawbone and hot kisses on the back of the neck can go a long long way for a woman reading a romance.

• Masculine but sensitive-- Most romance readers want a man who acts like a man, and I am not talking about the gas-passing sort of man, but the kind who will stand up for their woman and who will stand up TO their woman. They want a man who remembers the little details without having to be asked, the kind of man who knows what her favorite flower is and what color her eyes are after she's had a good cry. They don't want their men to be sissies, but they don't want them to be controlling wife beaters either. It's a tightrope walk to find a male character that will make your reader write to you to ask, "Where can I find a man like that?"

• Overcoming-- In order for the romance to be successful, the hero and heroine have to overcome their obstacles one at a time, bit by bit which draws them closer and closer together. They HAVE to overcome ALL the obstacles (except the tomayto and tomahto concept . . . it's good for people to keep some differences)

• Climax-- This is the moment of truth where they realize they are committed to each other. Commitment is more than gazing into each other's eyes and saying the pretty words, "I love you." There has to be actual commitment to the relationship for the reader to have faith that the relationship will last beyond, "The End."

Don't forget the importance of sub genre. There is romantic fantasy, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, and pretty much romantic anything else you can think of. I am one of those who is naive enough to believe love works, and that is why love sells so well. Everyone wants love. Everyone needs love and everyone wants to have someone to give their own love to. Love rocks.

Meet me back here next week for the young adult toolbox.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

WD Revision lesson #6 and #7

Points #6 and #7 in Jordan Rosenfeld's Writer's Digest article, Novel Revision for the Faint of Heart (February 2008) are adjusting point of view and make a plot promise.

First, point of view (POV). Point of view relate to who tells the story and how they tell it. Most writer's have a POV they are most comfortable with, some are afraid to try something different. Regardless, through the revision process make sure that you're telling the story the best way you can, that you're taking advantage of the strengths for whatever POV you've chosen. Some books are stronger in first person, some need third person and some (though few, in my opinion) work best with omniscient. It might be too late to change your POV at this point, but it's certainly not too late to strengthen it. Also, make sure your POV isn't changing between characters without a clear transition, usually a chapter break. Because we know all our characters, it's easy to pop in and out of their heads as we write, but the reader needs to have a clear focus of whose POV they are reading from.

The second tip is make a plot promise, basically this means that you are going to stay true to the plot. You might surprise your reader, throw in twists and turns, but you are going to fulfill the contract you made with your reader when they picked up the book. Essentially, this is very similar to some of the other lessons--make sure you only have scenes that support plot, that you don't have unfinished plot threads dangling, and that any plot holes are filled. If you've followed the other tips thus far, this should be fairly easy to do.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Editor Wins 2008 Best of State Award

Since so many of you know our senior editor, Lu Ann Staheli, we wanted to officially congratulate her on a major award she just won.

Lu Ann was selected as the 2008 Utah Best of State Medalist for Teacher of the Year (grades K-12). She has been teaching creative writing and English literature for nearly 30 years.

If you have ever taken one of Lu Ann's teleconference classes or attended presentations she gives at state-wide writer's conferences, you know that this award is well-deserved.