Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm Writing . . . Now What?

by Annette Lyon

Today I was asked what turns out to be a pretty common question, basically:

I know I want to write, and I'm working on a book. Now what?

The best advice I figured I could give was to start hanging around places where there are other writers, like conferences, workshops, and local writer groups.

First off, that's where you'll learn the craft better. Every workshop you attend, every lecture you listen to, is a learning experience. Soak it all in. Learn as much as you can.

Second, that's where you'll learn about the business, including how to submit and who to submit to, the etiquette of publishing, and SO much more.

But third, that's also where you'll make writing relationships. These are the supports that will keep you going during rough times, give you critical feedback, and maybe even connect you with industry insiders to help you succeed.

Not in an area where you can hang out in person? Try hanging out with other writers virtually. Writer's Digest is one of many places where you can go online and find forums for writers, writing blogs, articles, online workshops, videos from national conferences, and more.

Many sites offer critique swaps. One relatively new but fast-growing one is Review Fuse. Search online for more.

I can say without qualification that my writing relationships are directly responsible for my being published and for succeeding as far as I have. But I wouldn't have them if I hadn't gone to conferences and the like as much as I did. In many cases, that's where we became friends. In others, a member directory is how we found one another.

Best of all, my writer friends are some of the few people in the world who really "get" me and my bizarre writer brain.

As Mastercard would say, they're priceless.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Keep Moving Forward

I wrote a post over at my own blog and then realized how pertinent it would be to writers everywhere, so decided to let the post do double duty on both blogspots.

My teenage daughter surprised me a few months ago. She went home from our store (where we rent dvd's too) with a few movies: Juno, Sidney White, and Meet The Robinsons.

I had nothing pressing to do and knew that Juno had some pretty grown up themes and figured I ought to watch it with her in case she had any questions. We ended up pulling an all day movie fest watching all three movies. I hadn't seen any of them and it was fun to hang out with her and watch movies until our eyes got sore. (loved Juno BTW. It's a little irreverent, but I loved it)

It surprised me to hear my teenager's favorite movie in the world was Meet the Robinsons. It further surprised me to see her eyes mist over at the end. I mean, the show was cute, endearing, and I truly enjoyed it, but until her declaration and verge-of-tears reaction over the film, I hadn't looked much deeper than the surface.

The story revolves around a very central theme: Keep Moving Forward.

Such a positive approach to life. In the movie our little boy-genius-orphan, Lewis, makes many mistakes, but he learns to keep moving forward--that those mistakes will build him into the man he was meant to be. Is the concept of growth and stumbling blocks oversimplified in this movie? Of course.

But such growth really isn't the kind of concept that bears complicating. The simplicity of the message to keep moving forward is part of what makes it efficient and beautiful.
I finished my first book and hid it away on the harddrive of an old 8088 because I was afraid to keep moving forward. My husband shoved me out of my comfort zone and into the dark and disturbing world of submitting manuscripts, because I simply refused to go out on my own. Did I make mistakes? Of course. I freely admit, I'm published by an unexplainable comedy of errors. Little twists and turns of fate. Every twist and turn, making me the person I am.

Had I not stumbled forward, I would have lived in that place called regret. Always wondering what I might have accomplished if I'd only picked myself up and dusted myself off when things didn't go the way I wanted. Always wondering, and in that wondering, consistently feeding off heaping portions of dissatisfaction.

Writers tend to get hung up on the rejections, the bad reviews and evil comments left by people who simply don't understand our "art." Miss Snark had an entire category called "quit obsessing!" Writers obsess. We obsess over every little thing.

And sometimes all that obsession leaves us wanting because we forget to remember the little twists and turns of fate that bring us joy.

The movie Meet the Robinsons ends with a song that spoke to my soul. Because even as we stumble through our lives, cry over our failed attempts at getting that agent, deal, contract, award--aren't there millions of tiny moments that bring joy as we journey through our lives and become the people we're meant to be?

"Little Wonders"
Let it go,
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know
The hardest part is over
Let it in,
Let your clarity define you
In the end
We will only just remember how it feels

Our lives are madeIn these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain

Let it slide,
Let your troubles fall behind you
Let it shine
Until you feel it all around you
And i don't mind
If it's me you need to turn to
We'll get by,
It's the heart that really matters in the end

Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain

All of my regret
Will wash away some how
But i can not forget
The way i feel right now
In these small hours
These little wonders
These twists & turns of fate
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away but these small hours
These small hours, still remain,
Still remain

These little wonders
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away
But these small hours
These little wonders
still remain
--Rob Thomas

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened . . .

Josi S. Kilpack

I belong to an online writer's group with several of the editors that also write on this blog. The title of the group is writerstorymakers@... so, if I want to ask a question of the whole group, I simply send an e-mail to that e-mail address.

A couple weeks ago I had a question about possessive s. I am the resident grammar idiot around her and I've accepted that title with absolute humility. When it doubt, I ask smart people.
All I needed to know was how to do possessive on a word ending with s--Countess, to be exact.

I sent off an e-mail to my writing group and waited, and waited, and waited for an answer. Some kind of freinds-smarter-than-me they are. No one answered me, which is just bizarre. We often exchange 20 or more e-mails every day on a variety of subjects.

They had abandoned me.

After another couple hours passed, I went into my sent items when I remembered that I've had occasion of sending messages to the wrong address because I got in a hurry and I accept the first e-mail that pops into my "To" field.

Yep, I'd done it again. Instead of sending the note to writestorymakers@. . . I had sent it to Writer's Digest newsletter.

I cleared my throat and sheepishly resent the e-mail to the right address. I considered sending an apology to Writer's Digest, but surely they would roll their eyes at my e-mail and delete it, assuming I was a snot-nosed beginning writer trying to annoy them.

Yesturday, I got this response:


The Countess' bedroom

When a noun ends in an S, all you need to add is the apostrophe.


So, if you ever thing that this writing world is so big and so vast that no one notices you, think again. If you ever think that other writers don't really want to help you, think that one over too. And if you ever think that you don't need to proof-read your e-mails, think on that one really, really hard.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reading as a Writer

by Annette Lyon

You've heard it many times before, but that doesn't make it any less true:

Good writers read.

But here's the additional bit that not everyone tells you:

Good writers read LIKE writers.

That means reading while wearing the writer hat in addition to reading for pure enjoyment. (But face it; once you start writing seriously, it's hard to read anything without that hat on.)

I know that after I read certain writers, the dialogue in my current project suddenly becomes snappier, more alive.

If I spend a little time with another writer, my descriptions get more vivid.

Reading yet another might provide a eureka moment where I figure out a plot problem.

And then there's one more writer who I'll read, getting immersed in his strong verbs and his amazing ways of showing a rainbow of emotions and gestures.

Of course, every year I try new writers, and in those cases I let myself enjoy a new voice. I watch how he or she structures scenes and pay close attention to how they open the book on the very first page, begin (and end) every chapter.

And on occasion, I'll open up a really bad book . . . and learn by painful example what not to do.

Writers can learn something about the writing craft by reading (and paying attention to) almost any book, whether that lesson is on pacing, voice, plotting, characterization, or a dozen other things.

Make a goal to never be without at least one book underway at all times. (I have more than I want to admit to going at once. I'm not sure if that's a good thing: the book I'm listening to on my iPod, the one I read to the kids at night, the one my husband and I read together, the one in the car, the one for research. And that's not counting the couple of novels on my desk . . .)

Read. A lot. Consider it the crux of your continuing education.

Because it is.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Where'd I Go?

by Annette Lyon

I'm getting seriously tired and cranky over here.

The past week or so has been spent proofing my galleys and working on a proposal for promoting my next book, a proposal I just gave to the marketing and PR people at my publisher. Oh, and I've kept up on my personal blog, sort of (doing scheduled posts because I knew I'd be struggling to find actual time to write them).

The business side. That's pretty much all the writing-related work I've done in the last week and a half.

And it's making me loopy.

I learned several years ago that if I don't get some actual creative writing in on a regular basis, then life falls apart at the seams. I'm seeing it yet again. Everything I'm doing is writing-related, but it's a step removed from the creative act. It's the logical, administrative side of things.

And as far as my inner writer is concerned, it doesn't count. And she's rebelling.

I first learned about this phenomenon nearly a decade ago at a time when I thought I was "too busy" to write. I had managed to get a few articles published, but that was it; I hadn't had any luck with fiction.

I had three little kids and a demanding job at church, among other things. I figured that when things calmed down a bit (whatever that means), I'd return to my writing.

So I took two months off. My life imploded.

Suddenly, no matter how hard I tried, I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, going nowhere. I had less time for my kids and my husband and my church job. The house was a bigger mess. The kids fought more and were generally more irritable. I was losing my mind.

Finally, in the middle of the cyclone, I threw caution to the wind and took about twenty minutes two days in a row to sit at the computer and write. That's less time than an episode of Sesame Street.

Can you guess what happened?

Yep. The cyclone calmed right down.

I learned right then and there that I can't put off writing until later, like I hear so many people say, especially the old excuse, "I'll do it when the kids are older." For my kids' sake, I'd better not stop. They deserve a mother who's not on the brink of a nervous breakdown, and writing is the way to keep their mother even-keeled.

Granted, there's a balance. Now that I have deadlines, book signings, conferences, and more, I have to be more careful with family and how much my writing intrudes. I can't just take twenty minutes here and there for my personal therapy (not if I want my editor to speak to me again, anyway).

Attending my critique group is the same thing. If I go too many weeks without it, I start resembling a crazy monkey clawing the walls. Once when I'd missed a few weeks, I said I'd better not go yet again, since we had a sick kid. My husband took me by the shoulders and nudged me toward the door.

"Go. Please. I need my wife back."

I'm there again, not feeling like myself. My husband could use his wife back again. My kids are probably wondering what happened to their mother.

I need to sit down and write a scene from my work in progress. I need that creative flow. I need to find me again.

Tonight, I'm going to my critique group. And tomorrow, you won't find me analyzing promotion ideas or worrying about the proof or thinking about press releases.

Instead, I will draft more of the novel I'm working on.

I'm going to love every minute of it.

And I have a suspicion that I'll find myself on the other side.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Foolish Writer

By Julie Wright

I know. My day to post is almost over. But it is still Tuesday and I've neglected several Tuesdays over the past month in my quest to complete a novel. I couldn't neglect yet one more.

One of my very dear friends from college confided in me he wanted to write a book. (good thing he doesn't read my blogs or he'd be irritated that I didn't keep his confidence--though none of you would know him anyway) And he's finally decided to get serious about it. He took a writing course in college, but let the fear of writing something stupid convince him to not write at all.

I can testify, I have written many a stupid thing (And to my discredit, I have stupid things published). But I can also say that within all that stupidity lies a nugget or two of brilliance. And because of all that stupidity, I've gotten pretty good at what I do.

Shannon Hale taught a class at a writer's conference once. She started it out by explaining she'd laminated all of her rejection letters end to end. Then she proceeded to roll the length of rejections out. The laminated papers rolled clear to the back of the room. She then said she had a pottery teacher who told her she would never be able to create a useful piece of pottery until she'd made her one thousand and first piece (or something like that . . .maybe it was a million . . . maybe it was a hundred . . . my memory isn't that good, but trust me, it was a bunch).

She likened her pottery to her writing. Until she'd written all the mistakes out, she would never be proficient.

Anton Chekov said,
". . . only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish

Had I always been afraid of writing foolish things, I would never have written at all. I still sometimes write foolishness. But I allow myself that. Without practice and learning, there can be no improvement.

I feel emancipated. I do not fear to be foolish. I fear not writing at all.

Emancipate yourselves and go write . . . write the foolish, the garish, the absurd, and the brilliant. Write it all. For what is humanity without the full spectrum of all things?

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Writer's Butt

by Heather Moore

The difference between my appearance when I was an unpublished author vs. a published author is my rear-end. I know, it sounds silly, but it's true. Yes, it's been a slow upward and outward spiral, packing on a little here and a little there. It all started in 2006. Even though I'd been writing about a book a year since 2001, in 2006 I wrote 2 books. If you are one of the many writers out there who are juggling everything from career to family to multiple hobbies, you know that when you take the time to write something else has to go. For me, it's the hiney.

Am I eating more? Not necessarily. Am I lazy? No way. But the profession/hobby/dream I've chosen requires a lot of sitting time. I've tried to type while standing, jogging, or stretching. Nothing works. (okay, I haven't really tried any of those, but I'm a logical person and I can just picture what would happen if I did.)

In my crammed-pack life, I've let MYSELF go. I've stopped exercising. There are lots of excuses that I can come up with, the lamest being that I just don't have time to walk in the next room and get on the elliptical for 30 minutes.

No more. Since I refuse to diet or alter my chocolate-addition in any way, I've had to get serious about what to do . . . and how to do it . . . So the past three weeks I've made more of an effort to exercise than ever. And the effort has been a sacrifice. But I decided that this sacrifice will be worth it. It will clear my writer's mind, hopefully let more inspiration dawn, and increase my endorphine levels. Each morning, I drag my 4-year-old and myself out the door to the gym. There is a nifty 9:30 a.m. kid's fitness class there and I walk/run/stumble on the track for a whole hour. The entire process? About 2 hours.

My goal? To be a better ME so that I can be a better writer. With an exercise schedule in place, my writing time has just become all that more precious. And if it took an official writer's butt to finally motivate me, so be it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Author Copies & Review Copies

By Josi S. Kilpack

Author Copies:

Included in traditional publishing contracts is a clause called "Author Copies", which are exactly that--copies of the book that are given to the author at the time the book is released. I've been offered between 10 or 20, but I write in that I want 20 and no one has argued with me about it yet. I know other authors that receive more, and a few that have received less. The coolest part is that they are FREE. However, once these books are used up, you have to buy your books--at a price outlined in your contract (usually 40-60% of the retail price).

Thus, it behooves us to use our Author Copies wisely.

For my first book I gave away all 20 of my copies to family and friends. I was excited and wanted to share my excitement. It was a good feeling to hand over the books and get people's compliments and such. However, a couple months later I was asked to come to a book group and donate a book--I didn't have any books. I ended up buying a case of books--for about $120 and wished I'd held on to a few of those author copies. I learned from that to be more careful on who I gave my free books to and also to make sure I always had copies of my books on hand--even if I had to buy them.

I also learned, the hard way, that some people think I get unlimited free books. People would just ask for a copy--and I gave a few away thinking they would pay me later. They didn't. I still have people that think this, that because they know me and since I have infinite copies to just throw away, they are entitled to one. I've had to learn all kinds of nice ways of letting people know that my books aren't free--which makes those author copies even more valuble because they were.

I also learned later that several people I gave the author copies to never even read it.

On my next book I ran into another problem. Because I had given those 20 people free books, they expected free books again. I was older and wiser and had a different plan for these author copies, wanting to use them in a way that would adequately thank those people that had sacrificed on behalf of the book or in a way that would create more sales rather than just giving them away. A couple people commented on it and a couple other people just never bothered to find a copy, therefore they never read my second book at all. To me, this was pretty clear feedback--author copies should only go to people that appreciate the book.

Now a day's I have it figured out in a way that works best for me, yours might be different, but the point is to think it out and decide what do do with those author copies so that they aren't wasted.

1--The first person to get a book is myself. I write a note about the writing process, where I am in my life, things I learned or wish I'd done differently. It becomes a kind of journal entry about that book in particular. It then goes into my cedar chest. Eight books in--it's fun to go back and read my entries that now span a decade.

2--The second book goes to my husband--who is the person other than myself that sacrifices the most to have any book published. I write a little note in it, pointing out anything specific he did with that particular book.

3--The next two books go to my mom and my mother in law--two women who are very supportive about my writing.

4--The next copy (or copies) go to whoever I dedicated the book to, if they aren't already included in the first two categories. I figure if they inspired me enough to be in my dedication, they deserve a book. I don't do this if I've dedicated the book to a group--just if it's individuals.

5--The next copies go to anyone that did susbstantial editing for me before I turned it in. These are freinds/other writers that usually read through the whole book--I usually have three or four people that have earned their book.

6--The next copies go to professionals that might have given me a lot of guidance on details I used in the book--details I needed help with. I don't give a book to everyone that helped me, just those that made significant differneces.

7--At this point I'm usually out of books or nearly so. If I have enough I dedicate one to each of my children--I'm keeping a set of my books for each of them but don't give it to them until they are old enough to take care of them. I want it to be a keepsake for them. If I'm out of books, I'll often work on this later on when I have to order a case for something else.

**One thing to check out with your publisher is what happens to returned copies of your book. They are unable to sell returned copies for full retail, so they often sell them through an outlet, or to individuals that buy in bulk and then put them on Amazon for $2. I try to buy as many of these copies as possible--either through my publisher (if they will, not all of them do), through the outlets, or even on Amazon. If I pay 60% of retail, that's anywhere from $8-$12 a copy. If I can buy those for $3 instead--I'm much happier. I think use these books to give away or sell at a discount etc. A freind called me a few weeks ago, she'd found one of my books on a clearance table for .99. She bought 40 copies--I'm set!

Review Copies:

In the beginning I thought review copies and author copies were the same thing--but they aren't. In your contract there should be an outlined amount of books that are set aside as review copies--generally your publisher will send these out to reviewers, trying to get your name out there by garnering reviews from places readers will then read and want to go buy the book. Some publishers expect their authors to send the review copies out, and yet some authors don't know this and therefore no review copies are sent. If you send out your own, spend some time finding those reviewers that have a large enough audience to make it worth while--for instance if they have a blog, but only two or three comments on average, you won't be reaching many readers. If your publisher takes care of review copies for you, ask for a list of who recieved a book so that you can look for the review, follow up, or add other reviewers you may have a relationship with.

Check your contract, get familiar with how author copies and review copies work, and plan accordingly. Both can be easily fettered away, or can be adequately taken advantage of so as to be an asset in your tools of promotion.