Friday, September 30, 2016

Writing for Free: Part Three: Nearly-Free

A popular post from November 2012

By Josi S. Kilpack

A few years ago, like many of you, my family and I were facing a lot of financial-stress. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say there were a lot of conversations in the dark of our bedroom at night that tiptoed around “What are we going to do?”  

I had just begun my Sadie Hoffmiller series and hadn’t yet gotten royalties (I get royalties twice a year) and I have no skills beyond raising kids, running a home, and writing novels. I looked hard at what I could do to bring in some income and in the process I stumbled upon some interesting options I hadn’t known existed. None of these turned out to make a lot of money for me, and yet they expanded into other things that have been very interesting. This is by no means a list of everything out there—not by a long shot—but they might be a starting point in helping you generate ideas that might pay off for you in the long run.

·      Demand Media is a company that provides content to all kinds of companies, like Livestrong and eHow. They get their content through a sister company (or maybe it’s the same company, I don’t know for sure) called Demand Studios. As a freelance writer, you can join up and take on ‘assignments.’ I joined and took four assignments I then spent the weekend writing. I knew that the content would be bought and sold and resold and that I would get a royalty, what I didn't understand was that my royalty would be, in some cases, pennies. It wasn't what I expected, so I didn't pursue it, and yet every couple of months I get money deposited into my PayPal account. I’ve probably only made $200 over the course of the three years since I did these articles, but I received a PayPal deposit a few weeks ago for $14, which means the articles are still selling. It’s important to note that most of the articles didn’t include my byline—in fact, maybe none of them did. So I didn’t get value out of audience, I did, however, get value in writing to guidelines as each of them had a very specific format to follow. And I got the value of ‘practice’ in my writing. As I said, it didn’t pay off the way I wanted it to, but it was a reasonable use of time none the less and it’s still generating money, which I find fascinating. If I had more time, I would love to write up more of these articles—they are short and simple—and see where it could take me. Who knows.

·      At the same time I wrote these articles for Demand Studios, I put an ad on Craigslist, advertising myself as web content writer. I had managed my own website for a few years and gotten some encouragement and tips from my friend, Able Keogh, who writes web content for a living. I knew my credentials for this type of work were weak, but I put it out there all the same. I got one call, we talked for a little while, he said he’d call the next week and then he never did. I was insecure enough that I never pursued it further and soon took over the bookkeeping for our company and didn’t have the extra time anyway. I didn’t think much of it until he called back almost a year later. He offered me a freelance job of writing ‘blurbs’ about different music loops. I learned more about music loops than I ever thought was possible. He paid me $5/blurb, and in time this expanded into rewriting several websites he owned as well as a separate freelance rewrite he sent my way. In all, I probably made close to $1000.00 over the course of a few months working with him and could probably still be writing for him if I had the time--I was the one who said I couldn't continue the work. The most powerful part of this experience was the connections I made through it. He ended up re-doing my website and continues to function as my webmaster, though I do 99% of the work myself. What started with $5 blurbs that took me an hour to write due to the time I was spending trying to understand what the heck music loops were, resulted in a few different websites in my portfolio which, should I decide to explore this field further, gives me more of a foundation than I had.

·      When Heather Moore started this blog, we wrote for free. About a year ago, she said that though she couldn’t afford to pay us for the time we spent on the blogs, she did want to show that she valued it. She pays us a small amount per blog that we post. It’s not a lot, but it’s something and it does increase my motivation to blog here, which in turn strengthens the blog, which in turns grows an audience.

Again, this is not a do-as-I’m-doing list or a request for you to do any one of these things, but I do hope that it helps you realize what might be out there and the value that can be wrapped up in seemingly small opportunities. You have to go into these things with an understanding of what your time is worth and what your goals are, but assuming you are clear on both of those things, there are some really interesting free or nearly-free opportunities out there that can expand you as a writer and, possibly, put a little money in the bank.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Four Character Essentials

A popular post from February 2013

By Josi S. Kilpack

I was recently on a Fiction Writers Panel with Steven Peck and Greg Park. It was interesting that the three of us were there as we have all had unique experiences. Peck is a biology professor, Park is a creative writing teacher. All of us are novelists and write very different things. One of the questions we were asked was what were the most important things about creating characters.

What we pulled out of our collective hat were four things: A flaw, a special ability, a prominent physical feature, and a personal history.

Greg shared a quote I hadn't heard before. I have gone online and tried to find who to credit it to but the best I can get is that it's Angus's Grandpa in the movie Angus. He'd said to Angus that Superman wasn't brave, then explained "He's smart, handsome, even decent. But he's not brave . . . Superman is indestructible, and you can't be brave if you're indestructible" Greg went on to explain that yes there is Kryptonite, but that doesn't affect his courage, just his abilities in very specific circumstances. As I've thought about it I think I figured out his flaw, however. He was different. That's what's hard for him. He is not a mortal, he is in the wrong world and this causes him trouble. And therefore, every character has flaws. Readers want it because they want characters they can relate to, characters who feel real and we know that no one is perfect. Flaws are also fabulous in regard to how they can affect plot. Using your characters imperfections to create tension.

A special ability:
This doesn't mean they have to be a master wizard or an expert archer or genius IQ, but they do need to have something that makes THEM the person to change the 'world.' By world I mean whatever sphere he is battling in the story you are writing. Maybe they are clever, maybe they are small and manage to hide somewhere no one else could, maybe they know that the "rules of haircare are simple and finite." It doesn't have to be better than everyone else, but it needs to set them a part, even if it's just a little bit. When things are dire, they will use this special ability to come out ahead.

A prominent physical feature:
Harry's scar, Ron's red hair, Katniss's beauty, Elle Wood's blonde hair, Scarlett O'hara's good looks. For my character Sadie, it's her hair--which changes in most books--and her non-slim figure. It doesn't mean you choose something different than anyone else's, but just something that helps to solidify the view of the character in the mind of your reader. It keeps your character visual and while it might become essential to your plot--Harry's scar, Quasimodo's deformities--it might just be an element of your story but it should be there.

A personal history:
All three of us agreed that it's history that creates motivation and motivation which creates plot. The Phantom is who he is because of where he came from and the trauma of his childhood. Harry wants to belong in the wizard world more than anything because he's never fit anywhere. Aladdin hides who he is because he's a street urchin and he's used to being discarded because of his class. Knowing where your character came from and how his life has shaped him will make a lot of the plot points fall in to place far more organically if you do it backward; start with motivation and then try to figure out why it's there. Many authors I know create very detailed backgrounds on their characters, most of which will never show up in the story but which is essential for them knowing how this character will shape the story.

I love to hear your favorite character and how all of these four points are reflected within them. Please share!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Writing for Free: Part Two--How?

A popular post from November 2012

By Josi S. Kilpack

Last week I talked about why a writer would want to write for free. I talked about the value, other than money, of getting your name out there. It basically comes back to the old adage “Being in the right place at the right time” but I am a big believer in the fact that those people have actually been in many places at many times which increased their odds until things came together. Writing for free is one way to do that.

Now that you’re convinced that writing for free has value beyond the dollar signs, how do you do it?

Step #1 is to remember what your goal is that you should only write for free if you're building your name or building your audience. Both goals require that your writing be “seen.” If you have publishing credentials, you have a better chance of getting exposure through larger venues such as newspapers. If you haven’t published yet, you will likely need to start smaller.

Step #2 is to ask yourself is what you read. Do you have an online magazine you read? Do you have a blog you follow? Do you read the newspaper, an in-print magazine, or follow a particular publication of any kind? Make a list of these things with the understanding that starting with what you know is a writer’s bread and butter. Note that I said STARTING WITH :-)

Step #3 is to ask yourself what you are an expert at, and I use the term ‘expert’ very loosely. Are you a parent? Did you go to college? Do you play a sport? What are your hobbies? What are your families interests? What’s your favorite sports team? Where do you vacation? Again, make a list of these things which are essentially topics you already know stuff about. It goes back to step two, starting with what you know.

Step #4 is to compare your two lists. Where do the lines overlap? Does your local paper that you read each week have a recipe section you can share your favorite sugar cookie through? Does the online writer’s magazine you read once a month accept submissions for articles about writing craft? Find one or two of these things and then brainstorm some topics. Find out how to submit and make sure you follow the submission guidelines. If you’re a blogger, see if another blogger would trade a guest post with you—this expands both of your audiences. There are a lot of free options out there so do a little digging and see what feels like a good fit.

Step #5 is to make sure you get a byline. A byline is a sentence that gives you credit for having written whatever words are being put out there. It's how someone finds you later and it's where you get the value of your free writing. Make certain that anything you write for free, you get credit for. Some places will only let you list your name—only you can decide if that’s still of value for you—but most places will let you include a website or a sentence about your credentials. BEWARE OF SUBMITTING WITHOUT A BYLINE. Not only do you want to use your time wisely, but if you don’t attach your name, someone else could take the credit.

Free-writing to avoid:
  • Blogs without comments.
  • Blogs/websites that are poorly designed and therefore don't reflect well on you.
  • Anywhere that you read articles without a byline for the writer.
  • Non-reputable papers, blogs, websites, etc.
  • Anywhere that wants you to pay for the opportunity.

Next week we’ll discuss “Nearly-free Writing” and how that works and if it’s worth your time.

Friday, September 23, 2016

I Love You . . . But You're Boring

A popular post from January 2010

By Julie Wright

It's a song, I Love You But You're Boring by The Beautiful South. Sometimes it's more than a song. Sometimes, it's your manuscript. Worse . . . sometimes it's mine.

So what happens when you wake up and realize you no longer love your manuscript? (well, I mean, you love it, but it's just so boring)

Do you try to figure out how to break up with it? Or do you muddle through and hope the relationship will improve with time?

I usually muddle through. Years ago, my grandma taught me that life is sweetest when you finish what you start. And by the time I get to the end and then go back through the book for edits, I can't seem to ever find that uninteresting, lacking-in-spark place where I'd fallen out of love. I know it was there, but much like a fight in real marriage, I can never seem to remember what it was about, or why it bothered me so much.

Other authors call this moment of disillusionment "The sagging middle." Usually this occurs when you've written out your original idea and come to a road block (or writer's block if it makes you feel more professional about your situation).

How do you get out of it?

-Move the plot forward.
So often we get caught up in writing the story, that we forget to write the story. If the scene you're writing isn't moving the plot forward in some way, or developing that character, you might not need that scene. And you might want to replace it with a scene that DOES move the plot forward and develops your characters.

-Build on conflicts.
Some authors get so panicked about the moment where they look at their manuscript and think, "Dude, that's boring." that they cut out the scene of conflict, assuming that it's the conflict that isn't working. But unless you're SURE the conflict is at fault, rather than cut it out, build on it. Make it stronger, deeper, scarier, richer. Put your characters in greater peril. Maybe put a traitor in their midst--something that will increase tension and conflict.

-Build your character
This ties into the other two but gets its own place on the list because this is important. You know how people are always saying garbage about trials and stress are character building? Well, don't punch them out just yet, because it's true. It's true in fiction too. By building the conflict and moving the plot forward, you force the character to act and react to the new situations. You force them to grow and make hard decisions. You build their character. People, even fictional people, with strong character are certainly NEVER boring.

So take my grandma's advice and finish what you start, even if that means muddling through something far removed from the honeymoon phase. It really is sweet to reach the finish line.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pronouns Hate Apostrophes

A popular post from January 2010

by Annette Lyon

I know, I know. This one is so easy to confuse, which is why I'm writing about it. I've gotten this question a few times, so I thought I'd address it.

Daniel's coat and Megan's shoes need apostrophes to show ownership. As a result, we're used to adding the little curly mark to tell people that the car's tire is flat or the cat's litter needs to be changed.

So it's SO easy to let the little squiggly bugger sneak in where it's not welcomed and where it doesn't belong: in a possessive pronoun.

In English, we have two pronouns in particular that tend to get an apostrophe shoved into them incorrectly on a a regular basis. It's so common that many people don't even realize it's incorrect. After all, Mrs. Smith's class gets an apostrophe. So does Mom's car.

When I'm taking the dog to the vet, why don't I say mutt is getting it's shots?

Or when someone drops a dirty sock on the floor, why isn't it correct to ask who's it is?

Because possessive pronouns don't take an apostrophe. They are special: they're already possessive. Adding an apostrophe makes it redundant.

Actually, that's not entirely true. The apostrophe turns the word into a contraction, giving the sentence a meaning you didn't intend.

Taking the sentences above:

The mutt is getting it's shots.

When a word has an apostrophe, it's usually a contraction of two other words, like do and not creating don't, or can and not making can't.

In the same way, IT'S comes from IT and IS.

So what you are actually saying is: The mutt is getting it is shots.

Come again?

The same thing applies to who's and whose.

Think of the apostrophe as a big, red flashing light that warns you:

This is a word that originally came from two words. It's NOT a pronoun.

Let's take the other commonly mistaken pronoun:

WHO'S is a contraction of WHO and IS.

Look at the sentence above, and you'll realize it doesn't make sense when you pull the contraction apart:

Who is sock is this?

Okay . . .

For me, an easy way to remember the rule is to focus on that apostrophe and imagine it elsewhere. Think of possible replacements. Could they fit? In other words, what other other possessive pronouns fit?






Note how none of them have an apostrophe. But hey, let's try adding one:






Um, no. That doesn't work. So ITS and WHOSE don't get the apostrophe either.

Not even when you're adding an S, such as, "Is this sweater yours?"

Still NO apostrophe. Same with OURS, THEIRS, HERS, etc.

Pronouns hate apostrophes. Say it to out loud. Say it again. And again, until it's ingrained in your mind.

Wash and repeat.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Show Me The Money!

A popular post from April 2012

Josi S. Kilpack

With tax day over and done, inquiring minds want to know what you made on your books last year. With an ever changing industry, there are more factors determining success than ever and yet, as always, money is that elephant in the room. We're all curious about how the other guy is doing, we're all setting goals and working toward them, but we hear very small bits of information and we're always a little nervous to just put our info out there when everyone else is nervous too. This is your chance to share your earnings anonymously so as to avoid anyone making judgements or hitting you up for a loan. Unpublished authors get to see what they can expect, and those of us who have published, get to see how we fit into the spectrum and how the money works between multiple markets and formats.

Here's what we're looking for in your comment:
  1. Choose "Anonymous" for your comment profile.
  2. State your GROSS royalty or advance income, stating which type it is.
  3. State whether this is from traditional publishing agreements or self-published works.
  4. State whether this is LDS specific or national market.
  5. State how many titles are included in this income statement.
  6. Share your personal thoughts if you like.
Here are some comment format examples:

Traditional publishing
National market
2 titles. 

*It's been a good year for me, I'm happy with my sales and hopeful that 2012 will be even better

$1,200--royalty, self-published (Kindle only) 
National market
1 title.
$3,500--royalty, traditional publishing
LDS market
3 titles (All at least two years old)

$125,000--advance, traditional publishing
National Market
One title--first of four series.

*Book won't be out until 2013, this is what I got after paying my agent but before taking out taxes. It's the first of three installments I expect over the next year assuming I can fix the plot holes my editor found.

So, those are the rules--thanks for taking the time to educate all of us! I've featured this a few other years on my personal blog. If you'd like to see previous years, click HERE.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing for Free: Part One--Why?

A popular post from November 2012

By Josi S. Kilpack

Part One: Writing for Free. Why?

I am a writer by trade, and craft, and determination and while there are other reasons for me to write, if I didn’t make money from my writing, I wouldn’t do it—or at least I wouldn’t do it the way that I do it now. As much as I appreciate and respect the idea of writing because I love it or that money should never be a writer’s motivation—I don’t necessarily agree. I write to pay the mortgage and orthodontist and to buy cute shoes from time to time. Before I was making decent money, I was writing so that one day I would.

And yet, I also write for free. Sometimes. But writing for “free” is actually a little mis-leading because the word “free” makes is sound as though it’s valueless. And that is certainly not the case and I recommend always, always, always writing for value. While I write some things without getting a direct monetary kick-back, I only write for free when I believe that the value, though not in dollars, is worthy of not only the time I put into the writing, but the time that free-writing takes away from my paycheck-writing.

There are two main reasons to write for free: Building a name for yourself and expanding your audience. I have done both and made a lot of important connections, while also honing my abilities, through blog posts, articles, and book reviews I wrote when I was a complete newbie. I first met Annette Lyon through an article I submitted to a magazine. It wasn’t very good and she told me how to fix it. It was the first article I’d ever done but led to many other opportunities (The most important opportunity was getting to know and becoming very close to Annette who has been a very important part of my journey since then--i.e. value in spades!) Back when I started, I needed people to recognize me, to know that I was here, I was relevant, and part of this community. It took a long time for me to get “inside” but it started with writing for free and making connections.

These days, I write for free chiefly to expand my audience. I want to capture new readers for my novels and getting my name out there, in multiple places and venues, helps me find people who will never find me on a bookstore shelf.

For example, I contribute to the Newport Ladies Book Club blog that is designed around the series I have done with Julie Wright, AnnetteLyon, and Heather Moore. We each try to post once a month. I don’t get paid for it, but it supports the series and I believe that the value both in marketing and networking is well worth the value of the time spent on the blog posts I contribute. I gauge its effectiveness through comments left on the posts I put up there and people who mention the posts later. Blogs are interesting because it takes time to build them up and it takes consistency to keep them in the forefront of the reader’s minds. I have backed off a great deal on my personal blog that I’ve had for years because of time and because I lost my focus and started talking more about me than I did my books. I haven’t quite determined what I want to do with it, which makes it ineffective, but I’m glad all the posts I’ve written are still there and available to people if they want to learn more about me. Maybe I’ll pick it back up again, but maybe I won’t. I’m struggling to see its ‘value’ whereas I feel like the Newport Ladie’s Book Club blog has value in it already.

I have written free-articles for my local paper, for online magazines, and for other people’s blogs for the exposure it gives me to their audience. I try to use a variety of formats (online vs. in print) in order to capture the readership that can be found in that location. I recently signed up for a large community of ‘free’ writing opportunities that pays nothing, but has a good reputation and often has articles picked up by larger venues. It’s my hope that writing for this company will perhaps help me break out of local-community type writing.

All that said, I am aware that every hour I spend writing for free, is an hour I’m taking away from my novels. I have to choose this carefully but I find when the balance is good, writing short stories or articles helps me to relax from the longer format works. I suppose it's the equivalent of taking a walk at lunch everyday for someone who works behind a desk. I get to explore different skills I’ve developed, learn new things, and challenge myself in new ways. I’ve found this to be a very important part of my writing and encourage other writers out there to look around themselves to see what “free” writing options might be available to them.

Next week I will talk about what to look for in “Free” opportunities and how to best plan your writing and make it work for you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's in a Name?

A popular post from August 2010.

By Julie Wright

We are defined by or names. It is who we are and there’s usually a long and detailed backstory of how we came to have our own names. Stories like: She was named after her great grandmother who crossed the plains, or he was named after his uncle who died in the war, or sometimes less noble but no less noteworthy, we named her that because I hate his mother and he hates my mother, and this was the only name we could agree on.

I am named after my grandmother who, as luck would have it, was my very best friend growing up.

Some of us acquired our names because the name means something. Such as your name might mean nobility, beautiful, or strength.

Names mean things to all of us. I have certain prejudices against people named Becky because of some unfortunate incidents growing up. But I have a particular fondness for the name Cindy. A name is more that what we’re called; in so many ways, it is who we are.

Which is why a title is so important to a book. A title is so much more than just something to call your book. It is an intricate part of what that book is. My agent refused to send out my manuscript until I had a title that worked for her—that spoke to her on some level as to what the book was about. It was agony naming the book—pinpointing that one thing that made me sit up straighter in my chair and cry out,“Ah-ha!—so that’s what you’re about!”

When I sent her the title Death Thieves, she wrote me back and let me know she’d be sending the book out the next day. Once I’d distilled the book to its most basic form, I found it was about a girl who’d been kidnapped from her moment of death and taken to save a future where mankind is dying out. Oh, sure . . . it’s about love, and fear, and courage, and society, and family, and action—everything a good novel should be. But the title calls it what it is at the core.

A name defines us. It has meaning and depth. Our titles should do the same. A picture is worth a thousand words, but your title has to be worth at least the word count of your entire manuscript. People judge the book by its cover *and* by the title. If those two things do their job right, the guy standing in the bookstore just might pick the book up and flip it over to read the back-flap. And if that back-flap does its job, he might just wander over to the register and make a purchase.
The moral of this post is to be prudent in your choices for titles. You spent all that time to write your manuscript; it would be tragic if no one ever read it because the title didn’t do its job. Take the time to get your title right. Because I doubt a rose called stink weed really would smell as sweet.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Writer's Life

A popular post from March 2012

By Julie Wright

I've been doing a load of school assemblies lately with the release of the second book in the Hazzardous Universe series, and I play a writing game with the kids to help them understand the basic elements of a story. I take them through the many joys of What If.

The things kids come up with are totally awesome, and I have loved being able to speak to schools almost as much as I love writing itself, but last week a friend of mine said the words, What if . . . and followed them up with a sobering thought.

She said, "What if this is as good as it gets?" This was in reference to our writing careers.

My personal journey as a writer was:
  • As soon as I get that first contract--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I see my name on a book jacket--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I get on a best seller's list--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I win an award--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I get an agent--then I'll be happy.
  • As soon as I get published in this new market--then I'll be happy. No wait!
  • As soon as I get published in THAT new market.
When I signed with my agent, Jeff Savage took me aside and said, "I know you're thrilled right now. I know this moment is huge--and it should be. But I want you to remember to let it be huge. Don't be looking forward to the film options and foreign sales and then get disappointed if they don't come immediately. Live in the moment right now, and don't let discouragement get in."
I only half listened, because I knew my awesome agent would sell my book to one of the big six for a seven figure deal within the month. Two months later, his words sank in. Things didn't happen exactly the way I wanted. Not that bad things happened. I've had two books come out in the last few months and am furiously writing on three new books. But the events weren't exactly as I'd pictured them in my mind.
I've spent a lot of time in the place of, "Well, when THIS happens--THEN I will be happy." I allowed depressions to kick in so hard that I retreated emotionally from my family, my friends, and in many ways from myself.
If this is as good as it gets, and I am still waiting for some enigmatic event to happen to make me happy, does that mean I will never be happy?
Like I said . . . a sobering thought. There are a million reasons standing in our lives TODAY to be happy. We all have families, friends, life around us. What a tragedy if we miss it because we're waiting for some life defining event that we can't guarantee will come. I was so worried about writing life, I forgot to live.
I have a great career. I am fortunate to find success in traditional publishing, and I know it. But this last year has taught me that if this is as good as it gets . . . I am incredibly glad for what it is RIGHT NOW.
And that is enough.
Live in today, my fellow writers. Live and be happy right now.

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Primer on Using an Electronic Edit

A popular post from October 2012

by Annette Lyon

So you’ve hired an editor to go over your manuscript, and you’ve gotten the electronic file back. It’s covered in changes—additions, deletions, comments, and formatting.

How do you work with such a file? Do you pull up your original version, looking at them side by side, and make one change at a time? Sure, you could.

You could also count a haystack one piece of hay at a time—a laborious and awfully inefficient method.

As editors, sometimes we forget that clients haven’t worked with Word’s Track Changes feature before, and we send off a file assuming the person on the other end will be familiar with what they’ll see when they open it, and they'll know what to do with it.

Over the years, I have learned that that’s not always the case. Here’s a primer on how to use the Track Changes feature in Word. Knowing this stuff will make a huge difference in how much time and effort you put into your manuscript when you get your edit back.

Create a New File
The first thing to do when you open your edited file is to save it in your manuscript folder under a new name. You want to keep every version you have separate, so if you ever need to look back at an old version (or revert a section to the way it was), you can. An easy way to do that is by adding the date to the file name, such as: My_Brilliant_Novel-9-1-12.

Using Track Changes
Editors have their personal editing styles and preferences. I like to have deletions show up in the margins in bubbles, and I add comments (also margin bubbles).

When you open a file that I have edited in Microsoft Word, you'll see every change made, including additions (right in the text), plus comments, deletions, and formatting changes in those bubbles in the margins.

If you have a relatively recent version of Word, you can easily accept or reject any change. On the ribbon (that newish, button-covered menu at the top), go to the REVIEW tab.

In the CHANGES group, click the arrow buttons to navigate through the edit. Use NEXT to go to the next change. It will be highlighted. Then you can accept or reject that change and move along with the NEXT button.

If you see a chunk of the edit you're happy with as is, select the section (such as a full a sentence, several lines, or words, a paragraph, etc.) and click either the ACCEPT or REJECT button. That will accept (or reject) all of the changes in that part and move to the next change. 

The same goes for rejecting changes in large chunks—select the section and click REJECT. The ACCEPT and REJECT buttons are next to each other, so they’re easy to find and use.

Be sure to look for vertical lines in the left margin. Those indicate an addition-type change in a line. If there's been no deletion or format change (which show up in the right margin in bubbles), you could easily miss a change such as an inserted hard return, space, or punctuation mark.

Note: When you think you're done with the edit, do a final search for changes using the NEXT button. This will help you track down any lingering changes (likely additions) you missed.

Comment Bubbles
Search for comments (also under the REVIEW tab) to read and address those, although you can also do that as you move through the Track Changes. When you're done with a comment, simply right-click on it and choose DELETE COMMENT from the menu.

Note: As with searching for edits, be sure to search for comments one final time when you’re done with your edit to be sure they’re all gone!

Next Step: Proofreading
After you've gone through the accept/reject process, it's worth reading through the entire file to proofread it. It’s a good idea to have another reader (or two!) proofread it as well, because it's easy for an author's or editor's eyes (someone who's already familiar with the text) to fill in what's supposed to be there and miss errors. (This is why I almost never proof a book I also edited. The only exception is if the edit and proof are months apart so my brain has forgotten most of it.)

A good proofer will catch about 80% of mistakes, which is why it's wise to have multiple people proofread your work. With any luck, the 20% one person misses will be caught by someone else's 80%.

Inline View
Some clients prefer to see track changes inline instead of in margin balloons. (So you’d see a strikeout through a word that’s been deleted, but it’s still on the line of text, along with an inserted new word.) If you fall in this category and receive an edit from someone like me who uses balloons, you can switch the view and then use the same Accept/Reject process as with the bubble view.

To switch the view to in-line Track Changes, follow these steps (for Word 10—I imagine other versions have a similar method):

-On the ribbon menu at the top of the screen, click the Review tab.
-In the Tracking Group, next to the Track Changes button, you'll see smaller menu options.
-Click the middle option, Show Markup. A drop-down menu will appear.
-Hover over where it says Balloons, and another menu will show up.
-Click Show All Revisions Inline.

More and more editing is done electronically. I believe about 95% of Precision Editing Group’s work is electronic, which is also why we rarely edit manuscripts in WordPerfect. (It’s the superior word processor in almost every respect except this one; it has no Track Changes feature. That, and Word is the industry standard now, thanks to Bill Gates.)

Whether you’re hiring an editor or waiting for the editor at your publishing house to return your edit, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Word’s Track Changes feature. When you receive an electronic edit back, you’ll know just what to do with it, saving you time—and, likely, prevent new gray hairs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hooking (And of Course I'm Talking About Books!)

A popular post from April 2012. 

By Julie Wright

I have a manuscript I've been working on that is a zillion shades of totally awesome. The characters are fleshed out. The plot is compelling and fresh. The dialogue is believable. The title makes me grin every time I think about it. Everything sings in this manuscript. But it isn't ready to submit. Not a chance.

Because while the rest of the manuscript might be singing, the opening is doing something closer to croaking. It isn't that the opening isn't interesting. It isn't that the writing is bad. But the opening doesn't hook the reader. It doesn't compel them forward to the rest of the page. It doesn't compel them to turn the page, or the page after that, or the page after that.

A hook in your opening is totally necessary. Think of Dan Brown's DaVinci Code. The first paragraph has the curator to the Louvre museum lunging at a masterpiece painting and yanking it off the wall. This is not typical curator behavior--especially at one of the world's most famous museums. The opening paragraph makes the reader wonder, "What is this lunatic guy doing?" It compels them to read more because they want their question answered.

There are lots of different kinds of hooks, but they all have something in common. They all promise something to the reader. And that promise is what carries them to the rest of the book.

My story starts with a girl snapping a rabbit's neck. This isn't exactly a bad opening, but the way I'd written it is filled with exposition, introspection, and a lot of other things that weigh the story down and give it kind of a "meh" sort of feeling. It isn't anything that makes the reader sit up and say, "I have got to find out what happens next!" I can't submit until I find a better opening hook.

An interesting thing about hooks is that you can place them in more than just one spot. My friend, James Dashner, likes to place a hook at the bottom of every page so the reader feels compelled to turn the page. He also puts them at the end of every chapter--a place where a lot of people feel comfortable putting a book down so they can go do something else. James puts that hook there so it's almost impossible for a reader to choose to put the book down. J. Scott Savage does the same thing. So does Dan Wells. Those mini hooks throughout the book carry the reader all the way to the end in one sitting (or two if they just can't help it, but they aren't happy about putting the book down). Hooks used well bring a level of greatness to a novel. It creates its own buzz among readers. Everyone loves talking about the book they simply could not put down.

Opening hooks work best when:

  • A change has just occurred or is about to occur in a character's life.
ie: He wasn't coming home.

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.

  • A specific description or identifying statement that feels like it reveals a person or setting, and promises conflict to come.
ie: After twenty three years, four months, and eleven days of being John Phillip's secretary, I stomped my bear-clawed slippered feet into Nesbitt Law offices that morning, my hair curlers bouncing against my forehead with every step. And then, after standing in the pristine office for all of four seconds, I stormed his personal office, ripped open the file cabinet, and sent all of his important documents on the Pratt case through the shredder.
Hap Hazzard didn't believe in ghosts, but he was afraid of them.
  • A general abstract statement that isn't necessarily tied to anything, but that sparks interest.
ie: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Scientists say that the brain chemistry of infatuation is akin to mental illness--which gives new meaning to "madly in love."

  • A juxtaposition that doesn't fit.
ie: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Clocks don't strike thirteen. That's interesting and doesn't fit. This would also be the curator yanking paintings off a wall. His actions don't fit the persona of a museum curator. Or a newspaper reporter doing an interview with a vampire. Vampire interviews aren't the first thing a rational person thinks of when considering who a reporter could interview.
The point of any book opening hook is to garner enough interest in the reader to make them keep reading. The point of the little hooks placed throughout the book is to keep them reading to the end.
So I am off to write a better opening for my new novel. I wish you well in the hook you'll be using for yours.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Critique Group: How Mine Works

A popular post from April 2012

by Annette Lyon

Some time ago, I addressed this topic (you can read that post HERE), but things have changed, and the question has popped up a few times recently, so I thought it worth addressing again.

My critique group currently has seven members, but rarely can all of us meet at the same time. So we typically have weekly meetings, rotating between three member homes in three cities, if at least three of us can attend. We usually get four or five. We try to arrange weekly meetings, so if (or, rather, when) some can't attend, it's okay; another meeting is coming around the corner.

Everyone brings a scene or chapter (6-8 pages typically, but sometimes more or less) and a copy for everyone. Each writer reads their pages aloud while we all take notes on our copies. Then each person goes around the table with 2-3 minutes of their critique. Sometimes we end up with discussions where we figure out how to fix something, disagree on a point, whatever. Normally, one person's piece takes about 30 minutes.

Some groups are really strict with "shop talk," but we know that that's a big part of getting together—no one gets this weird writing thing like other writers. So we let ourselves have about 30 minutes upfront for chit chat before buckling down. (Not that we don't get silly and chatty in between . . .)

We meet at 7:00 or 7:30, depending on schedules, and try to be done around 10:30 or so.

Treats are optional, but welcome.

Before we were all published and had deadlines, we read entire manuscripts this way, but times have changed. No way can we get through entire manuscripts before submission. Now we skip around, bringing parts we're struggling with or want to be sure we're getting right. Beginnings almost always show up. Sometimes, when we're getting ready to submit something, members will swap full manuscripts for critiques.

We all started out as newbies but with serious dedication. As a few dropped off or moved out, we brought in people who already had higher skill levels, since we'd grown as well.

In my opinion, a group works best if the members are roughly on the same skill level. If they aren't, those behind can't really contribute in a way that's valuable (their feedback isn't helpful, as they don't know enough). On the flip side, a member way ahead of others won't get value from those who aren't as far along the writing path. Plus, their feedback may be more than those starting out are ready for; it could be too harsh or simply not understandable. The way I see it, a slight variation is skill level is fine, but not a big one.

You'll likely find members who have varying strengths, which I've found useful. One person may be extra good at character motivation, another at showing, another at pacing, and yet another at conflict. A spectrum of strengths will raise everyone's game.

When looking for people to create a group, you'll want personality compatibility as well as dedication. If someone is a killer writer but never shows up (or regularly comes an hour late), doesn't write (so their skills lag behind everyone else's), and so on, there's not much point in having them in the group.

Some groups are big with sticking with a single genre, but we're all over the place, from middle grade to women's fiction, romance to horror, memoir to dystopian. As long as everyone is well-read and has a clue about how other genres work, having many shouldn't be a problem. I do know of some groups that specialize in specific genres, and imagine that may have its own advantages, but mixing genres has never been an issue for us.

Have critique group tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Revising and Self-editing

A popular post from August 2012.

by Annette Lyon

The other day, TJ sent a great set of questions to me and a few other writers, asking for suggestions on how to go about self-editing and revising. He wasn't talking about the full-on, rip it apart and put it back together kind of revising, but the last big passes before you send your baby out into the world on submission.

I'm sure every writer has  different ways of going about revisions and self-editing, so take what I have to say in that sense. Below is my experience in relation to TJ's questions.

1) Do you go in order? Page 1 to page X. Or do you jump around?

Both. First I'll do the spot-check thing, filling in holes, double-checking scenes I'm unsure of, and so forth.

But in the end, nothing can replace going through the whole thing from front to back before you submit. That's how you catch transitions that don't work, jumps in time, inconsistencies, see how the arc works (or doesn't) and so forth. It's the closest you'll get to reading it as a reader before you send it off.

2) Do you outline and make sure the order is right?

I semi-outline. I can't outline like some people do, down to small details, with an outline that's several pages long. Instead, I need an idea of where I'm starting out, where I'm going, and several major landmarks along the way that create the arc I want. My outlines are more like long bullet lists.

The outline gets more detailed the farther into the manuscript I go, as the more I figure out of the nitty gritty details, the more I fill in.

But at the self-editing stage, all that flies out the window. If the story is drafted, I don't see a point in creating an outline after the fact, unless it helps you write a synopsis. Hate those.

3) What about a line that doesn't fit in the scenario but you love it. Do you just find a way to make it work or do you move it somewhere else?

Easy: cut it.

Really. I've had to do that several times, and it's always the right decision, no matter how painful it is. A few times years ago, I tried making a line work or moving it (it was just so good!), but in the end, if a line isn't organic to the story, it ends up sticking out like a sore thumb.

In other words, the reader is pulled out as you shine a spotlight on yourself as the clever writer. It's showing off.

In short, those lines are the "darlings" that need to be killed.

If you love the line so much you can't bear to delete it, do what Josi does: create a file specifically for cuts from the manuscript. That's where you paste everything you aren't using but love. That way it's not deleted, and you can always retrieve it, even using it for a later project where it works better.

But definitely, if it's not working where you originally put it, cut it for the good of the whole work.

4) Do you read aloud to check word/dialogue flow? If so, to whom do you read? (How's that for proper, Annette?) [I'm so impressed! Star on your forehead!] Your spouse, your dog, your kids as they're duct-taped to a chair with their mouths duct-taped so they can't overpower you vocally?

Most of my reading aloud is at critique group, and because we rarely have time to read through entire books nowadays, not every scene gets read aloud. But it's not uncommon for me to sit in my office and read quietly under my breath (to myself, unless the cat's sitting on the back of my chair) to see if a scene, especially dialog, flows well.

Reading aloud is worth doing, even if people think you're weird for doing it. But you should be used to people thinking you're weird. You're a writer, after all, right?

5) When you have a critique from your writing group, do you go chapter by chapter, person by person, one-potato-two-potato-three-potato-four?
I personally take a meeting's worth at a time, so a chapter or scene at a time, going through everyone's comments on that one section before moving on to another one.

This helps me target my revisions, because I see everyone's feedback in a short span. It's easy to see who agrees that page 34 stinks and who loved the line on page 38, and who agrees or disagrees with so-and-so.

6) You're all awesome!

Why thank you! :-D

Thanks to TJ for inspiring this post. Best of luck to all our readers on their revisions!