Thursday, April 16, 2015

From Polished to Published: the editor's side

I was originally going to write an emotionally meaningful post tonight, but I did my ecology volunteering this morning, so I've been up since 4:45 a.m. And my family is in town. So emotional post next time, polishing post tonight.

I haven't had a ton of story publications, but I have been reading slush for a professional fiction market for... um... six years now. As such, I'm bringing all my tips from that angle.

(Since the category is polished, I'm going to assume you've proofread. Don't be that writer with the otherwise awesome story with a typo in their very first paragraph. This actually happened this month, and almost every slush reader mentioned that in their comment. It's not the kind of thing that really makes a difference between publishing and not... but it looks bad.)

1. Read the guidelines, and follow them. It seems like I shouldn't have to say this. And yet, there are a startling number of people who don't do it. I know some of it is accidental, such as uploading the wrong file. And sometimes you're uploading the story at 10 pm at night when the baby has been screaming all day long because she's teething, and you can't remember your own name, let alone how many words your story is. Unfortunately, that situation is impossible to see from my end, and we see so many blatant disregards of our rules. I think it feels to me like a lack of respect. If you don't respect us enough to follow your guidelines, why should we give you the respect of paying you professional rates for your story?


2. Be professional in your demeanor. Writing is art. Publishing is art with a side of business. It ends up sometimes as this messy collision between insecure artists (aren't we all?) and people trying to make enough money to keep their publication afloat so they can keep publishing good stories. It astonishes me the number of people who put down their work, or who try to make jokes in their cover letters, or who say "this is something I wrote in an hour last weekend." I don't even know what that last one means; does it mean you haven't proofread it yet? Is the worth of a story really determined by the amount of time it took you to write? Just pretend your story is going out on a job interview. You wouldn't make jokes or insult yourself in a job interview, so don't do it in a cover letter for your story.



Those two will get you consideration without being kicked out. But actually getting published? That's much tougher to pin down. Some of the biggest mistakes I see, especially for us, is stories that are the wrong size for their current word count, either too large or two small. And every story needs a beginning, middle, and end. It makes a difference.

There is one thing that seems to matter more than the others, so I'll quote a previous post by an authority on the subject*:

3. Don't worry about trends. Write what matters to you. It's hard to set hard and firm rules about what stories or trends I hate. Because every time I do so, someone comes along with an exception to the rule, and I have to shut my mouth all over again. Sheer originality is a good thing too, but an old idea well-told can be a glorious thing.
The real kicker is a good tale combined with good emotion. One of my slushers has been complaining lately about the number of stories featuring difficult situations faced by wide-eyed children. It's something we see often – where the writer has gone for the biggest emotional punch possible. Sort of like, "It'd be sad if the main character had cancer, but it would be EVEN SADDER if he got the cancer while rescuing puppies from communists!" (You see this type of thing in anime all the time too – all the characters have to have a horrifically tragic backstory). The instinct is understandable. Emotion is what attaches us to the stories we read. However, I'm beginning to think that it's not the amount of the emotion that matters. Rather, it's the truth of that emotion, and how well the writer projects it.


Hopefully those thoughts are of use to at least some of you! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sleep for hours and hours and hours.





*Me, from a few months back ;)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From Polished to Published -- Querying Dos and Don'ts.

Let's say you've written a killer book and now want to see it on the shelves at every library and Walmart in America (Or Finland.). How would one go about doing that?

Imma gonna tell you.


Step 1-- Write a killer book and polish the crap out of it. 


Have other people look at it. Emerge from your comma coma and realize that you have written so many drafts of this book it's perfect and also you never want to read it again.

Read it again.

Polish those first ten pages until they are perfect. I love this advice. The main thing, is start the story as late as you possibly can. Do not keep your prologue. Kristen Nelson tweeted that 99% of agents pass on a story if you include a prologue. No matter how well written or how much you love it.

*weeping*

Ditch it. It's slowing down your story. And publishers know that books aren't just in competition with other books, nowadays books are in competition with Netflix. Aim to make your first pages better than an episode of Call the Midwife.

Step 2 --Write a killer query and polish the crap out of it. 


Read Query shark for tips, but a good outline to follow is...

Dear Mr. or Ms. (Full name correctly spelled),

Personalized greeting. (Since you are interested in YA fantasy with quirky protagonists. [DIRECTLY QUOTE THE AGENT], here's my novel TITLE)

HOOK involving protagonist. 2-3 paragraphs telling the who, the why, and the what, in a way that shows voice, characterization, specific stakes, and leaves the reader with unanswered questions.

(I know. It is. But you can do it!)

MEAT and Potatoes. TITLE is X words X genre.

Brief bio. If you don't have any credits, don't say anything.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
Name personal info, Phone number, email, address, website.

Step 3 -- Write a killer synopsis. 


This should be 1-2 pages, and if it's sucked the life from you then you know you've done it right. A good synopsis shows voice, stakes, AND THE ENDING of the story. Also possibly it shows you've made a pact with the devil, because synopsisi are HARD.

It can! You can do it! It might suck a little bit, but you can do it!

Step 4 -- Let your query, synopsis, and full manuscript sit for a few days and come back to it.


 Get feedback, tweak, play, alter, fiddle, etc, until they are shiny and perfect. Then DON"T TOUCH THEM!

Once you've queried, it's easy in the throes of rejection to dismantle a perfectly good query letter. That said, if you learn something from a rejection, let it sit for a night, and then go ahead and play with your perfect query, or manuscript. BUT SAVE THE ORIGINAL.

Step 5 -- Start querying agents! 


It's actually easier, (say while you are developing your perfect query and it's hard,) to make a list of agents you like to query on a day you will not be sending out queries. Make a list and then on querying day you have everything prepared, and you just go down a list.

 A good way to find awesome agents is agentquery.com. You can search for agents looking for your specific genre. Another good way to find agents is through Twitter. Follow the hashtag #MSWL ( Manuscript wish list) that shows what agents are specifically looking for. Also #querytip, #amagenting #agent is a good way to find and follow agents. Twitter is a beautiful thing, and a good way to see who the agent is, and see if they are a good fit. Remember having no agent is better than having the wrong one, so do your research.

Step 6--


Step 7 -- Rejection!

Oh it sucks so hard, but rejection is just the price you pay for being able to work in your pajamas. Every story gets rejected, even Harry Potter was rejected, SO...it's going to happen and it's going to suck. Do not respond to rejections.

Because...

But also...sometimes you get REQUESTS!



Step 8 --Have Fun! 


Did you know that people on twitter have publishing contests pretty much every month? Right now I'm a finalist for #pitchslam. (WOOT! Go TEAM TEMPO TANTRUMS!) At the end of next month is QUERY KOMBAT, and the Writer's Voice. Contests like these are a great way to get to know other writers who are wading through the cesspool of rejections and queries, and they ACTUALLY WORK! Agents come to see the winners and make requests. Last year 10 authors got agents through this one contest.

The best way I've found to keep track of all these opportunities is to subscribe on facebook to sub it club.

Go to conferences, participate in contests, facebook groups, and on Twitter. Be real. Be yourself. Make friends.

It helps to know you aren't alone in this. And it also helps to know that it's possible. People get signed everyday. I know this because Twitter.

But you can get through it! And then one day, you will be out on submissions.

Which apparently sucks. More. Than. Querying.

*headdesk.*

~Sheena
Currently querying THE WAXLING, a 76,000 words YA Contemporary Fantasy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Real Job

I am currently working on getting a certification to become a group fitness instructor. It's been consuming a large portion of my life.

Shooo-za! Bonus points if you know what I'm talking about. 


“What does this have to do with writing or reading?” the sceptical reader asks.
“I will get to that. Don’t worry it ties in.” I say. The sceptic rolls their eyes. 

As I was saying, I’ve been studying for this certification. I mentioned this fact to one of my friends at the gym a week ago. Connie* said that it sounded like a fun job, which I agreed with. I also told her how much I appreciated the flexible hours. Then she said that it was something she thought about doing a few years ago, but she is a full-time nurse. 

“I might do that if I didn’t have a real job already,” she said and walked off. I think Connie said goodbye, but honestly I can’t remember. Instead I was amused by her wording. I wasn’t offended by her calling my future career a fake job. I’m a stay at home mom who loves to write. I’m pretty used to that mentality. It just struck me as funny.

What is it that makes someone think of a job as real? Does the American Society only value work that involves a steady paycheck? I’m not sure if this translates to other countries. I’ve traveled to several countries, but I’ve never been lucky enough to spend enough time to fully absorb the perspective of a ‘real’ job.

Did you know that the celebrity, Tim Gunn didn’t get paid for the first two seasons that he worked on Project Runway? He wasn’t well off or anything like that. In fact he was struggling financially, but believed in the show so much that he was willing to work without pay at first until their budget grew. Does that mean that he didn’t have a real job there for those two years because he wasn’t paid? I certainly don’t think so. 

When work, jobs and careers get too tied up in money it stifles so many options out there. If you’re a writer how often have you heard someone make a remark belittling what you do? Perhaps they referred to your passion as ‘just’ a hobby. When you sat down to write did someone interrupt and demand your time because you’re ‘just’ writing.** 

“See I told you that there was a tie-in” I say.
“Took you long enough,” the reader says. 
Me typing or at least attempting to while taking the picture with my other hand. 

I’ve had plenty of people tell me that I will never make it. Some of these comments started when I was in third grade and mentioned that I wanted to be a writer. It is something that I will probably hear all of my life. There are always people who thrust their unsolicited advice. 

Brilliant idea, perhaps we should all make t-shirts that say, “No solicitors. Opinions only by request.” How snarky would that be? Chances are someone’s already made something similar. After all there’s a t-shirt for everything, but I digress.  

In the end the amount of naysayers or people who don’t get it, doesn’t matter. The fact is that anyone can tell someone what they are doing is hopeless, a lost cause or waste of time. It’s incredibly easy to do. 

What does matter is what you believe. Other people might call your writing a hobby. That is their prerogative. What you shouldn’t let them say is that you didn’t write. That you didn’t sit down and let the words flow from your fingers onto the page. 

I won’t stop studying to be a group fitness instructor because someone might not think it’s a real job. At the same time I won’t consider the time I write as a waist even if the project I finish isn’t accepted for publication. To me writing isn’t about social validation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be noticed and appreciated. The real fact though is that fitness and writing are part of my core identity. The idea of not writing, no matter how futile it can feel at times, would be like asking me to stop eating. After all I don’t get paid for that either. 

The truth is that a lot of life is about perception and cheering yourself on. You don’t have to shout that you are a writer and should be taken seriously. Instead you can quietly create people and worlds with the power of your mind.




*Name protected, because it’s the decent thing to do.


**As a side note I hate the word ‘just’ and try to keep it out of my families vocabulary as much as possible.

Monday, April 6, 2015

From Polished to Published - a guest post by Clara Frost

I am, as yet, completely unpublished. I haven't even self-published anything, at least not yet. And since this month's theme is From Polished to Published, I asked my friend Clara to talk about her experience on the matter. Here's Clara:



Let’s assume you've finished a book. Inciting incident, midpoint, climax, resolution, The End. A book. You've read it and edited it and polished it until even your mother is sick of hearing about it. This is A Good Book. A book that will make waves, if only an agent or an editor would give it the time of day. All this is a given, because you wrote it. Of course it’s awesome.

But you’re not willing to wait for an editor. Or maybe you have waited, and you’re tired of waking up to an empty inbox. And say, wasn't 50 Shades being fan fiction originally? You can do better than, right, and how hard is this whole self-publishing thing, anyway?

A question, my fellow inkslinger: is this your first book?

If the answer here is yes, then consider this: TSwift is right. Haters gonna hate. But consider also: your first book is not nearly as good as you think it is. Unless you have spent a decade in the arts or journalism, there are flaws in your book that you are not capable of seeing yet. So please, for the sake of you-five-years-from-now, think long and hard about self-publishing your very earliest work.
That little piece of hard-earned advice out of the way, the question is: how do I do this thing?

It’s really not too hard, and it all comes down to time and money. You need four things to self-publish a book.

  1. Editing. Yes, yes, you've edited your book already. It’s polished until it gleams. If you've had multiple other people reading it specifically for copy issues, then you might be okay. But if not, I recommend finding a freelance copy editor. The book business, sad to say, is not the best paying gig in town, and many folks that edit your favorite authors will be happy to accept your special snowflake... for a fee.
  2. A Cover. While you can create your own cover, it probably isn't the best idea if you want to attract readers. If you choose the DIY route, check out the videos Jason Gurley created in early 2015. They offer a great starting point. If you choose to have someone else create your covers, be ready to do some research and to pay a pretty penny. Kboards is a great place to start. An inexpensive, premade cover can often be had for around $50, but a more professional cover is often $500 and goes up from there.
  3. A blurb. Go read the other blurbs in your genre. Copy and paste them. Retype them with your characters and conflicts. Get a feel for how they flow, and how they hook the reader. The best thing you can do here is to write something that fits with the other books in the genre.
  4. Formatting. This can actually be done fairly well by an average writer, using software tools you already have. Scrivener will produce very reasonable epub and mobi files as outputs. Even a decently formatted Word document will be converted by the major e-tailors and look alright.


There entire books about self-publishing that cover these items in even more detail. Two that I particularly like are Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran and Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright.

Good luck, my fellow inkslingers. This writing game isn't for the faint of heart, and neither is self-publishing, but the steps here will help you avoid the most common pitfalls.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

From Polished to Published - Karen

There is still a lot of mystery in the writing field about how we writers go from a finished work (when is it finished??!) to something tangible in the world, a piece of writing that others can read, maybe even others beyond just our family and friends who we force into reading our work.

Let's talk about a few aspects of that process.

My self-published novel, Convergence, available online everywhere!


First, the finished work. When is a project finished? This one is funny. As a writer who is constantly evolving, whose interests change over time, and whose skills are (hopefully!) improving over time, looking at a piece of my writing almost always creates in me a desire to change it. I can tweak until the cows come home, quite literally. Seeing as how I don't live on a farm, this could be forever.

So I have to create an arbitrary deadline for myself to get out of the "constantly editing" cycle of doom. Sometimes it's a pledge to submit to a certain market (the Writer's of the Future contest is helpful for it's quarterly deadlines.) Sometimes it's a plan to complete a piece during a specific time interval - e.g., this week when I have few outside commitments. Sometimes the deadline is completely self-imposed by a desire to get a piece self-published. And sometimes other criteria enter the equation such as waiting on critiques or a cover from a cover designer.

Having a deadline of some sort, though, is essential to me getting anything finished. Without a deadline, my projects lie forever in a 3/4 done state. Literally I have 6 novels in that state, I might have a problem.

For me with my current goals, once a piece is finished, I have to decide if I'm going to pursue a traditional publishing route with it, or if I will indie publish it myself. I am still on the fence about this, there are so many moving parts to the publishing world and I continue to hear stories from friends with crap deals coming out of traditional publishing, I tend to teeter over to the indie side more often than not, but I remain open to the possibility of a traditional publishing deal. Best not to burn bridges.

Since I don't have a current traditional publishing deal, though, let's talk about what indie publishing entails. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather an overview for those who might be considering this route. I'm sure I'll accidentally omit a few steps (see, even blog posts are never finished!) so please add them in the comments.


  1. Finish your piece! See aforementioned need to have an arbitrary deadline as my secret to getting something finished. 
  2. Create accounts on the sites that permit self publishing. I have author accounts on amazon.com, bn.com, smashwords.com, and have a need to create ones on kobo.com and apple. To create accounts most require some level of personal information because selling books means income in the US - consider whether you might want a separate business banking account and if you need to get a P.O. box for professional writing correspondence. Now would be a good time to set those things up. 
  3. Edit your work with an eye toward final polish. This may mean hiring an editor, or asking several detail-oriented (anal-retentive!) friends to read through with a fine-toothed comb. Reading your work aloud can help you identify last lingering typos, too. While you can upload revised versions of your manuscript later if you find issues, most readers are easily frustrated by simple mistakes particularly early in the book. Don't frustrate your readers, spend time on this step!
  4. Choose a cover for your work. There are many great cover designers who create stock covers that are reasonably priced and have quick turnaround. (I recommend The Cover Counts and Mallory Rock. There are also groups of designers like Cover Art Collective.)  If a stock cover isn't for you, get on a cover designer's schedule 4-6 weeks in advance of when you hope to put your book out (popular cover designers may have even longer design schedules, contact them early in your process!) Sometimes a cover may be one of the arbitrary deadlines that helps you move your writing to completion, don't forget this step early in your process. 
  5. Format your project for your desired platform. Formatting can seem like an insurmountable task. I recommend a writing program like Scrivener to help simplify the process. Scrivener lets you save your project (compile it) into all the different formats (.mobi for amazon, .epub for everywhere else) that ebook publishers require. The basic process you will need to follow is to compile your project into the proper format, upload it onto your author account on that platform, then preview the work to see if it looks right (all the sites have some sort of viewer for this, or you can load your formatted project onto an e-reader to check yourself.) Other writer friends use In Design, but I find I can do what I need to within Scrivener 99% of the time. 
  6. If you are doing a print-on-demand version, work on that formatting via Create Space (I recommend downloading the template for the cut size you plan to print at. I do not have a ton of experience with this yet, so I welcome input for what other tools people use to format POD books.) 
  7. Press done! Wait 24-48 hrs for your project to go through final approvals on the publishing sites. Then tell *everyone* about your available work (but don't spam us. Once a day for a few days and then once a week or less after that.) 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Shh, what's that smell?

Anyone who has known me for more than a day knows that I have a deep rooted love for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. While some of my friends were watching Dawson’s Creek I was venting my teen angst with some demon slaying on the side. Good times. Don’t worry, this fact is relevant to the rest of the blog.

In the first season of Buffy there was a brilliant exchange between a teacher, Jenny Calendar and Rupert Giles. He was Buffy’s watcher/mentor for those of you not familiar with the series. Jenny was trying to understand why Giles hated computers. The exchange was short, but it stuck with me.


 “Honestly, what is it about them that bothers you so much?” Jenny Calendar asked.
“The smell,” Rupert Giles said.
“Computers don’t smell, Rupert.” Jenny said.
 “I know. Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of the knowledge should be tangible. It should be smelly,*” Rupert said.
I would be lying if I said that I hated computers or the information gained by them. It would also be an odd thing to say given the medium that you are using to read this right now.**

That’s not why the sentiments stayed with me. It was the way that he described the power of our sense of smell in such a clear and truthful way. Whenever I read a musty book with old book glue in it, it reminds me of the first time I read Jane Eyre. As you can probably guess it was an older and well loved version. I also have a friend who has a book which used to belong to her grandpa. The smell of cigarette smoke mingled with a few other scents always remind her of him. She will carefully open the book and take in his scent for a moment. It’s a tangible way to remember the man who passed away.

At the present moment it is one of the best ways to travel back in time that I know of. There’s a shift of conscious that takes place when a scent takes over. This powerful sense can help bring your readers to a place within your book as well.

As powerful as it is, I have a tendency to rely on describing sight and sound for the majority of my prose. I’m not the only one either. The vast majority of descriptions in most books are taken up by these two senses despite the power of smell. To help myself break out of this habit I occasionally test my sense of smell. No, I don’t go around trying to find the most pungent or rank thing that I can find. Although that would certainly test me, but not in the way I meant. Instead, I take a short trip over to the exotic land known as my spice rack.
It is a riff off of an activity that is suggested for toddlers. Make of that what you will. With the toddlers it’s simply about exposing them to different smells. I use it instead to pause for long enough to take in a scent and think about how I would describe it. What words I would use to help the experience come across.

Here are some of my examples:

Cardamom~ There was a soft and subtle sweetness unload by familiarity. It was the way the dirt would smell if someone had sprinkled it with sugar.

Dill~ The dill forcefully swallowed up it’s surroundings with its smell of tart spoiled grass. These are my simple examples. I hope that you give this a try. It would be wonderful to hear your own examples of describing smells. You don’t have to limit yourself to the spice rack either. It’s an easy jumping off point, but by no means where you have to stop. Breathe your world in.



I feel that I must pose a short warning though. I love Glacier National Park. The first time that I went with my family I wanted to breathe the whole experience in, literally. As we walked though the mossy cedar forest I went out of my way to take deep whiffs of my surroundings.

In my mind I thought about what a clever writer I was for taking this time to truly immerse myself in the moment. I did immerse myself and I have a solid memory of that walk, but that’s mostly because I found out shortly afterward that I am allergic to cedar. By the end of the day I had the bulbous and dripping nose of a troll. It was not a particularly pleasant experience.

Despite that, I did leave that forest with a clear feeling of what cedar trees smelled like to me. It is also a memory deeply ingrained in my mind. However, I hope that your own adventures will be much less painful.***

* There were actually a few more stutters and ums in the actual dialogue, but I decided to take them out for the sake of clarity.
 **Unless of course you took the time to print this first.
 ***Yes, I do my own pictures. Pretty obvious, and not necessarily in a good way.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

No one ever appreciates the seagulls

All right, ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to call it: I'm done with zombies. They've jumped the shark and are now flailing on the ground, weak ankles broken from their leap.

There's no specific event that's brought this on, rather than the fact that I'm reading Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines, which is a book about the zombie apocalypse - with superheroes. It's an amazing concept, and a well-written book, but I can't find it in myself to feel even a frisson of the terror I used to when imagining myself being pursued by a mindless horde of flesh-eating monsters.

But maybe it started before that, because every since* I've read that article by David Mizejewski, I can't help but think, when considering zombies, why does no one ever think of the wildlife?
Mizjewski says, "The thought of being eaten alive is a natural fear, and when it's your own species doing the eating, it's even more terrifying. Relax. Next time you're lying in bed, unable to fall asleep thanks to the vague anxiety of half-rotten corpses munching on you in the dark, remember this: if there was ever a zombie uprising, wildlife would kick its ass...
That's because zombies are essentially walking carrion, and Mother Nature doesn't let anything go to waste."
Birds would be especially helpful.
Many birds feed themselves by scavenging on dead things. The two vulture species native to North America, the turkey vulture and the black vulture, flock up to make short work of any corpses they find. Both vulture species are dwarfed by the massive California condor, whose wingspan can reach 10 feet and which relish carrion. A sluggish zombie wouldn't stand a change against one of these giants or a flock of vultures...  Many species of gulls, known for their brash behavior when it comes to scoring a meal, would also gladly feed off slow-moving zombies."
So after having had this article rattling around in my skull, it bothers me that no writer (that I'm aware of) has even attempted to discuss the scavenger issue. I suppose they could say that zombie flesh is unpalatable to scavengers (implausible), or that it's toxic to them somehow (less implausible). In any case, now every time I encounter anything to do with zombies, I imagine massive flocks of seagulls following the zombies around, and it's hard not to start giggling. Which is generally not the intended reaction to a horror movie.

So next time you see seagulls, take a moment to stop and appreciate them. Give them a nod of appreciation. They might someday save your life.**

Just don't loosen your grip on your ice cream cone.








The anti-zombie training regimen has already begun.


*The article is actually over a year old - and yes, I know that reposting Old Things on the internet is a crime more terrible than selling drugs, or stealing someone else's parking spot when they have their blinker on. But just in case you haven't read the article, give it a look. It's hilarious, but I wouldn't recommend watching the videos unless you have a strong stomach.

**But for the love of all that's holy, do not feed them. Seriously. Fritos are not part of any animal's natural diet.