Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Publisher's Panel Discussion

I took notes at the LUW Publisher's Panel Discussion and will pass them along with one change. I will not specify who said exactly what, but will lump the comments together by subject. This will get the points across in the least space possible. If you want specifics, make a comment and I'll dig deeper. Participants included: Agents Katie Grimm and Blair Hewes, commercial fiction author John Gilstrap, LDS editors Kathryn Jenkins and Cory Maxwell, and LDS author and Precision Editing Group owner Heather B. Moore.
Current changes in publishing:
   1. Volume of submissions increased, expectations raised.
   2. Electronic book sales up 3 to 1 over published books.
   3. Internet and blogging used for book reviews, making connections.
   4. Book still needs a hook.
   5. Nonfiction is bigger than it has been.
   1. Much more falls to the author. It's a business, learn it.
   2. Twitter/FB/Blog to connect with audience, to get known.
   3. Be patient. Don't expect huge first novel success.
   4. How much marketing an author can do is factored into picking up a book for LDS market, some others.
   1. Process is different for LDS market. Agents not needed. Agents needed for bigger, national houses.
   2. Internet and blogging essential.
   3. Agents lunch with publishers to connect on personal level so they will know better who to try to fit you with.
   4. Precision Editing will give you free query advice.
   5. New authors generally should have their MS finished when pitching. They want the whole thing but will look at partials. For a series, first should be complete, then an indication of the next ones.
Common Mistakes:
   1.First page with backstory or no hook. Focus on hook first.
   2. Know your central plot and action.
   3. Can't have a sagging middle. Make all compelling.
   4. Know what the publisher/agent currently wants. (Example--Historical wanted more than modern romance.)
Where do you get clients?
   1. Mostly from queries, some referrals.
   2. You need to stand out. If you talk with them at a conference, mention it in your letter, etc.
   3. Tell in query how your book is different than what is out there, especially LDS market.
   4. Be professional.
   5. Incorporating MC's voice in query can make it stand out.
   1. Should have more than cosmetic changes.
   2. Publisher will ask for rewrites if they are interested so use judgement before deciding on your own if the story merits a redo.
   3. Give a little time before a resubmission. Be upfront in query and tell what changes have been made.
   4. There are lots of agents out there so why walk into the same propellor?
   5. Rejection doesn't mean don't try them again. They will always look at what is sent.
Critique Groups:
   1. Get lots of feedback whether through a CG or alpha readers. Need readers who can look critically.
   2. The CG has to work for you. Don't stay in it if it doesn't.
   3. Reader shouldn't tell how to fix it, just what doesn't work for them. Casual input can be damaging.
   4. Skilled writers make the best groups.
   5. Don't ignore publisher guidelines when considering feedback.
Picking Genres:
   1. Start with one genre until becoming known before diversifying. There are advantages to diversifying but it's harder when starting out in a new one.
Timeline from Agent to Publishing:
   1. There are usually 1-2 revisions. Condition of MS plays a part.
   2. LDS market--Decision within 6 months, 8-12 months or longer to publish.
   3. Known authors might have the same time slot for release every year until something happens to mess up the schedule. Writer is given deadlines for the next outline, etc. until release.
   4. Covenant's fiction line is planned through 2012. It can depend if the market is up or down. Generally 18-24 months to turn out a book. (They used to turn out 4 fiction books a month, it went down to one a month, and is now back to 3 a month.)
What feedback was the biggest help to you?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Compelling Characters and Emotion

Characters are meant to be loved, hated, pitied, envied. If a character does not evoke some emotion for the reader, he/she is flat and forgettable. The story will not hold a reader's interest. Readers need to care enough about the character to feel emotion throughout the story. This can be done on different levels. There is no way to cover this subject in a few paragraphs and I don't pretend to be anywhere near an expert, but here are a few things to think about:
1. Show emotion, don't Tell. Let us see the character's feelings through their actions and facial expressions.
2. Connections are made when the character feels real. She has a strength and a flaw. He is believable and shows growth over time.
3. Something movitates the character. Use strong emotion to drive them to the goal. Does fear, vengence, or love spur the hero on to recuse the princess and how will you show that? What are the goals of each major character? Emotion adds drama as the character moves toward a goal.
4. The Point of View of the character whose perspective is being shown can give the imformation about himself (as well as about setting and plot). Make what is relevant to the character become relevant to the reader. We learn more about him through his eyes while emotion seeps into the picture that the reader sees.
5. Give the guard at the door, the pharmacist, the waitress a brief description or characteristic worth mentioning to create visual images in minor characters. You don't want to introduce each attendee at the party, but we can form an opinion or get an emotional glimpse by an action such as a woman fluffing her hair.
My thanks to Elana Johnson and her challenge to write about characterization. Check out the other bloggers who posted this topic today. Put all that info to use and Bam!--you've got compelling characters. (I wish it were as easy as it sounds but improvement is certain with knowledge and effort.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Roundup Wrapup

The League of Utah Writer's (LUW) Roundup Conference had a lot to offer this past weekend and I'm going to be blogging about that in my next few posts, maybe even more often than once this week since there are so many great things to pass along. I hope you'll stay tuned and benefit from the notes I took. Think of it as a free mini-conference. Things struck me differently this time than my first conference last spring--probably because I am in the final stages of getting my MS ready to send out.

One thing that left a lasting impression was the closing remarks by Ed Smith. He said something like, "Go back and make use of what you learned today. Otherwise, your time and the presenters' time has been wasted." So true!

I need to implement those hard things I learned so that my novel will become more polished before submitting. I need to work on this blog and perfect that query letter (thank you, Elana). The motivational shot in the arm should flow down to my typing fingers for a little while because I know what I need to fix in order to get desirable results. It isn't easy and it takes time but if we can get to our 100% (as Elana says), then we can push forward with confidence and have a greater chance at success. May you have the desire and energy this week to go out and make use of what you know you should do is my hope as we encourage one another. Happy writing!
I took 3rd place in Creative Nonfiction at LUW!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Award Winning Authors

It's official. I've joined the ranks of award winning authors. Second year in a row. Okay, so it was just a literary contest sponsered by my community for our annual Peach Days festivities but I did get some prize money and a certificate for both pieces I entered. That counts, doesn't it?
The point is, sometimes we need to stretch ourselves by writing something apart from our WIP (work in progress). It's really nice to work on a short piece sometimes--especially when the novel word count feels like we haven't made a dent. If we get a reward for our efforts along the way, so much the better. The biggest reward is feeling encouraged that one's writing is good enough. Anyone who remains steadfast in the writing craft is a winner to me.
Here's my Second Place Essay (a humorous commentary on today's newlyweds):
Burnt Offerings
Newlyweds have it too easy these days. All they have to do is speed dial Mom and ask which cycle to run the wash for hubby’s dress shirt or for that recipe for Corn Flake Chicken. Or they might check the Internet for the answers. Perhaps they’ll pay attention to the food channel or that do-it-yourself network on the new flat screen TV they got as a group wedding gift from the office.

Why, when I was a bride it was trial and error. If hubby’s dress shirt came out pink instead of brilliant white, he’d just have to find a new tie to go with it. If I got out the ingredients for dinner and found out hubby polished off the Corn Flakes that morning, we’d just have to make do with Shredded Wheat and call it Wooly Chicken instead. If dinner got burned, the bride would cry while her husband told her it was the best meal ever. There was none of this running out for fast food to cover the catastrophe. Folks just didn’t spend money like they do today.

With credit card applications coming in the mailbox every other day, even high school seniors and college freshmen have at least one card to help them feel prepared for emergencies or feel better about those pesky school loans. They’ve learned that it’s only plastic after all, so it’s future money their spending. They’re too into the instant gratification mode to notice the recession going on out there. Haven’t their mothers taught them anything important?

Another thing that rankles my hind end about young couples these days is that they think they can afford a brand new house like the one they just left off living in with their parents. Or a shiny, fast car, for that matter. Just because they waited to marry until they both graduated from college and secured good jobs doesn’t mean they should start out so high on the hog. What about the merits of living off love for those first years? Isn’t that supposed to shape you into the best “one flesh” you can be? There is no “for better or for worse”. There’s only “for better”.

Forget having babies right off the bat. Who wants to be saddled with midnight feedings and diapers when your new career is hitting the jackpot? Not the newlyweds living next door to me. The lights on at midnight turn out to be the weekend parties they throw. The music is so loud I can’t get to sleep after enduring the evening drooling over the smell wafting out of the catering truck.

Even more important than the neighbors not having babies, my daughter and her new husband haven’t thought about it either. You’d think my daughter would listen to the pleas of her dear mother to make me a grandmother, but every time they come over, my eyes bounce from her flat belly to her face giving me “the look”. I roll my eyes right back at her and bite back a question about if she knows what to do. I’m certain the stork will make a visit later than sooner. My only consolation is that I taught her what it means to use a credit card.

I went to a bridal shower the other day for my niece and the gifts they give these days could put a person into the poor house. No more oohs and ahs over the Teflon cake pans. Now it’s got to be a Bosch mixer or a bread machine before somebody lifts an eyebrow. Even though the bride-to-be doesn’t know where she’s going on her honeymoon, she knows it has to do with plane tickets and beaches. That’s what credit cards are for!

When I was young we got one night in a motel and then we took off to go camping in a tent. I’m talking about the heavy canvas kind handed down from Grandma or Uncle Albert that takes half an afternoon to set up. Those tents retain so much heat they could cook you alive if you stayed in ‘em too long. We didn’t care; there weren’t any of those pop-up dome tents to get jealous over. We worked together, batting our eyelashes at one another before hammering in the next stake. The scent of pine needles and a sky full of stars was our reward. Now that was getting away from it all. That was adventure. You can’t buy those kinds of memories.

I’m standing over the stove, smiling at the recollection of my honeymoon and thinking there’s no use denying times have changed. I just wish girls these days could experience some of the struggles I went through as a new bride—the kind of things that helped a couple make important choices together and drew them closer because nothing was easy. The kind of experiences that keep a couple together through thick and thin, through pink dress shirts and Wooly Chicken.

My nose brings me out of my musings and I shake my head. On occasion I still serve burnt offerings. But tonight I’m leaning toward changing with those times. I call out to the familiar form in the living room arm chair. “Dear, get your coat. We’re going out to eat.”

After all this time, I’ve earned it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Right Brain, Left Brain

I followed some writers’ comments showing great variance in their answers to such questions as “Do you listen to music when you write?” or “How do you get the creative juices to flow?” Someone may give a tip that I really like and another time I think I would never try that. We are all so different and that is a beautiful thing. We need to find out what works and doesn’t work for us and balance that with a willingness to try something new that could potentially enhance our craft.

This got me to thinking that maybe there is no right way to write. Maybe it’s a Right Brain/Left Brain thing.

I keep hearing that a first draft should just flow and let whatever you are thinking come as fast as it can. The edit and cleanup comes later. Just get it down. Okay. Am I doing that when I type a couple paragraphs that seem to flow, but then I stop and reread them before I can go on with the next flowing sequence? I may not be spending time figuring out a better word but if something glares at me I will fix it right then. It feels creative to me to make it better. Then I get to the end of reading the section I've written and I’m ready to go again. But only for a section. I don’t understand someone who can write the whole thing from start to finish without going back over what they've written. It’s as if my left brain's organization and structure wants to keep inserting herself into my right brain’s creative flow. Is this normal? Perhaps it is for me. Perhaps it’s only lack of experience.

Try this for fun: Clasp your hands together with fingers interlocking. Which thumb is on top? Now fold your arms. Which arm crosses on top? Chances are they are the same. Right thumb or arm on top leans toward being left brained and vice versa. I should say here that everyone uses both sides of the brain but that we have a tendency toward favoring one side to some degree. The amount of favoring can change, especially before adulthood.

Out of curiosity, I took a couple online brain quizzes. The shortest one pegged me as right-brained. Laugh out loud! I really do enjoy the editing process as much as the writing, music distracts me, and I look at a scene sequentially in parts that make up a whole. Very left-brained. Another had me almost totally left-brained and another put me as 58% left to 42% right. Go figure.

In reality, it takes a mixture of left- and right-brained thinking to be a writer. Upfront, one can see the imagination it takes to dream up the story. Underneath, logic is used to figure out the path a character would take or which word is best. The trick is to play our strengths and become a more balanced thinker in the weak areas while we use our whole brains to write. That is when what we write becomes truly satisfying.
Do you agree? So, which side dominates for you and how does it affect your writing?