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A critique group chats about writing for children. Join the conversation!
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My book club chose our latest novel because: (1) the author is an acquaintance of one of our members and (2) the Amazon rating is 4.5 stars, based on about 150 reviews.
While the book was fast-paced and the character development was wonderful, the plot had a few gaping holes, which really bothered us. Several unanswered questions and less-than-believable twists in the plot left me wondering, “Who published this?”
This is the author’s fourth novel, but the first that is self-published. Others were handled by the small imprint of a major house.
It may change, but self-publishing still carries an arguably justified stigma of questionable quality. On average, traditional publishing has set high standards through their editorial review and input. Selecting work that upholds those standards is a major part of publisher’s added value in the book industry. While still enjoyable, the novel my book club read could have been much better with the input of a truly critical and constructive reader, a start-to-finish professional editor. (How the Amazon rating reached 4.5/5, I’m not sure… a combination of loyal fans, friends, and less discerning readers?)
While I don’t know why this particular book went the self-publishing route, self-publishing is becoming more tempting and more common. The pay structure seems better (authors can collect 70% of sales vs. 25% of digital sales or 7 to 12% of list price) and authors have more control.
Well-known authors and even literary agencies are turning to it. The NY Times
recently ran a front-page article: Authors Turn to A New Publisher They Trust: Themselves
(April 17, 2013). As a service to its authors, ICM Partners has announced that it will ‘self-publish’ some of its clients, including best-selling author David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross
), who says it’s because “nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”
Is self-publishing heading towards 'agent-publishing'? Many agents are former editors. They may attempt to fill the mid-market space with a higher average. Whether they can successfully distribute and sell books, or make authors ‘discoverable’ remains to be seen. (Using Pulitzer-prize winning authors helps.)
Not one member of my group realized our selection was self-published. This points to a challenge for publishing houses: how to use their brand name to appeal to readers. Like Ferragamo shoes, or Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, in an increasingly crowded marketplace, buyers yearn for a mark of quality. Think Community College vs. Harvard; Uncle Vinny's Deli vs. Nobu. Coming soon: big cover logos on books from big publishers.
If publishing companies rise to the challenge, maybe next time my book club will ask "Who published it?" before selecting the next book to read.
Years ago I had the opportunity to hear Anne Lamott speak. A friend in my critique group happened to have an extra ticket for her lecture and I JUMPED at the chance to listen to one of my favorite authors discuss the writing process. I don’t quite remember the venue, suffice to say a large, old, theater/auditorium somewhere in mid-town Manhattan, and I’d be hard pressed to come up with an exact quote, but I remember nervously handing Ms. Lamott my copy of Bird by Bird
, and squeaking out something that was supposed to sound like thank you
as I scuttled away. I do remember laughing a lot as she talked about her process. And I do remember leaving inspired to dive into my own writing.
One of the writing tricks/tools that Ms. Lamott spoke about that day was The Observation Deck – A Tool Kit for Writers by Naomi Epel
. I may have ordered it that night when I got home, but I think if Anne had said that it was important to eat artichokes and hop on one leg for ten minutes before sitting down to write, I probably would have done that too. (So glad she didn’t recommend that, btw.)The Observation Deck
is a handy-dandy deck of cards that can inspire you to action when you’re feeling stuck or just in the mood for a nudge in any direction. For instance, I just drew a card that reads “Study Opening Lines” – this one is pretty self explanatory, but if you need to dig deeper you can turn to the corresponding book to look up the meaning of the card. The gist of this card is that “You have a world of powerful teachers sitting on the bookshelves in your house right now…”
and goes on to give examples of famous first lines from novels and how they resonate with readers. And now I bet you are thinking of some of your favorite first lines of novels, maybe even revisiting the first sentence of your own WIP and wondering how you can make it pack a punch. See? All from a card that helped you think about something
different. And sometimes, that’s all we need.
A few summers ago, I turned to The Observation Deck when I was trying to decide what direction to take with my new WIP. I’d been toying with the idea of writing a story about a shy girl who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight after she saves someone. My character was whispering to me at that point and I couldn’t find the inspiration to get the engine started. The card I picked was “Combine Elements” – take two totally different ideas and put them together and see what happens. I’d had this other story in my brain too – about a teenage thief who wanted to reform his ways – but I’d never written from a male POV before and I just didn’t know where I was heading even though that particular character was practically screaming in my head.
So…I put them together.
What if shy girl saves teen thief and he sees that as his opportunity for a second chance? What if they fall in love? What if just when things seem to be changing his past comes back to haunt him and threatens their relationship? That was the day Wren met Grayson…and the day my 2014 debut novel THE PROMISE OF AMAZING
was born. Maybe I would have eventually put the two together, but drawing that “Combine Elements” card made it feel like putting those characters together was no big deal and if I wanted to change it up at some point, no harm done. Of course the story evolved a lot from that first seed, but I’m so glad I pulled that card that day, and continue to include The Observation Deck
in my little bag o' writer tricks.
So how about you? What are some of your favorite tools/tricks to help you along in your writing process?
I despise a story with weak characters. No matter how many car races or love-stories the author throws in, a novel is boring unless it centers around vivid, interesting characters who are changing and growing in unexpected ways to respond to their situations--or sometimes resisting change and growth, like Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. I loved Katniss Everdeen in HUNGER GAMES for defying the Capitol to protect her sister. Though mostly I hated Bella Swan in TWILIGHT for being so passive and whiny, at least she had the guts to love a vampire.
Young adult literature is so particularly compelling partly because kids by their very nature are always changing and growing and on cusp of such critically important changes. They are constantly being forced to make choices about their own characters. As GraceAnne diCandido, my literature instructor at Rutgers used to put it, the central question of a young adult novel is "Who am I and what am I going to do about it?"
How do you create your own unforgettable characters? Or is there a character in recent literature that you find especially compelling?
This month, as a follow up to my March 14th post, "Making the Case for Magazines - Again," Joelle DuJardin, Senior Editor at Highlights
, agreed to answer some questions.
1. How long have you been at Highlights?
I've been at Highlights
for nearly 9 years, which, now that I think about it, is as long as the lifetime I seemed to spend at my K-8 elementary school. These Highlights
years have flown by a lot more quickly - and have fortunately been filled with a lot less angst!
2. What changes have you seen in the magazine world?
In a tough marketplace, with so many exciting products competing for kids' time and attention, I think most kids' magazines are trying to clarify their vision and make their content more dynamic, which can ultimately be a good thing. As always, the best way for a writer to know the market is to read the actual magazines and get a feel for what they're trying to do. At Highlights
, we're always trying to keep our brand fresh and engage readers in new ways, so in recent years we've become more open to considering new story formats and ideas as long as our mission isn't compromised.
3. Which genres do you edit at Highlights?
I edit all the fiction in Highlights
magazine, which includes rebus stories for beginning readers, 500-word count stories for less-advanced readers, and 750-word stories for more advanced readers. We'll do an occasional story that runs longer. I also acquire all the poetry for the magazine.
4. About how many submissions do you receive every month?
We receive several hundred submissions a month.
5. What is the Highlights submission process?
I'm the first reader on manuscripts sent directly to me. (We also have an outside reader who reviews some of the submissions addressed to Manuscript Coordinator, and she'll pass along certain ones for us to consider further.) If I think a manuscript has promise, I might ask for feedback from two or three other editors before making a decision on it.
Once we purchase a manuscript, it goes into our inventory, where it waits until it fits with the overall balance of an issue. It's true that it can sometimes take a few years before a writer sees his or her story in print - but it's not that we've forgotten the piece. We remember vividly the stories we bought in past years!
6. How long can a writer expect to wait for news about their submission?
We try to respond to submissions within two months, although it can sometimes take a little longer than that, depending on how busy we are.
7. What are you looking for now?
I'm always looking for funny stories. Historical fiction, holiday stories, and mysteries are amoung our current needs.
Thank you, Joelle, for taking the time to answer my questions!
|Sharon Wildey Calle|
After a week's vacation in the "Land of Enchantment" (New Mexico), I have come home inspired and ready to write.
My only challenge... How do I recreate the diverse and magical spirit of this environment as a setting for a story?
Literature has long been inspired by place. The Grapes of Wrath, Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird
- each of these transports us to a very specific time and environment.
Much is involved in scene setting. To give a true sense of place, one must incorporate the following: physical environment, people, culture, language, and history. It is challenging to not let your setting interfere with (or upstage) your plot. It must be seamlessly woven in between your characters' actions and dialogue.
As I sort through my photos, maps, and free brochures, I think of the people I met, the cultures I experienced, the landscapes I hiked through. I'm not ready to resign my memories to a scrapbook or picasa gallery just yet.
But I am
ready to share this adventure through storytelling.
What are some of the ways you incorporate a sense of place into your writing?
Are there certain children's books/authors that you feel do this exceptionally well?
Every once in a while, I get to thinking about our blog's name, "The Paper Wait" and how very appropriate it is in this business we're in.
As a writer, it feels like I'm always waiting...
waiting to hear about the latest submissions my agent sent out, waiting to get the contract or the revised contract that will be on its way soon, waiting to hear my editor's feedback on my latest revision.
Yep, there's a lot of waiting in this job of writing. And I try to use the waiting time productively. I really do. But I admit it, I sometimes spend too much time wondering about the thing I'm waiting for. Instead of doing something else productive. Something else that could help to move my career and my writing forward.
So recently I made a list of things I really needed to do. And I got to work doing them instead of focussing on the waiting.
I started arranging school visits. And, as I excitedly await the publication of my second picture book, I went back to this post from right before my first picture book was about to come out. And I used that blog post to make a list of all the things I could start working on-- a whole lot earlier this time.
It felt good to get moving in productive ways. Also, once I got moving, other things got moving too.
I checked in with my editor and she wrote back that my latest revision is in great shape. Hooray!
And after I started arranging school visits, my son's teacher contacted me to arrange for a visit to his class and some older grades as well. Once I started working on it, it felt like the universe was helping me out. Yay!
So, there will always be waiting, but I am really going to try to focus on it less, and keep myself doing the things I need to do more.
(But I still am busy waiting for this month's awesome SCBWI Western Washington annual conference! Now that's a once-a-year treat worth waiting for!)
So how do you wait? Are you able to keep yourself productive? How?
By: Melinda Meister,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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In earlier literary eras writers could write and write, philosophize, describe, emotionalize, moralize. Not so in today's market, one driven by instant gratification.
There are a lot of hungry fish in today's literary pond, and there is plenty of "food" for them. Today's author must hook the reader and keep him hooked. Keep him turning the pages. The reader can all too easily put the book down and pick up an a computer game or flip on the TV. Or take a nap.
As in the sport of fishing, a slack line catches nothing. The writer must keep the line taut, which means eliminating words or phrases that slacken the line.
Some "line slackening" words are: Soon, suddenly, seemed, quite, very that, which, slowly, however, but, as well as infinitives, participles, he or she thought, dreamed, made his way, looked, and of course, the dreaded passive tense. It's hard work to weed these words and phrases out of our prose or poetry. We think and use these words all the time.
The reader doesn't care. The reader wants action, and plenty of it. Keep that reader hooked.
By: Eileen Cameron,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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Character, the most important element in a story, either a children's book or an adult novel, is the vital pull that carries a reader into and through the story. If we don't care about the character, we don't care about the book's story.
Following up on the conversation on the blog that Judy had here with Julie at her last posting, "Research and Cheese...", Judy mentioned that she found reading the books that her adult book club chooses and focusing on how they treat character, and their characters, to be very helpful in writing books for children. Judy said that many novels delve into details of description and don't spend enough time on development and presentation of character.
Good description is obviously needed and skillful plotting is essential but without characters that live and breathe on the pages there is no story.
Recently my book club read......
two debut novels which are excellent and that focus directly and effectively on character.
THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman depicts the life at an English speaking paper in Rome in the second half of the 20th century. The book is filled with the descriptive smell of ink and the buzz of a busy newsroom before newer technology had appeared. The setting of Rome with expats working to meet deadlines was great, but the author's approach of focusing each chapter on a different member of the staff and their personal life and foibles, was tremendous. He used character as his main thrust.
In RULES OF CIVILITY, another debut novel by Amor Towles, character is front and center in a heady, exciting Manhattan of 1938 as the main characters of the novel strive for their goals while swinging through the city's nightlife. So intent is the reader on the central figures that when a twist reveals a very different aspect of the character of some of the principle actors there is surprise and shock.
Both novels have unique settings, but it is their characters that rivet the reader to the page.
Building characters in children's books is as important, whether the character is a child of four in an early PB, a natural wonder in a non-fiction book, or the teenage heroine in a YA novel. Continued reading of good work will help us writers find the essence of character.
|Photo Credit: Magnus Manske|
We dined at one of the most respected French restaurants in New York City last week. After the main course, a woman pushing a two-tiered cart laden with cheeses arrived. “I am the commis de trancheur. Which cheeses would you care for?”
The ‘commis de what?’ We decided not to ask.
“A Brie, a Cheddar and a Blue, thank you.” My mother-in-law pointed as she spoke.
“We do not have a Brie. That is a Boursault, produced by Grathdale Valley Farm in Vermont. It is made from cows milk. The Guernsey cows are milked only once per day, and fed organic Bahiagrass laced with millet, sorghum, and clover. They add a touch of oat grain and rye. It is produced in small batches and procured only by the finest establishments. The farm is renowned for...” And on it went, for each new cheese we tried to select.
She lost me at Bahiagrass. And she never described the taste.
This pronouncement of facts by a waitress with a fancy French label supplanted our status as ‘welcome guests’ or even ‘diners who want cheese.’ We became ‘ignorant peasants in need of education.’
Is this what research-happy authors do to readers sometimes? Condescend, prove ourselves, or slip in one more fact, while ignoring the central plot point?
Just because you’re enjoying a meal, does not mean you want a lecture on the entire recipe. Research details, like herbs, should be carefully plucked, washed and chopped to support the plot.
Our cheese waitress left a bad taste in my mouth, like a spoiled sauce. With a similar feel from other servers, my emotional connection was fractured. I wouldn’t return, or recommend it. It was a reminder to me not to treat readers this way. Like restaurants, authors can depend on ‘word of mouth’ marketing as a key to success.
How to do it is another question. How do you keep the details in check? Have you ever found an author who put you off so much that you wouldn’t read them again, or you actively recommend against them? If so, why?
The best fiction is like a pyramid mostly submerged in water; only the very top pokes above the page but it must give us the sense that we will find a solid, three-dimensional creation no matter how far down we dive to explore it. This is true whether you're writing about aliens with three genders and lavender tentacles, twelfth-century Scots clansmen in kilts, or just a bunch of kids hanging out behind a 7-11 in Cranford, NJ.
The question is, how far do you have to go to create that sense of reality, of faithfulness?
When it comes to research, no one could say I'm a shirker. My WIP is a fantasy novel based on Jewish folklore, so for years now I've been reading everything from the Biblical books of the Prophets, medieval wonder tales, the novels of Isaac Baashevitz Singer, Hasidic tales of the Holocaust, collected Jewish folk tales and Apochrypha, scholarly treatments of ancient Jewish magic and the like.
But now that I've gotten my characters to my fantasy world, I'm having trouble imagining myself there and I couldn't figure out why...until I read Jane Yolen's wonderful essay, Turtles All the Way Down (first published in Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Isaac Asimov and published by St. Martins Press in 1991). The prolific Yolen, no slouch at building worlds herself, suggests that we base our fantasy worlds on landscapes we know intimately. "In fantasy, outer landscape reflects inner landscape…. If the place is real enough, then the fantasy creatures and characters--dragon or elf lord or one-eyed god or the devil himself--will stride across that landscape leaving footprints that sink down into the mud. And if those creatures are also compelling, having taken root in the old lore and been brought forward in literary time by the carefully observing author, those footprints in the mud can be taken out, dried, and mounted on the wall."
How do YOU make your writing come to life? How do you build a world?
Most writers yearn to publish a book. No surprise! Writing conferences, blogs and professional journals are mostly aimed at book publication. Five years ago, I wrote about magazine publication as an option. Since then, the traditional book market (especially for picture books) is even tighter. And the digital/app market for picture books? Unless you are an author/illustrator, or your work is already illustrated, you're pretty much out of luck. Apps are expensive to make and developers usually look for established authors or a branded series.
So why not write for magazines? You'll get some rejection letters, but aren't they're always a part of the writing life? For non-fiction articles, you may have to write the dreaded query letter, but don't we all need practice with them? The only other disadvantages are smaller checks than a book advance and your moment of glory only lasts a month.
But consider the advantages:
1. You don't need an agent to submit.
2. Most magazine pieces are short - not as time consuming as producing a novel or picture book.
3. Using a different slant, you can often reuse your research for another piece.
4. You might see your name in print without waiting for years.
5. Often a wide audience sees your writing and you needn't spend hours on promotion.
6. You don't get wacky book reviews in professional journals.
7. Your magazine piece could earn additional money through reprint rights.
8. There are a bundle of contests and prizes to be won in the magazine world.
Next month I'll interview a senior editor at Highlights. Stay tuned.
By: Sharon Wildey Calle,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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We all have our tried-and-true recipes that we return to time after time for potlucks, dinner parties, or family meals. But what is your recipe for writing success?
- If an idea excites you, go with it.
- Be open to revision, and then be courageous and submit!
- Reach out, make friends, and support other writers.
What are the ingredients that led to your writing success? (Whether your success is writing your first draft, conquering revisions, submitting a manuscript, or celebrating your published book!)
I’ll start the recipe and you can each list your choice ingredients….
Recipe for Writing Success
- 1 clever idea
- 10 lbs. of elbow grease
- 5 cups of constructive critiques
As a children's writer, I have seen and appreciated children's books from many angles. Of course, I enjoy trying to write them. And of course I enjoy reading them. As a former elementary school teacher, I also love teaching children to read them. And now, as a mom, I am enjoying a new thrill...
teaching my son to read them! We have finally found the easy readers that motivate him (which in his case often involve vehicles and construction-- Thomas the Tank Engine, Bob the Builder and Trucktown books are super popular around here), and it is so exciting to see him on a roll. Now he has even started reading Daddy bedtime stories. :o)
He is so excited that he will likely be reading Magic Tree House books by sometime next year, and he was even more excited when I told him all the books that he would be able to read before Magic Tree House. Books like Little Bear and Amelia Bedelia. And soon after Magic Tree House, books like Dragon Slayer's Academy and Henry Huggins! These are books that he has loved hearing as read alouds and I am so excited for him to enjoy reading them on his own.
He has always loved being read to (which I plan to continue to do for many years to come!), and now it is so exciting to see the excitement of reading on his own begin to take hold!
Looking forward to listening to him read those awesome new Richard Scarry easy readers we just discovered!
So, what books motivated your beginning reader? (I am eager to add to our collection!)
By: Melinda Meister,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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How does a writer make a historical novel sound as if it is of the period, not about the period? I have found several recent historical novels written for children filled with what I call "forced facts," just to remind the reader that it's 1890 or 1960. The Gibson Girl herione mounts a "new fangled" bicycle and rides off, or a young boy turns on a 14 inch Dumont TV to watch Howdy Doody.
Some writers, however, get it just right, as does Carol Wallace in "Leaving Van Gogh," published in 2011.
Certainly appropriate for YA readers, this well-researched story about Van Gogh and Gachet, the doctor who treated him, plants the reader directly in late 19th century France. Dialogue and sentence structure reflect the formality of French; very few French phrases are used. Scenery and ambience are delicately sketched, in contrast with the vivid descriptions of Van Gogh's paintings and his technique. Most interesting is Dr. Gachet's attempt to penetrate the dark world of the mentally ill at a time when the medical profession was first attempting to define the various psychological behaviors of the afflicted. Here too, description is restrained, but in no way is the horror of the suffering the doctor witnesses diminished.
Writing requires constant learning. For anyone working on a historical novel, I recommend studying this book.
Confession. I'm a victim of the Palmer Method. I went to Catholic School and learned to write cursive in those notebooks with the dotted lines through the center. I spent many an hour looping my ds, ps, and qs to just the right height, my wrist never touching the desk. Somewhere along the line, I rebelled, and now even I have a hard time reading my scrawl.
But that doesn't stop me from filling up notebooks.
Recent circumstances have led me to a block of time here, a block of time there, and a lot of travel in between. Firing up a laptop became cumbersome and my writing time dwindled. I knew I needed a different approach, so I went back to basics. Marble notebooks.
I bought one in hot pink for my WIP. It makes me happy to open it up and write in it. It's completely portable and I'm finding a different connection to my writing in putting pen to paper. Typing up my scrawl a day or two later gives me another opportunity to add emotional depth and description I missed in my first go round.
I'm liking this notebook thing.
Anybody else out there going Luddite on their drafts?
Photo credit: npclark2k from morguefile.com
By: Eileen Cameron,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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From the window here in snowy Denver I can see the white capped mountains to the west. We arrived in a snow storm and it has snowed on and off since. The local news is filled with school closings to the south and stories of the main highway to the east closed from the airport across the plains to Kansas due to snow and high winds creating white out conditions. What a dramatic and different children's world and life style here from the world we just left in sunny Florida.
As a children's writer I think of these differences children readers face and consider how weather conditions affect their experiences and what they might choose to read and their reactions to it.Today after school in Florida children might play soccer and tennis and bike in the park. In Colorado they are sledding down a nearby hillside or skiing down the slick mountains. Maybe they are also helping to shovel snow.
What fun it is to be a children's writer and to construct stories that center on the universal similarities of a child's life to appeal to all children readers but to also color a specific book's plot with intriguing details of a very different place from where most children dwell.
Also, what an important job too, as a children's writer, to bring a story to life that will touch children's lives in all areas of the country and to address their common concerns and cares, whether they are swimming and helping to sweep the sand out or skiing and shoveling snow.
Editorial rejection has infected me like a demotivating virus. I have let it drive me from my office, until I rummaged in cupboards for Tylenol, tea bags and re-organization projects.
’ manuscript has languished for a few months. I know I should send out the manuscript to several new and different editors. Yet, I have had trouble pulling it out of the file drawer. It’s like my giraffe has entwined itself among the hanging files and is holding the drawer shut. I know if I coax him out, we may be able to find him a home. If he stays in the drawer, well...
that’s a sad way for a giraffe to go.
|Optimism Search and Recovery??|
(Photo by EPO: Wikimedia)
This is a notoriously subjective business. I have not tried hard enough and I will keep at it. Options include: smaller, independent publishers, agents, conference opportunities. I'm simply looking for ways to recover my optimism. I take heart in the success of other writers, especially my fellow Paper Waiters -- well done Robin and Brianna!
Anybody have ‘resurrection after rejection’ stories they want to share? How do you manage rejection? How quickly do you come back at it?
If you missed my publishing news from my December post, it goes something like this:
Squeeeee! I have a book deal!!*
In the interim between the initial excitement and the editorial letter, there's a kind of a "did that really just happen" limbo. Luckily, I spent some of that time with family and friends but the following is a smattering of the (sometimes) bizarre reactions to my book news.
1. OMG! That's incredible! You've worked so hard for this!
The best reaction! Usually from the people who know how long I've been at this writing thing.
My response: Thanks! I know, pretty wild? Still wrapping my head around it.
2. How much is your nice, fat advance check?
Yes, people really do ask this question!
I get it, I do. Humans are curious creatures but um, really?!
3. You sneaky little devil! I didn't know you liked to write!
This was at a family dinner with a cousin I rarely see so I'll cut her some slack but for some reason this made me feel odd. As if I sit at my computer, twirling my moustache and laughing maniacally while I write.My response:
Giggle. Blush. Mwahahahahaha...
4. What's the book about?
Okay, totally legit question.My response:
5. Will it be a movie?
This question is asked with more frequency than I ever imagined, sometimes with genuine enthusiasm.My response:
Um, well, no. It's a book. And I'm pretty stoked about that!
The funny thing is, all these reactions brought up a few unexpected feelings of my own. The most heinous and surprising one being: sheer terror.
What had I done? Why not just perform naked karaoke to "Call Me Maybe" instead? My characters are my babies, and they will be "out there"...under scrutiny...possibly on Goodreads. Yikes.
And this got me thinking about #4. I think the real reason I don't have an elevator pitch is because I don't want a face-to-face snap judgement. What if the person replies, "oh, um, sounds good, please pass the blue sangria", or worse...no reaction at all.
Writing is such a fragile endeavor and mostly it's just you and the page with some idea of a phantom audience. It took a long time for me to share with others that I was even a writer in the first place (hence #3), I'm not sure why I thought I'd feel differently when I could finally say "My book comes out next year." Each new step brings its own set of fears.
So how about you Paper Waiters? How do you deal with bizarre reactions to your writing endeavors?
*I apologize if this is obnoxious. I've been squeeing an awful lot lately.
**the .gif reactions are inspired by the following awesome tumblr sites, check them out! Title to Come
, Life in Publishing
, Life of a Dude in Publishing
Keep your plot unpredictable. Easy for you to say… I picked up a great tip on this recently. Use your critique partners – not just for review, but for breaking through plot bottlenecks.
Try this exercise: set the stage (your MC had a huge fight with her best friend), and ask your critique partners what might happen
Wait for the first answer (she storms off and refuses to
talk?) and avoid this at all costs: the predictable plot.
Delve deeper, seek alternatives. Brainstorm more answers with your partner. Does your MC tell other friends her side of the story, so that the basketball team shows its divided loyalties? Maybe. Does she cry on a badboy’s shoulder – the badboy her friend has crush on? Or maybe she’s so upset, she steals her father’s car to get as far away from the fight as possible… What happens then? Where does she go? That’s what everyone wants to know and where you should drive your plot.
You’re the writer, the creator, the omniscient presence, the grown-up. You drive. Drive your main character crazy. Test her, push her, force her to learn through doing, just like real life.
Remember: “Your main character is not your best friend.” You are not only allowed to put this ‘person’ into uncomfortable situations, you are supposed to. That’s your job.
Keep at it: tease, challenge and frustrate your characters. That’s when you’ll see what they’re really about. At some point you’ll be able to take your hands off the wheel and let them lead you on their journey of self-discovery and change.
Then you’ll have arrived at an interesting story.
By: Eileen Cameron,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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A content explosion - is how Rubin Pfeffer, partner at East West Literary Agency, former president and publisher of Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, and a leading speaker at the recent Florida SCBWI conference in Miami, described the current world of children's publishing - digital books, hard print and self publishing. E books are at about to surpass print books and are at about 50% of new publications. By the end of 2013, it is estimated that
65% of American children will have access to or own a digital reader.
Wow! ipads, nooks, droids, and kobos...and cell phones.
Mr. Pfeffer suggests that new technology creates new content... and this is good for writers.
Another lead speaker, famed children's writer Bruce Coville, (MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN), pumped up the crowd with his topic,
"Ripples in the Pond and Why What We Do Matters." Don't be afraid to write, branch out and extend yourself. Expose yourself in your writing. Let it flow.
Writers from Florida and around the country heard from agents, editors, and great authors including Ellen Hopkins, (CRANK), and Toni Buzzeo (STAY CLOSE TO YOUR MAMA). Toni related how she arrived home from a meeting and announced that a writer friend had her own writing cottage - and her husband built her one! Well, her writing cottage in Maine is fabulous but we don't need a cottage - we need to focus on craft, learning craft, skill and persistence.
I drove home across Alligator Alley plotting my year's writing schedule, hopefully with renewed focus, craft and persistence.
Like many writers, I suffer from a dreaded writerly disease: trying to write it right the first time. I agonize over sentence structure, search my thesaurus for the perfect synonym, and doubt every plot line.
So when I came across this New York Times Magazine Article
that reminded me how important it is to be wrong -- and "to be wrong as fast as you can," I considered once again how overrated right is. In the article, Hugo Lindgren reviews a list of ideas he's had throughout the years and wonders why he hasn't written them. He recounts a Charlie Rose interview with Pixar's John Lasseter: Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films."
We've all heard it a million times -- the stories of successful writers slogging through page after page of mediocrity, never giving up. And that is the real difference between success and failure. Never giving up.
So as I finish what I hope is my last major revision of this novel, I'll welcome making mistakes that can be fixed. I'll keep my eye on the light at the end of the tunnel and take the express.
In the last year or so, two adverbs have crept into common English usage: "famously" and "arguably." One cannot read a column or news article without seeing them. "As Shakespeare famously said..." or, "Julia Child, arguably one of the world's best..." Any day now I expect to see "George Washington, arguably the first American President..." Both words add nothing to any sentence in which they are used.
As writers, especially for children, we are told to eschew adverbs. "Very, really, simply, wholly, completely, extremely, sincerely, strongly, happily, lately, rather, quite, almost..." All of these words tend to blur or weaken the action, something to be (strongly, ha ha) avoided.
However, to prepare for the revision of an existing manuscript, I have been collecting adverbs. Certainly not "famously" or "arguably," but words such as "wheezily, stupidly, crazily, nosily, cowardly, hungrily, drunkenly, sourly." I need these words to enliven the condition of the action. Without them, my sentences are dry, like warm toast without butter.
By: Brianna Caplan Sayres,
Blog: The Paper Wait
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The Paper Wait is thrilled to welcome Anna Staniszewski for this awesome guest post! Anna is busy preparing for the launch of her upcoming book, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail.
Now that my second book is almost out in the world, I can safely say that, in my experience, writing a sequel is a marathon of crazy. You find yourself having extreme, often-opposite feelings simultaneously during pretty much every step of the process. Here are some examples:
Scenario: You find out you’ve sold a sequel to your publisher.
Reaction 1 - Yay, I get to write another book!
Reaction 2 - Oh my, I have to write another book.
Scenario: You send the first draft to your editor.
Reaction 1 - Yay, I’m one step closer to having this book be done!
Reaction 2 - Oh my, I hope my editor doesn’t realize she’s made a huge mistake.
Scenario: You get a fan letter from a reader who can’t wait for the next book in the series.
Reaction 1 - Yay, people are reading my book and LIKING IT!
Reaction 2 - Oh my, what if readers are disappointed by the sequel?
And on and on and on. With each tiny accomplishment comes a dose of self-doubt and pressure—oh, the pressure! Of course, 99% of that pressure comes from you, but that doesn’t make it any less…pressuring.
Do I have any advice for how to deal with this crazy rollercoaster? Sort of. I have to say that digging into the manuscript and watching it grow stronger with every revision helped quell some of my fears. (It also helped that I had people like my husband reassuring me that if my editor hated my book, she would probably let me know.)
I think what really freed me up after the first draft was finished was the realization that I wasn’t having enough fun with the story. I wrote the first book in the series as a break from other projects, not thinking it would ever get published. Writing the second book under contract was a hugely different experience. If I could recapture some of the fun of the first book, maybe I would feel better about the second one. And you know what? Once I unleashed my inner wackiness, it helped make the process of writing the sequel a lot more enjoyable.
Now, I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I haven’t been truly appreciative for the opportunity to take my characters on more adventures. Or that writing the sequel has been a horrible experience. It’s certainly been a lot of work, but it’s been work that I’m quite proud of. And guess what? Now that the sequel is all ready to go, I get to (have to) do it all over again with the third book!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award.
Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Her first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in November 2011. The sequel, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, is coming on March 1, 2013. Visit www.annastan.com for more info.
As I was brainstorming for my blog post, I was determined to write a post that was relevant, interesting, inspiring, and witty. I had no trouble deciding between multiple ideas. Because I had absolutely no ideas to choose from.
Instead I wrote the following haiku:
Mind is a big blank
Can’t think of a thing to write
Wishing for a remedy
And then I got up and washed the dishes and made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
Writers, what do you do when the words just won’t come? How do you break through a creative block?
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Mo Willems and his pigeon. Smile material. Masterful picture books!
In 2011, Mo was invited to give the prestigious Zena Sutherland Lecture. He titled his talk "Why Books?"
Here are some highlights:
"Always think of your audience; never think for your audience."
"If I re-read one of my manuscripts and I understand exactly what is happening, then the manuscript has too many words. And if I look at the images without the words and I can fully understand the story, there are too many drawings."
On enhanced digital books: ". . . after we turn them on, they don't need us. Turn it on and leave the room, and the book will read itself."
On real books: "But a real book is helpless. It needs us desperately. We have to pull it off the shelf. We have to open it up. We have to turn the pages, one by one. We even have to use our imagination to make it work. . . . So maybe books work because they make us work. Maybe we need them for needing us, just like we need real friends, not the digital imitations on Facebook."
Well said. Do you agree?
Photo credit: Marty Umans