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1. Business 101

Are you ready to officially set up shop in the illustration industry?  Check out my new post on Once Upon A Sketch about starting a small business for your freelance illustration.

http://onceuponasketch.com/2014/08/business-101/

0 Comments on Business 101 as of 8/27/2014 1:01:00 AM
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2. When Do Writers Stop Writing?

erikaphoto-45When Do Writers Stop Writing? by Erika Wassall

So we’re writers… right?

We write…

And we write…

And then we write some more.

The problem is, sometimes it’s hard to STOP writing and say… okay, it’s done.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean “Done” as in you’ll never alter anything about it ever again. My title is of course not realistic. We never stop writing. And we’ll revise again and again with editors or agents.

But at some point, we have to decide, it’s ready to be submitted.

This is tough for a lot of us. We may have been working on something for years, and it’s evolved, morphed and been not just revised but re-envisioned (a term I took from Jill Corcoran’s videos) so many times. And each time, it’s become better, stronger and more complete.

We could go on with that forever, and it would just keep getting better… right?

But there is a line. There comes a point where we have to make the leap of faith and start submitting our work. Sometimes easier said than done.

I can’t tell you when your work is done. I’m not sure anyone can. Some people are lucky, they can just “feel it”.

Me? Sigh. I wish.

Not at all. I’m ALWAYS left thinking… maybe one more person’s critique will help, or maybe one more re-write of the this paragraph will be even better!

I like to have a checklist. It gives me a good basis for being sure I haven’t missed anything major:

1) First round of revisions – this is usually checking for consistency and flow, because my first drafts are a bit… rough.

2) Time off – serious time off, usually a month

3) The big change – almost all of my manuscripts have at some point had some major change or revision that has made things click. Some have had more than one. For me, it’s an important part of my process.

4) More revisions and feedback from other writers and people I trust.

5) Falling apart at some point and thinking it’s not any good. For me, if this hasn’t happened at least once, I’m not done. This usually leads to another short spurt of time off, a week or so of ignoring all writing-related thoughts.

6) The writer in me wins out and I dive back in.

Then I usually sit here in this stage for a while, bouncing around in revisions, critiques, thoughts etc. Problem is: me? I could sit here forever. At some point, I just have to pull the darn trigger!

If I can look back and know that I did right by myself and the story I have to tell, it’s time to start narrowing down the list of agents I’m going to target.

Plus, at this point, I usually have a few new ideas percolating in the brain, so they’re a good distraction to keep myself from revising that sentence just one more time.

Am I saying this is a good checklist for other people?

NOT AT ALL.

I think everyone’s checklist/process is different. But I do think it can be helpful to have some sort of checklist in your mind, to go through whatever steps you need as a writer and individual to make your manuscript the best it can be.

I have one final step after the checklist. This is usually the only way I’ve ever able to draw that intimidating line of saying IT’S READY NOW:

Create a deadline!

I can never quite get to the point where I say, “It’s done NOW.” But I AM able to say, “It’ll be done in a month.” And then stick to that.

And then I have to just tell myself, that’s it. It’s ready. I have to trust myself and commit that that’s my Final Answer.

An exciting time for sure, but finishing a manuscript and sending it out into the world often holds it’s share of anxiety of uncertainty. But it’s an important part of the process and guess what…

… your manuscripts deserve it!

Thanks Erika for another valuable post.

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, Process, revisions, Tips, writing Tagged: Erika Wassall, Guest Blog Post, When to Stop Writing

4 Comments on When Do Writers Stop Writing?, last added: 8/27/2014
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3. Free Fall Friday – Holly McGhee/Hallie Durand

Holly November 2013

A new book titled, CATCH THE COOKIE has hit the bookshelves written by Hallie Durand, a.k.a. Agent Holly McGhee and illustrated by David Small. I have the book and can truthfully say it is a very fun picture book. I scanned in a few interior shots and Holly sent a picture of the real Marshall to add to the interview questions. I also added a quick blurb to whet your appetite:

Marshall knows one thing for sure, despite what all the stories say: Gingerbread men cannot run. Cookies are for eating, and he can’t wait to eat his after spending all morning baking them with his class. But when it’s time to take the gingerbread men out of the oven . . . they’re gone! Now, to find those rogue cookies, Marshall and his class have to solve a series of rhyming clues. And Marshall just might have to rethink his stance on magic. Catch That Cookie! is an imaginative mystery, deliciously illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner David Small. It’s sure to inspire a new classroom tradition . . . and maybe even a few new believers!

I wanted to know more about the book and Holly, so below is the interview I had with her. If you want to read more about David Small and read about the process of creating the book cover for CATCH THE COOKIE, he was featured this past Saturday on Illustrator Saturday - definitely worth reading. Here’s Hallie/Holly:

Most people know you as Holly McGhee. Why did you decide to write under another name?

A: On that first submission especially, I needed to know whether my writing could speak for itself, in no way connected to me as an agent—could I get published just because an editor and publisher believed in my work? I’ve kept with a pen name to separate my writing from agenting, though at this point it’s not a secret that I’m Holly McGhee & Hallie Durand.

When did you start writing your latest book, Catch That Cookie!? 

A: I started Catch That Cookie! in earnest over the Christmas holidays of 2011. My son Marshall had been a preschool student of Mrs. Gray’s (the teacher in my book) in the fall of 2009, and he had gone on a gingerbread hunt at school. He’d come home with a recipe for gingerbread men, and he was obsessed with making the cookies. He kept nagging me, and so I finally borrowed the cookie cutters from Mrs. Gray and we made them for our class picnic in June of 2010, in ninety-degree heat. We put them in the van to bring to the picnic, and then Marshall started locking the van doors. I realized he thought the cookies would escape, ha ha ha ha! I knew there was a story there, and I wanted to know what Mrs. Gray had done in class to make Marshall believe those G-men could escape. So I interviewed Mrs. Gray and that inspired my picture book.

Marsh with his G-Man August 2014

How did it find a home at Dial?

A: When I finally had a draft that I liked, I shared it with my agent, Elena Giovinazzo, who sent it out to editors. Lauri Hornik and Kate Harrison at Dial made an offer.

Catch That Cookie!, with ribbon

Were you the one who chose David Small to illustrate the book?

A: No, that was my editor, Kate Harrison, and the art director Lily Malcom. I couldn’t be happier about the choice—not only is David my client but he is one of my very close friends. (I was nervous he would turn it down though, and thrilled that he liked it—he’s picky!)

cookieinterior74

How long did it take David to do the illustrations?

A: He started early in 2013 and finished that fall. I sent him a picture of Mrs. Gray to inspire him and also pictures of Marshall, Avery, and Henry, who all appear in the book (they were Marshall’s classmates).

cookieinterior75
Do you plan any book signings or other marketing things now that the book is sold?

A: Yes, David and I are doing a little mini tour to celebrate both the book and our friendship. I am going out to Kalamazoo, Michigan on September 10 and we are doing one appearance for adults at the Kalamazoo Library and one for kids at the Book Bug, and then he’s coming back with me to Maplewood, NJ. We’ll have a big gingerbread hunt with Mrs. Gray at the Maplewood Library on September 13, and an event for writers and artists (together with Anna Kang and Chris Weyant of You Are (Not) Small and Richard Morris of This Is a Moose) on the 14th. We’re going to talk about collaboration. Then we’ll have an appearance at our local bookstore on the 15th as well as a private event for the preschool four year olds (all at Words, Maplewood). David will share some of his drawing secrets. I’ll have more details for you soon.

When did you write your first book and what was the title?

A: In 2007 I wrote my first chapter book / novel, Dessert First, and I wrote two more books in that series. Dessert First was published in 2009, Just Desserts in 2010, and No Room for Dessert in 2011, all illustrated by the amazing French artist Christine Davenier.

dessertfirst

Were you an editor at that time?

A: Nope, I had been an agent for nine years already (though I’ve never stopped being an editor really—as an agent I’m often the first set of eyes on a manuscript, helping polish it enough to be acquired).

How did the idea come to you?

A: It started at a dinner with one of my best friends at the River Run Café in NYC. We ordered dessert to share, and as always I angled the plate so that the best part of the dessert “happened” to be directly in front of me. My friend had had enough of my bad behavior and she said, “WHY DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE BEST PART OF THE DESSERT?” And I, with nowhere to hide, said, “Because I thought I was getting away with it.” That honesty marked a turning point in our friendship. A few years later, we were sharing a slice of Iced Lemon Cake at lunch, reminiscing about our fateful evening at the River Run. And that very evening, on NJ Transit, Dessert Schneider barged into my life and wouldn’t be quiet till I wrote her story. I’d never experienced anything like that—she was really bossy!

How did that book get published?

A: It was multiply submitted, under my pen name, and was acquired in a two-book deal.

dessertsJust

It looks like most of your books have a food element. Is that because you like to bake?

A: Funny you bring this up, because it hasn’t been intentional. Food has been a continuing thread throughout my life, and as a kid I always went grocery shopping with my dad (we still like to go together when we can); we like to see what new products there are on the shelves and what’s on sale. I was the New York State 4-H Bread champion (not kidding!) as a seventeen year old—baking bread was something to do in an otherwise pretty boring summer in farm country, so I went for it, baking bread every day for the entire two months that school was out. Cooking and baking are relaxing for me like nothing else, and when I’m not writing, I’m usually in the kitchen. I even like chopping leeks, just as thin as I can get them without slicing off my thumb in the process . . .

Headless G-Man

Do you feel that writing your own books helps you relate better with your writer clients?

A: I think my writers and artists appreciate that I understand what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling in a way that you only know if you are a writer or artist yourself. We talk . . . a lot.

cookie riser

When I heard David Small and Kate DiCamillo speak at SCBWI conferences, it sounded like you were not only a great agent, but a great critique partner for them.

Over the years, there’s a trust that builds, and with David and Kate and most of my clients, I’m a gatekeeper; they can share work with me before anybody else sees it, and they know that if I’m willing to share it with the world, I believe in it.

cookieend

Why did you decide to leave HarperCollins to open a literary agency?

A: I’d been an executive editor for six years, and I had developed my own taste in books. I’d begun to believe that if I loved reading a book, maybe somebody else in the world would too. And so I was ready to set out of my own after a time, especially when some of the projects I tried to acquire were rejected by an acquisitions board. I wanted to succeed or fail based on my own taste.

What was your biggest success as a literary agent?

A: Biggest successes can run the gamut. There are the seven-figure deals with film rights and foreign licenses sold simultaneously, and there are the original books by new authors that become franchises, with television and live-stage deals coming along the way. But there are also the smaller deals that come with huge personal satisfaction, such as bringing a beloved book back into print decades after first publication, or placing that book I’ve always believed in, months after first submission. I think the biggest fun is finding an editor who loves a book, acquires it, and publishes it well, whether it’s snapped up in a pre-empt an hour after submission or acquired after months of waiting. They all matter.

On top of that, the feeling of comraderie I have with my colleagues is one I cherish–we root for each other and have a fabulous time together. That matters too.

Hallie, catching a cookie NYC August 2014

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers from an author’s point–of-view?

~Be discerning but don’t be precious about your work.

~Take your work as far as you can on your own before showing it; your agent only gets a first read once.

~Let your work speak for itself—no need to tell your agent how much your neighbors and other writer friends love it first; that can set unrealistic expectations before that first read.

~Go to your laptop or drawing board every day. It’s easier to stay with the story you’re trying to write or illustrate than it is to reintroduce yourself after an absence.

~Think about a problem you are having with your book right before you go to sleep, and keep a pencil and notepad by your bedside table; you might get an answer during the night or first thing in the morning (it happens!).

~Don’t worry about how many books you have published / are publishing; Robert McCloskey did seven in his lifetime.

~Don’t get obsessed with Amazon rankings, etc. The secret is that a bad ranking will make you feel worse and a good ranking or review won’t make you feel much better.

~As long as you can say to yourself, when you’re looking back at your work, I did the best I was capable of at that time in my life, you’ll be a bit more impervious to negative comments. But make sure you can say that before your book goes out into the world.

Would you answer differently with your agent’s hat on?

A: No, but some of these things I only know from being a writer, inside information J.

Holly, thanks for answering the interview questions. I will remind people when they might be able to see you in September. It was such great fun to share the picture of your son with everyone. It looks like David really captured his looks and personality.

Best of Luck with the book!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

PS: Remember to check back next Friday to read the four first pages critiqued by Holly.


Filed under: Advice, Agent, Book Tour, Editor & Agent Info, Interview, Picture Book Tagged: Agent Holly McGhee, Author Hallie Durand, Catch the Cookie, Illustrator David Small

9 Comments on Free Fall Friday – Holly McGhee/Hallie Durand, last added: 8/25/2014
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4. Guest Post: Writing books or working pub?

Industry Life

by

Kerrie Byrne McCreadie

Kerrie McCreadie“But what are you going to do?”

Majoring in English always seemed to be a very puzzling thing for those around me. It took me five and a half years to finish my undergraduate degree, and I probably couldn’t count the number of times this question came up. I also couldn’t count the number of ways I’ve responded. Writer. Editor. Book publicist. Agent. Designer. All noble causes, all professions inhabited by creative and brilliant people. But somewhere, in answering that penetrating question—with all its strength of will in making me feel like my degree would be ultimately useless—I got lost in the possible options and forgot to think about the most important thing: what did I want to do in the first place?

You learn early that being a writer isn’t considered a “realistic” career. Going into editing, that can work. But writing, being an author, not so much. I’m still fairly certain that the Grade 11 Careers class I was forced to take (a Canadian rite of passage) existed just to tell me that my dream jobs (at the time: writer, musical theatre performer, etc.) were impractical, and that I was unreasonable.

I can still see my teacher rolling her eyes.

What they don’t tell you in Careers class is that it’s probably not that much more impossible to become a writer than it is to become an editor in this economic climate. Becoming a writer who creates a six-figure novel? Not so likely. But becoming a writer at all? It’s hard, it takes passion and dedication—but it does happen. And it isn’t really less possible than being an editor. But we’re told it is. We’re told as young writers that the publishing industry is the smarter, easier choice. Not only is that not necessarily true, but it also belittles the work done by the incredible, driven people in the industry. There are publishers who spend their entire lives making sure other peoples’ books do well. People who work in the industry are often ambitious and passionate and…well. Practically superhuman, in some cases.

But still, I really wanted to be an editor; and, admittedly, it wasn’t just because of Careers. I love editing, I love being the person who gets to polish something beautiful into something perfect. At this point I have a little more than year of experience in the Toronto publishing world. Not a lot. I’m a baby, and I know it—but it’s enough to get a peek. I worked as an intern at a small publisher, sorting through submissions and slush. At the same small publisher, I worked as a typesetter and graphic designer. This past summer I have been working as an assistant for the president of a literary agency. These have all been really rewarding experiences and I’ve learned a lot. Publishing is hard. There’s a lot on the line for everyone emotionally, mentally, and financially. Doing design on a fast-paced publishing schedule is one of the most challenging jobs I’ve had so far, and seeing how agents function while they work is awe-inspiring. So many people in this industry work 17-18 hour days with hardly any weekends, just because they love it so much.

As I’m starting to grow into a publishing toddler, this experience has given me a pretty startling realization. I knew going into these internships that I wanted to write, that I always have wanted to write. But somewhere along the way I started letting my Careers teacher’s voice whisper in my ear. I am dedicated to continuing to educate myself on how to edit more thoroughly and how to design more beautifully. I’m just starting to get good enough to freelance reliably. But what I really want to focus on  at the moment is my writing.

It’s not to say that some people can’t balance both. I know some wonderful ladies and gents who pull off doing both with style. There is definitely value in being both a writer and involved in the industry, whether it gives you a greater understanding of what’s required of you to get yourself published or whether it lends you empathy towards your clients. But that life is only suited to some very specific people. I’ve met some ex-agents-turned-writers who realized that they loved their own work more than working on other peoples’, even if they ultimately loved doing both. And I know plenty of once-writers who seem to be leaning towards becoming editors.

Me? Somehow, coming out of all of this has ended a five-year novel writing block, and I’m happily typing away at a new project every spare moment I have. My industry experience helped me make some major life decisions, like moving on to grad school instead of going on to a publishing certificate without a single doubt. Doing this work now means I got the experience while I had as many doors open as possible. I’m able to acknowledge that just because I’m interested in industry work doesn’t mean I have to commit to it 100% now when I’m only 23. Even if my career advisor told me I should.

Besides, there are so many other things I can do with my English degree.

(Like getting a PhD!)

Kerrie Byrne McCreadie has dipped her toes/feet/shins/waist into the publishing world in various ways over the past few years, and thinks the whole industry is pretty fascinating. You can follow her on twitter, or find her on her brand new blog. She is currently writing a rather depressing fairy tale contemporary, and will thank anyone for holding her hand as she starts her PhD applications this fall.

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5. How to Be Freaking Epic as a Freelance Writer

laptop woman happyI know what you want: To get more freelance writing jobs. And to earn good money doing what you love. And to enjoy the freedom that comes with controlling your own career.

That’s nice — but guess what? Editors don’t care what you want.

All editors care about is that you make their jobs — and their lives — as easy as possible. And for you, that means going beyond turning in great work on time. (Turning in great work on time is the bare minimum requirement.)

If you want to keep raking in the freelance writing gigs, you need to be freaking epic. You need to go waaaaaay beyond what the hordes of other freelance writers are doing.

Here’s how to level it up – and get more work:

Give Without Getting


Everyone loves a surprise freebie. What little extra can you offer your editor clients, without going broke yourself?

How about this: When you come across some news tidbit or research study you think would be perfect for a particular publication, but don’t want to pitch it yourself, send it to the editor anyway. Tell him, “I found this study I thought you’d be interested in. Hope you find it useful for X magazine!”

Or maybe you’re working on an article and come across some information that is important, but doesn’t quite fit in the piece. Write it up as a quick sidebar, and tell the editor, “I had some extra information, so I wrote up a sidebar you can use if you have room. Hope you like it!”

With some creativity, you’ll find many easy, painless ways to offer little extras to your clients. That puts you ahead of all those writers who turn in an article and call it a day.

Get the Best (Not the Easiest!) Interview Sources


Too many writers pick the first expert sources that come to mind: They go for people they already happen to know, like local professionals. “I need to interview a podiatrist? Hey, there’s one on my street!” Or they send out a HARO request and choose from among the people who respond.

When I recently wrote an article for a national health magazine on pet health, I needed to find two expert sources. Of course, I have a local vet who is great. But instead of going the easy route, I called a national veterinary organization and gave the PR rep my exact specifications: I wanted one male and one female vet from different areas of the country — and they needed to have a published book through a traditional publisher or work at a well-known veterinary hospital.

I got exactly what I wanted.

My editor did not ask for these requirements; I just knew these would be the very best sources and would impress the heck out of her.

When you’re on the search for sources for your articles, think of who would be the absolute best person to interview. You may think they’re out of your league, but you won’t know until you ask — and often, you’ll be surprised.

Push Your Style


If you can write in a clear, readable style, that probably puts you in the top 25% of freelance writers out there. But where you really create value and become epic is in bringing an amazing style to everything you write.

When I write an article, in my final edit, I go over every sentence and ask myself, “Is this the best possible way to express this idea? Is there any way I can make it more concise/interesting/entertaining?”

Writing for magazines (and copywriting, by the way) is about more than conveying ideas to readers in grammatically correct sentences. You need to do it in a way that entertains and keeps them interested as well. The perfect turn of phrase, the (truly) humorous aside, the killer lede — these are the things that keep readers — and editors — coming back.

So the next time you write an article, or a query, go over it one last time and make sure every sentence is as tight and compelling as it can be.

Don’t be one of the many writers who say, “I turned in an article on time. My sentences are grammatically correct. The end. Next!” Push yourself to be freaking epic and you’ll be rewarded with epic assignments in turn.

How about you: What do YOU do to level it up in your writing and business? What have editors’ responses been? Let us know in the Comments below!

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6. Revealing Backstory while Avoiding the Info-dump

by Julie Eshbaugh

~~~

JulieInfo-dump. Just the name of this writing misstep telegraphs that it’s something to be avoided. For purposes of this post, “info-dump” refers to a section of narration inserted into a story that explains important backstory essential to understanding the current action. Here’s an example:

“Marie!” Peter held her at arm’s length so he could look into the face he had feared he would never see again. “I can’t believe it’s you! Where have you been?”

Marie told Peter how she had been captured by the Slugs, a society of subterranean warriors. She had stumbled upon their home while spelunking in the abandoned mines north of town. The Slugs had come closer to the surface than they usually dared in search of a missing key that they believed a renegade Slug had carried to the surface. The Slugs had interrogated Marie, and they’d injected her with a drug that altered her perceptions and memories. In the end they’d let her go, but only after she’d agreed to search out the Slug with the stolen key and return it to its rightful place underground. Before they let her go, though, they’d implanted a tracking device in her brain.

“See the scar?” Marie asked, pulling the hair back from behind her left ear.

An info-dump dropped right in the middle of things can hurt your story in many ways:

It stops the forward momentum. When I’m caught up in the midst of a great story, I want to be carried along toward the climax. An info-dump can interrupt that progress and slow things to a crawl.

It removes the reader from the world of the story. In the example above, the reader is pulled from the reunion scene between Marie and Peter, which, without the interruption, has the potential to be an emotionally strong scene.

It’s boring. The narrator takes over and resorts to “telling,” so instead of experiencing what happened to Marie, the reader learns it in a mini history lesson.

What can be done in a situation like this? Sometimes it’s not possible to “show” all the backstory. In this example, Peter may be the POV character, so the reader wouldn’t be able to know what was happening to Marie while she was suffering through her underground captivity. Still, this information is necessary to the story. The writer needs to find a way to share it without an info-dump.

Here are some techniques to consider:

Find ways to show some of the information, either at this point in the story or later. “The Slugs had interrogated Marie, and they’d injected her with a drug that altered her perceptions and memories.” This is the kind of information that could be shown in a multitude of dynamic ways. It could be shown right here through her interactions with Peter, or it could be woven in a bit at a time, until the characters and readers come to understand what has happened to Marie. This would also work with the tracking device in Marie’s brain. A headache could introduce this information, integrating it into the current action.

Dialogue can be used to convey backstory. All the information in the info-dump paragraph above could be shared by Marie through dialogue, while the story continues. Imagine that, just as Peter encountered Marie at the start of this scene, he was hurrying to get to a meeting with a reclusive scientist, who, before his abrupt retirement a year ago, was the country’s foremost expert on subterranean societies. Peter’s need to hear Marie’s story while simultaneously needing to hurry to his meeting would add action to the scene, as he drags her to his car, blurts out a quick explanation of where they’re going, and tries to concentrate on Marie’s harrowing story while speeding through yellow stoplights and weaving through traffic to meet the professor in time.

Tell the backstory in one big chunk, but weave it into the narrative in a way that interests the characters and the reader. In this example, Marie could tell Peter and the other characters her story as they sit around a campfire at night, or as they hike through the woods toward the very same mines where she was captured. With this treatment, the backstory becomes a story-within-the-story, allowing the writer to build suspense and tension so that the backstory maintains the same level of complexity and interest as the current events that surround it. A story-within-a-story can also help with world-building, if the culture of your story has traditions in place for passing down history or sharing myths and legends, such as through sonnets or songs.

What are your thoughts on these techniques? Do you have any other methods for sharing important backstory? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 ~~~

Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is represented by Adams Literary. You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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7. Interiority in Third Person Narrative

It’s perfectly possible, essential in fact, to engage in some interiority even when you’re working in third person narration. Most writers these days are getting around the whole issue by writing in first person. For years, this has been the vogue for MG and YA (a bit more for the latter). There is the perception that first person is more “immediate,” meaning, most likely, that there’s more that readers see from the protagonist’s POV, which means access to their thoughts, feelings, and reactions in real-time (which I have always called “interiority” for short, though Word still refuses to accept it as a word).

Interiority is important. The character acts as the reader’s closest connection to the story. They also guide reader emotions. If something happens in the plot and we don’t know how to feel about it (I’d recommend that this doesn’t happen that often, because ideally you should be layering in context and anticipation for big events long before they happen), we look to the protagonist and see how they’re reacting. If they are wigging out, we know the event is bad, etc.

Without a lot of cues in the moment, or with reactions that come long after the fact, the reader is often a little stranded. A disconnect opens up between reader and character, and if you don’t nurture that relationship, or too many disconnects happen, then it’s unlikely to result in the type of connection that you’re looking to foster. So I teach that interiority is important. I’d rather know a little bit more about what’s going on in a character than a little bit less in any given moment, especially if you’re a writer who’s on the fence abut this whole interiority thing and you suspect that you don’t have a lot.

This brings me to third person. It’s first person’s more “distant” sister. And because first person POV already has the perceived advantage of being more “accessible,” third person writers (those brave souls!) need to fight a little bit harder–or at least be more deliberate–about making sure that the reader can still access interiority.

Most third person is “close,” meaning you technically can access one brain, usually the protagonist’s. Writing without this modification is really difficult. Writing “omniscient” is also difficult, as it involves “head-hopping” into many characters’ psyches, which (if you’re going to master the technique) involves pretty advanced characterization and voice development for each new personality.

So in close, you have some options. You can use the “thought” tag to voice a thought verbatim (put it in italics), then add “she thought.” Or just leave it in italics and leave the tag off. Readers will catch on to what you’re doing.

Why did I ever think calculus was a good idea? What an idiot.

Another idea is to narrate interiority just as you would in third person, only using the different POV.

“She looked at the exam in disgust before handing it over and skulking away, certain she’d failed.”

Lots of emotion in that example. For those writers who have trouble addressing interiority directly and want training wheels, dialogue is going to be your best friend. That and action.

“Thanks for nothing,” she said, shuffling out of the exam room and slamming the door behind her.

Subtle, these examples are not. But they all convey emotion, which is the point of interiority. No matter how directly you want to address the issue, whether you want to break third person for a peek into direct thoughts, or stick to third person that gets into the character’s head a little, or stay away from thoughts completely and deal with dialogue and actions, you should be thinking of ways to inject more emotion so that your characters’ inner lives rise a bit more to the surface. You’ll never regret fostering that connection to the reader and putting a little more heart on your character’s sleeve.

 

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8. Illustrator Saturday – David Small

MY PUBLICITY PHOTO copy-2I noticed that illustrator David Small’s new book, Catch That Cookie was hitting the bookshelves on August 14th, so I contacted him to see if he would like to be featured on Illustrator Saturday. He will be doing a book tour in September, so I’ll make sure I tell you all the ins and outs as soon as I know them. It will be a great opportunity to meet him and Hallie Durand, if they are coming to a bookstore near you.

Here is a little bit about David:

David Small was born and raised in Detroit. In school he became known as “the kid who could draw good,” but David never considered a career in art because it was so easy for him. At 21, after many years of writing plays, David took the advice of a friend who informed him that the doodles he made on the telephone pad were better than anything he had ever written. He switched his major to Art and never looked back. After getting his MFA at the Yale Graduate School of Art, David taught art for many years on the college level, ran a film series and made satirical sketches for campus newspapers.

Approaching tenure, he wrote and illustrated a picture book, “Eulalie and the Hopping Head”, which he took to New York, pounding the pavements and collecting rejections for a month in the dead of winter. “Eulalie” was published in 1981. Although tenure at the college did not follow, many more picture books did, as well as extensive work for national magazines and newspapers. His drawings appeared regularly in The New Yorker and The New York Times. A learn-as-you-go illustrator, David’s books have been translated into several languages, made into animated films and musicals, and have won many of the top awards accorded to illustration, including the 1997 Caldecott Honor and The Christopher Medal for “The Gardener” written by his wife, Sarah Stewart, and the 2001 Caldecott Medal for “So, You Want To Be President?” by Judith St. George.

“At the Caldecott ceremony in San Francisco,” said David, “facing that veritable sea of smiling faces — of librarians, of friends in publishing, of my family and other well-wishers— I was so overcome that I lost my voice and croaked my way through the speech. Having been turned from a frog into a prince by the American Library Association, before their eyes that night, I turned back into a frog.” To date he has illustrated over 40 picture books. At an average of 40 pages per book, that makes around 1,840 illustrations, though someone ought to check that math. Currently David is working on a graphic memoir about his problematic youth.

David Small and Sarah Stewart make their home in an 1833 manor house on a bend of the St. Joseph River in southwest Michigan. David’s studio is an 1890 farmhouse also overlooking the river, just a short walk from home.

Here’s David discussing his process for the cover of his new book, CATCH THAT COOKIE written by Hallie Durand:

JKT 1

Every picture-book has its unique set of problems in the making of it. This one had relatively few worries on the interior art but, what we didn’t know was: we had a long hard struggle coming up, trying to find a good title and a good jacket design as well. This was a first jacket sketch, from back in the summer of 2013, when the working title was “Searching for Gingerbread”, which nobody liked.

JKT 2

By December, Holly had come up with a great title. I still clung to that original pose for the Kid but, as you can see from my inked notations, we were already discussing a different attitude, one without the theatrical “Scout-Searching-the-Plains” hand over the eyes.

JKT 3

Here the Kid’s pose is more dynamic, but still something was wrong. Nobody thought the Kid should be able to see the Cookie. They were right: it made it look like an uneven match.

JKT 4

Here their positions are reversed. The hiding cookie seemed okay, but the Kid has no verve. The thrill was going out of this jacket project. By now, six months had passed. It was February 2014, I was working from my studio in Mexico, and our deadline for a jacket was coming up very soon. We decided to get the creative juices kick-started by taking a radically-different approach. (We had no idea what that approach would be, only that it had to be radical. [Slide #4a:] Lily (the Art Director) and I decided to comb over some old movie posters for dynamic image ideas. Here is Mark Wahlberg as “Max Payne.”

JKT 5

…. and here is the Kid saying: “Stop right there, you darn cookie! Put your doughy little arms up or suffer maximum pain!”

JKT 6

Another wrong direction. The illustrator’s panic shows in the whole pose. I and Lily, Holly and two editors– were working every day, all day and often into the night on this. We had passed the deadline long ago and were nearing the drop-deadline. We had to find another way!

JKT 7

Some smart-thinking person (not me,) had come up with this “WANTED” poster for the back jacket. Another person (also not me,) decided it might work as the front jacket.

JKT 8

For several days we went with that, but nobody was getting buzzed. This one had too much text to read …

JKT 9

…this had less text but still no “Grab-Me-Off-The-Shelf” appeal.

JKT 10

How this– the final jacket design–evolved, was a similar ordeal full of false starts, wrong turns, bad decisions, do-overs and raw nerves but we finally got it. And that, in the end, is all that matters. I’ve shown you 10 examples here, but in my archives I have at least 50 different comps for this jacket, which doesn’t count all the others that went into the trash. It now seems amazing, unusual — even weird– that it took so long to get this right., but so it goes.

BELOW: DAVID ANSWERS TO THE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS I ASKED:

When did you first know you were destined to become an artist?

When I realized I was not fit for life in the real world and that any normal employment was out of the question.

QUIET PLACE

Did you always live in Michigan?

No. I’ve lived in Chicago, in Boston, in New Haven and in a small burg in Upstate New York. Also, you should know that there are two Michigans: one is called Detroit, and I’ve done time in both.

MONEY TREE Jkt
What was the first thing you illustrated and got paid for doing?

An article in the NYTimes Book Review. I was in NYC for 2 months, trying to market my first children’s book. (This was in the early 1980’s, before the Internet, when you had to be in NYC to get work there.) I  went up to the Times to the office of Steve Heller, showed him my portfolio, and then and there he gave  me an assignment for the Book Review. Since he wanted it the next day, I stayed up all night, working on
the floor of an empty apartment on W. 10th Street. (Some friends had loaned us their apartment while  they moved into another one, and the place had no furniture except a bed and a lamp.)

COWS Jkt
Do you feel getting your MFA at the Yale Graduate School of Art helped develop your style?

No. I had a far better art education getting my BFA at Wayne State University in Detroit, during the ‘60’s.

goergecowsinterior
What made you decide to go to Yale vs. other schools for art?

I didn’t make the decision. My mentor– a Boston artist named Michael Mazur–decided I needed to go to grad school. Mike had gone to Yale, was good friends with the printmaker Gabor Peterdi, who at that time taught in the Printmaking Department at Yale, and he used his influence to get me in.

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Did you have a favorite class at Yale?

Life Drawing was always my favorite class, wherever I was. At Wayne I had had great instructors in drawing the figure and Anatomy, so by the time I got to Yale all I really needed was to be left alone to continue practicing.
You may sense a certain “distant” tone when I speak about Yale? At the time I was
there, in the early 70’s, the Yale Grad School of Art was a ruptured institution, with one part of the faculty –the Traditionalists–at war with another, the Abstractionists. This tension got passed along to the students, who basically stayed hidden away in their studios, coming out only for the faculty group critiques of their work. These forums were staged in public, in an open pit, with people watching from the balconies tiered around that space. They were like gladitorial games and they always devolved into ideological screaming-matches between the professors, while students were frequently driven away in tears. I got spared these ordeals because we Printmaking majors weren’t considered actual artists.

georgescowinterior
You mention in your bio that you began with writing plays. Do you think you will ever write another play?

Making graphic novels is much like play writing, and it’s even more like film-making.

BOOK WOMAN Jkt
Do you feel getting your MFA at Yale opened doors for you?

Absolutely. In the world of academe, that Yale degree has genuine snob appeal. Out in the world of actual illustration, Art Directors at magazines and publishing houses could care less where you went to school. They don’t read your resume, they just look at your portfolio.

My opinion of art schools in general is they offer you two important things: 1) a place to work where you can avoid having to be out in the world while you develop your art, and, if you’re lucky, 2) possibly one or two good instructors who might encourage you. I still think the portfolio is more important than the degree.

DINOS Jkt
What was the catalyst for your first picture book, “Eulalie and the Hopping Head”?

My family. I grew up feeling my parents wanted to trade me in for a different model.

EULALE Jkt
Where did you teach art? How did the job to teach art come along?

I first taught at the S.U.N.Y. college at Fredonia. I presume it was the Yale degree that put me in the running for that position, but also, my work was substantial and I interviewed well. That job lasted 7 years. I left that institution -and tenure — when I was hired at Kalamazoo College ,which had all the qualities I was looking for in a place to teach; it was small, it offered a real quality education, it had that
Georgian architecture ( the look of a little Parnassus-On-A-Hill) and –a big plus–there were very few Art majors. That meant that my students came from other disciplines like the sciences and language, and so, had other interests than flinging paint around.

After 4 years there, the Reagan Recession hit and colleges everywhere began cutting positions to save money. My position was eliminated and my wife and I –both around 40 years old at that time– found ourselves out on the street, with no jobs, no savings and no place to live. At the time it seemed like a disaster, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. It pushed me out into the world of work. If I had stayed in academe I think I might have withered away and dried up completely.

OCF Jkt
How did you land your gigs with The New Yorker and The New York Times?

I showed them my portfolio and, to my surprise, they hired me. Then they hired me again. But there was  absolutely no certainty that they would ever hire you after that. This uncertainly–to me– was exhilarating, and stillis. It’s so different from academia, where you could relax and be assured that your next paycheck would be coming in.

RUBY MAE Jkt
Do you still do illustrations for magazines?

No. Maybe things have changed now, but for the years when I worked for magazines, the work was always very interruptive, the pay was low, and it all had to be done very fast. The pace got even crazier with the advent of fax machines, overnight delivery and the Internet.

FRIEND Jkt
Which books of yours were recreated into animated films and musicals?

IMOGENE’S ANTLERS was made into a great little mini-musical. Weston Woods has made films of SYWTB President?, MY SENATOR AND ME, and– coming soon– ONE COOL FRIEND.

friendinterior
Did your illustrating and your wife’s writing bring the two of you together?

No. A mutual friend introduced us at a party and it was love at first sight. I loved her face, her intellect, and the tiny vase of live violas she wore around her neck that night. We were friends for eight years before we married.

friendinterior2
Was it fun working on “The Gardener” that your wife Sarah Stewart wrote?

The word “fun” did not enter my work vocabulary on that project The story ,as you know, is set in the Great Depression, and concerns a child whose family can’t afford to keep her. She is torn away from everything she knows and loves and is sent off to work for her uncle in the city. When I illustrate a story I have to make my own. That is, I have to find myself in it. With The Gardener, at first and for a long time, I agonized over the pain and loneliness that child must have felt. I couldn’t find any light in it. Also, I was familiar with the black and white photos from that era, of the
starving families in the Dust Bowl, of the urban bread lines … It wasn’t pretty. I decided it was beyond my powers to illustrate that story, and I was ready to turn back the contract. Then came a breakthrough.

I had a talk with Lydia Grace Finch–the gardener friend of Sarah’s on whose childhood Sarah had based her story. I asked Lydia what it was like growing up during the Depression.She said: “I was just a kid like any other kid. I didn’t know what ‘the Depression’ was; that was just life. We all had to work, of course.
We worked hard, but we also knew how to enjoy ourselves. I had a lot of fun during the Depression!”

That conversation was an eye-opener for me. I put it together with my own childhood memories of growing up young and innocent in Detroit, and suddenly things began to develop rapidly on paper. I guess, maybe, at that point it started to be fun.

GARDENER Jkt
How excited were the two of you to win The Christopher Medal and receive a Caldecott Honor for that book in 1997?

Very excited and surprised as well. It was stunning for both of us, to have such a private, personal experience given such huge recognition by the larger world.

gardenerinterior
Did you see a jump in demand for your illustrating after those wins?

I suppose I did. I know I started getting offered a lot of manuscripts that resembled Sarah’s but that weren’t Sarah’s, so I really had no interest in doing them.

gardenerinterior2
Did you have any idea that “So, You Want To Be President?” by Judith St. George would win the Caldecott?

I personally didn’t think that book would sell five copies. But, speaking of “fun?” … that book was fun to make! Maybe that’s why I had little hopes for it, because it seemed more like bad-boy misconduct than work.

SYWTBPres Jkt
Once we realized that a Presidential election (Bush v. Gore) was coming up that very Fall, we stepped up the production schedule and I had to work very quickly; I didn’t have time to fuss and fret over every drawing. So, maybe my pessimissim about its prospects was related to my anxiety that maybe I hadn’t done a “perfect job”. (Aways a worry.)

presidentroosevelt
Was Imogene’s Antlers the second picture book that you wrote? How did you find a home with a publisher for that book?

It was the fifth book I had illustrated, the second book I wrote. The editor of my first book– Alan Benjamin– had just become the Senior Buying Editor at Crown. Nobody among the higher-ups at Crown wanted to buy that book, but Alan made them publish it. He had a sense about it. He and I shared that bad-boy quality in our taste for books, but Alan was also very suave, very urbane, and could be very persuasive.

IMOGENE Jkt
When did you meet your agent Holly McGhee?

It must have been 1997, the year she began Pippin Properties. I had given up on my search for a literary agent because all of the ones I met, for one reason or another, I had found disturbing. (One of them — a very famous kids book agent– was an outright crook. I had been warned away fromhim by several of my peers, but I interviewed him just to see if they were right. They were right. He met all red flag points on the official “How To Recognize a Sociopath” list. After that creepy encounter I had decided to go back to being agentless.

Then, Holly McGhee wrote to me. Her letter not only showed a genuine interest in– and enthusiasm for — my work, but she already had an impressive list of clients including William Steig and Jon Agee. When I met her face-to-face and found myself talking not to a self-inflated suit but to a genuine, straight-talking human being, I was convinced. I knew that she could help bring some business clarity to my life.

imogeneinterior
Were you Holly’s first client?
I was not the very first, but I was among them.

imogeneinterior2
Was it hard to write “Stitches,” since it is so heartfelt?

It took me about 7 years to make that book, and yes, it was very very hard to make. But, that being said, I was driven to do it. All the false starts, all the re-do’s, the frustrations and self-doubts, the piles of material that ended up in the trash and the fifteen full-length versions (all of them different) were just things that seemed very necessary to working out a coherent story.

Holly, by the way, was very involved with Stitches from the beginning. She edited the first 12 versions of it. When we finally had it in a form she thought she could present with confidence, she spent a whole year of research to find a list of 6 editors at 6 different houses where she thought my book would fit. After that, she and the other Pips spent months putting together a presentation package. About that, Holly said, “I want this thing to be so extraordinary-looking that an editor will immediately
pop it into their briefcase and read it on the train ride home.” The day after she sent it out she immediately got 5 offers.

STITCHES jkt
Was that your first graphic novel?

Yes.

stitichesinterior
Which one of your books is your favorite?

Stitches is the book of my life, okay?–but it is in a much, much different category from the picture books. Of those, The Money Tree (by Sarah ) and my own Paper John were probably the most  meaningful, because they both were pulled up from some place very deep in us both. As for the 50+  other picture books, I have to give the by-now cliched but still very-honest answer: I don’t play favorites with my children. That said, there are a few of those children who–although I wish them well– I’d prefer not to see again. You try the best you can every time, but sometimes the stars are misaligned ….  something has gone wrong.

PAPER JOHN Jkt
What is your favorite material to us when you do a colored illustration?

I first draw in waterproof ink, then do the color in water color and pastels.

paperjohn
Have your materials changed since your first published book?

Yes. By the time I did So, You Want To Be President? I was getting tired of Realism and was ready for a change in both my style and materials. That was when I loosened up my drawing style, began drawing more with a brush, and working in some patches of pastel chalk, for more emphatic color.

paperhohninterior
Have you tried your hand at Photoshop or drawing with a graphic tablet?

I have. Like everyone else in this ramped-up age of publishing, I was seduced by the “apparent” speed with which changes can be made with the computer, and by some of the impressive effects achieved by a few of the artists who use it. But, when I started taking Photoshop lessons I realized that I disliked more things about the medium than I liked. Most of all I missed the disconnect between the hand and the image. I missed having inky fingers and masses of art supplies surrounding me. I found out that being able to make speedy changes was not necessarily a good a thing for me: it felt strange that a drawing could be instantly evaporated into the ether, without having time to mellow and to reveal its good aspects. I should add that, when I go to an exhibit of original art I prefer to see original hand-made art, not a digital print-out. From the former I feel I’m always learning something useful about what the human hand is capable of doing, while from the latter I generally learn nothing. I also see a lot of computer artists trying clumsily to imitate the effects of
hand-drawn work. I’m not saying I’m against digitally-generated images, I’m only saying it’s not for me.

jane and david
Do you spend any time promoting your work or does Holly take care of all that for you?

I spend Zero time in self-promotion. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. Holly is my advocate, my procurer (heh) , my confessor, my confidante, occasionally (as with Stitches,) my first editor and one of my best friends. As Artistic Director of her own company now, she chooses the best artists and authors she can find, gets them the best contracts she can, and lets their work stand for itself.

Promotion is up to the publishers and their Marketing Departrments. What makes them get behind a book –or not– is always a mystery, but I have to trust them. In any case, I’d much rather have them out there, doing all that, than doing it myself. I have other fish to fry.

HOOVER Jkt
What do you feel was your greatest success?

You can have many different kinds of success. There are books that might have been commercially successful that were not, in your own opinion, so successful as works of art or literature. There are books you are very proud of from an aesthetic standpoint, which sink without a trace. There are books that have a big critical success but which, for some reason, the public doesn’t go for. I’ve had all of  these.

The 2001 Caldecott Medal ceremony was the most astonishing public display of success I’ve  ever experienced. I think almost everyone present, that night in San Francisco, felt that something really significant had been done by the ALA. The crowd was immense and the air was electric. There was something very daring and spirited about the committee’s choice that year. I am sure it had something to
do with the political miasma swirling in D.C. at the time, and with the sense that Judy St. George, our editor Patricia Gauch and I had delivered some straight-talk to American children about the real human beings–full of real talents and real faults — who have held the highest office in the land. So, it was an enormous thrill being at the center of all that , but what I felt mainly was a fearsome lack of words with
which to express adequate thanks to the givers.

JOURNEY Jkt
Since you have a separate studio, would you tell us a little bit about it?

We have two houses on our property. One is the house we live in, the other–a 3-minute walk along the riverbank– is my studio, which occasionally doubles as a guest house. When I used to work at home Sarah and I found the intertwining of our lives too distracting. Sarah needs absolute silence, while I need music on, sometimes very loud, when I work. Sarah likes to leave the phone off the hook, but I don’t
mind interruptions. I enjoy emails, while Sarah has never touched a computer and won’t have one in the house. Those are significant differences, but we both share a need for privacy, so having separate work spaces –when we finally got them–was a big relief. That being said, I have to tell you that Sarah never once complained while I was at work at home, but, when the opportunity came along for me to have a studio, she was on it like spots on dice.

FENWICK Jkt
Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

No. I don’t have a stopwatch for the amount of time I put into my work , just as I don’t go over my Profit & Loss sheets. I pay no attention to time and I pay even less to money. If I paid attention to those things, my worries would be all about time and money. As it is, my worries are all about art.

BANANA Jkt
Do you take pictures or do any types of research, before you start a project?

For things like architectural styles and period costumes one must have research tools, books and the Internet. Computers are amazing tools for this, but I cherish equally my collection of books, which is big. A book is a often a better research tool, especially when you don’t know specifically what you’re looking for, you often find it by leafing through the pages.

bananainterior
Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Oh yes! I live on a prairie outside a small farming village, Population 800. There is a distinct lack of culture out here. We have a very small library, but nothing else, no museums, no theatres. Even though Chicago and Detroit are only 3 hours distant, we visit them only occasionally and for very brief stays. With e-mail I communicate daily with business friends, editors and art directors in NYC and with close friends in
Boston, San Francisco, Mexico, Paris and Brazil. It’s fantastic.

UNDERNEATH Jkt

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

I hope to keep working and to fall over into my ink bottle when I croak. If there is an afterlife I hope they have a good art supply store there.

princess

What are you working on now?

I have a book coming out with Dial this September, CATCH THAT COOKIE! written by Hallie Durand. Next year will see GLAMOURPUSS by Sarah Weeks (Scholastic, Spring 2015.) At the moment I’m working on finals for BLOOM by Doreen Cronin (Atheneaum, Spring 2016.) I also have a graphic novel in the works. That will be published by Liveright.

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Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

A few years ago I fell in love with a refillable brush pen made in Japan and distributed by Pentel. I buy mine from Wetpaint in St. Paul MN. (On their website store, click on Brush Pens and it will be the first item listed.) I drew most of Stitches with that pen, and I always travel with them to use in my sketchbooks.

As for”How To” tips, I have two good ones:

A. Always carry a sketchbook with you and use it. If you’re self-conscious about people watching you, wear tinted glasses and develop a “don’t mess with me” look. (You are, after all, at work, and you have to focus at all costs.)
B. If you’re learning watercolor, try to put down no more than three layers of color, the first having so little paint in it that you can hardly detect any color. This advice comes from good old John Ruskin’s “Elements of Drawing” (1857.) When I can calm my own impatient impulses and follow it, a painting usually works out beautifully. When I forget Ruskin’s tip, my painting gets muddy and has to be done again.

LIBRARY Jkt

Any words of wisdom you have on how to become a successful illustrator would be appreciated?

Sure. Don’t think about being a successful illustrator. Just try being a great one. Copy the old Masters.

B&WJKT 4a

Thank you David for sharing your journey, expertise, and process with us. Good luck with CATCH THE COOKIE. I hope it is a big success.

Here is the Amazon link for anyone who wants to check it out: CATCH THAT COOKIE by Hallie Durand.  Can anyone tell me who is Hallie Durand?

You can visit David at his website: http://www.davidsmallbooks.com

Please take a minute to leave David a comment. I am sure he would love to hear from you and as always, I would, too.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, Process, Tips Tagged: Caldecott Medal, Catch the Cookie, David Small, Sarah Stewart, Yale Graduate School of Art

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9. Matchmaking for Writers: Critique Partners

erikaphoto-45Jersey Farm Scribe here on:

Matchmaking for Writers: Critique Partners

It’s your baby, your pride and joy. It’s put you through countless cups of coffee, frustration and tears, drizzled with moments of incomparable joy when things just click. Fingernails have been shredded, dishes have piled up, and sleep?? You’ve basically forgotten what that is.

And now you’re supposed to let someone else actually READ it????

AND CRITIQUE IT???

But what if they don’t understand?? They don’t know the characters like I do!! How can I just hand it over to someone else, basically for the sole purpose of being criticized?

What am I? A masochist?

You want the honest answer? It’s simple. The answer is: Yes. Yes, you are. J

Here you are, actively seeking someone who will point out the flaws in your work… the more the better. And it’s going to hurt.

But you don’t want people to just tell you they loved it and what a great writer you are. Well… you do (or at least I certainly do! Sometimes I just need that motivator, that lift, that person that makes me feel good about my work, and myself). But that’s what your friends and family are for! If you do happen to be friends with your critique partners, you need to separate that friendship from the critique process.

It’s incredibly nerve-wracking to hand your manuscript to someone else. And it’s exciting at the same time. This means you have something complete enough for someone to actually read! Go you!! Now you have to be brave enough to let them.

Finding the Right Partners

There is a balance in a good critique partner that just fits. And like most relationships, it’s almost hard to put into words. (Unfortunately there is no eHarmony for us!) Finding the right person or people makes all the difference in what you get out of the process.

Here are a few things I look for:

Praise and critique combo: Everyone has a balance here. Rarely will you find someone who would just say “this stinks”. Most people will balance negatives will some level of positive. But personally, I want someone who isn’t afraid to tell me about major holes or plot arcs that they don’t think work, even if it means a huge re-write. But, for that ego side of me, I also need someone who can also point out a think or two that they DO like, and even better, WHY they like it. This also helps me see my own strengths so I can guide my writing in that direction in the future.

Relative Match in Style: While I don’t think the genres need to match, there does need to be some common ground. Someone who writes zombie thrillers may not be on the same page as a picture book author.   Personal beliefs can come into play here as well. Some people believe strongly in books that push boundaries, others in the value of simplicity and comfort more within those same boundaries. Certainly neither person is right or wrong, but the two would probably not make good critique partners.

They GET Your Writing: You don’t want someone who is going to push you to be anyone other than the true writer inside you, so you need them to appreciates your voice.   If your voice as a writer comes through as an edgy, jaded teenager from a broken home, and your critique partner only likes upbeat, bubbly writing, they’re going to want your writing to be less… you.   No one can (or should) please everyone.   No writing voice pleases everyone either.   You need someone who will encourage the voice inside you to come out.

You Love THEIR Writing: Critique partners is often set up as an exchange. My critique partners are people whose writing I highly respect, I enjoy reading their work, and I learn from their writing. You want someone who you can build a mutual relationship with over time, sharing the ups and downs and exchanging motivation.

Good Communication: Are you looking for just a few comments? Line edits? Overall thoughts? At different stages in the process you may be in need of completely different types of critiques. For example, if you’re submitting to an agent in two days, you may be looking for typos, simple fixes, odd word usage, but NOT major character or plot changes. You need to be able to trust that you can communicate that to them without a problem.

Good critique partners are worth their weight in GOLD. I have been so lucky to have found a few who are amazing, and it really is hard to put into words. Their feedback has been helpful, not just for that particular manuscript, but has given me perspective on my writing that flows forward into all my work.

And as I’ve said before, like Kathy said to me the first time she gave me a critique. critiques are SUGGESTIONS NOT INSTRUCTIONS. It’s important to be open-minded, and put serious non-biased consideration (at least as non-biased as possible) into every one. But don’t feel pressured to take them all. A good critique partner will also never be offended if you didn’t take their suggestions.

Critiques are an important part in the journey of writing and publication. It may take a few tries to find the partners that work best for you. But it’s important to keep looking, because good critique partners can really help you bring your manuscript, and your writing in general, to the next level.

So take the plunge, send work out to be read by others, and find the critique partners that work for you.

Because your manuscripts are worth it!

Thank you Erika for another super article. I am sure everyone will enjoy reading this.

If you are looking for a critique group, you should look first to your local SCBWI Chapter. They should be able to set you on the right path. Plus, don’t forget you can find other writers from around the country to work with online.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, inspiration, Process, Tips Tagged: Critique Partners, Erika Wassall, Jersey Farm Scribe, Matchmaking for Writers, Writing and Illustrating

2 Comments on Matchmaking for Writers: Critique Partners, last added: 8/13/2014
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10. Bridging Conflict

If you’ve read any of Donald Maass’ work, you may be familiar with the idea of “bridging conflict.” It’s a small bit of conflict before the inciting incident (the event that launches the plot) comes along. I want to talk about it in a little bit more detail.

But first, some empathizing. Writers are bombarded with advice (guilty as charged here, I know I’ve definitely contributed to this). Jump right into the action. Don’t just right in. Let’s have the inciting incident within the first 10 pages. You’re rushing into it! We need a physical description of your protagonist on the first page. You’re focusing on details that don’t matter! Don’t tell, show! Don’t show, tell! AAAH! It’s crazymaking.

And I’m seeing the effects of this confusion on writers who are trying to check all the boxes that they may have read about on well-meaning blogs and in helpful books. One symptom of this that I want to discuss today is starting too big. Yes. This is going to be one of those bits of advice that is controversial, because it seems contradictory.

Everywhere you look, you see blogs telling you to start with action, start big, and get readers hooked right away. And there’s a lot of good to this advice. It’s a great kick in the rear for writers who like to begin with twenty pages of chit-chat and backstory before anything actually happens. This is telling upon telling, and it’s likely your readers aren’t sticking around until your first plot point.

So is the natural antidote to this an explosion on page two? That might seem like a good idea. And I’m seeing it more and more. But let me tell you why it’s a well-meaning thought gone awry. I liken this situation to a first date. You meet a guy or gal at a restaurant after chatting online for a bit. In this situation, you’re very much like a fiction reader. You liked the cute cover, you liked the interesting blurb, you want to give this book a shot and devote a few hours of your time to it. You start some small talk, and, if you’re on a date with one of those slow-starting manuscripts, your date is likely to talk for the entire duration of dinner, filling you in on their entire life up until this point. That’s undesirable, right? Well, let’s talk about the flip side. What if your date suddenly has a massive episode and flops to the floor, seizing, before the first round of drinks arrives?

How do you feel (other than, you know, horrified because you’re a nice person)? It’s bizarre to imagine. Why? Because it’s too big. It’s an event but it’s too high stakes, too dangerous, too sudden. You don’t even know the guy. If he were to be hauled off in an ambulance, you wouldn’t know who to call because you just met him!

In opening a novel, it’s all about balance. You don’t want to blab for three hours, but you also don’t want to open with “Hey guess what, there’s a prophecy and you’re the chosen one to save the world. So, you know, get to it, kiddo.” One is too small on plot, one is too big. That’s why smart people like Donald Maass advocate for “bridging conflict” to start. You want to start with some action to get tension brewing. Maybe a conversation with one’s crush, or anxiety about an upcoming test, or a sibling getting in trouble and asking for help. Let that be the focus of the first chapter. And if this conflict is related to the main plot, even better. But it’s not the main plot, not yet. Because we have to care about the character before we’ll follow them through a really rigorous plot full of stakes, ups, and downs. Just like we should probably get to know our unlucky date a bit more before we’ll hop into the ambulance and follow him to the hospital.

Because before we have established a connection using some smaller, more manageable conflict, the protagonist is just a kid. The reader hasn’t bonded yet. The intricate relationship between the fictional entity and the audience is still too new, too tenuous. But once we get to know the hero a little bit, we start to invest. Just like if the date goes horribly wrong near the end of the night, it’s not just some guy who’s having an attack, it’s Pete! Who grew up three blocks away from you! And he’s allergic to peanuts! And why, oh why, did you order pad thai for the table?! And you’re that much more likely to care, to feel, to buy in. Keep it manageable at first, then ramp up the stakes and really get rolling on your main conflict.

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11. Agent Talk: 7 Ways To Make Yourself An Easy Author to Work With

carly-watters-p-s-literary-agencyA few weeks ago, Agent Carly Watters on her blog talked about after you write a great manuscript, how does an agent decide to work with someone after that? She has seven tips.

7 Ways To Make Yourself An Easy Author to Work With by Carly Watters:

1. Open to revisions

Right away, I know if an author is going to be a fit for me based on how they react to revision ideas. Agents are looking for writers that are open to feedback and collaboration. If I gave you an R&R did you connect with my notes? Did you ask questions that take my notes from suggestions to big picture changes that make the novel better?

2. Always wants to get better

A line I like to use is “trust your future self.” What that means to me is if you can write good novel, you can write many more. Getting defensive about your novel means you are holding on to it when really you should be willing to let it go and work on the next. Agents are looking to represent authors for the long term, so what we need is the faith that you want to be the best writer, every time you write a new book. We know there will be ups and downs, but it’s that drive to succeed that will separate many writers from the ones that don’t make it.

3. Treats assistants and senior industry members alike

From time to time we get people who respond to our query letter auto-response with condescending and mean emails. It doesn’t matter who is on the other end of those emails, our principal agent or our assistant, you have to be friendly to everyone–not just the people who influence your career. Those mean emails just reinforce our decision to pass without a second thought.

4. Asks questions

I love it when authors want to know more about the process. Don’t be shy about wanting to know how the business works. Whether it’s a Twitter #askagent session or when you’re on ‘The Call’ with an agent, make sure you ask the important questions that help your understanding.

5. Trusts us

The number one way to work with an agent for a long period of time is trust. I know this isn’t built over night, but you have to trust your agent to have your best interests at heart. This is one of the most important long-term author/agent relationship requirements. Only query agents that you see yourself working with and that you already trust (whether it’s a referral, their taste or client list).

6. Communication

This is part of trust, but authors have to be up-front with agents. Did you self publish before? Have you had an agent before? Can you share your sales numbers from your previous book? It’s the little things that add up when it comes to communication. We need to know everything if we’re going to represent you well.

7. Professional on social media

As easy as it is for authors to Google agents to see if we might be a fit for you, when we fall in love with a query or manuscript the first thing we do is Google you back. What agents love to see on social media is a personality (not just link blasts). You don’t have to have a ton of followers (but points if you do!) to get our attention. It’s all about the balance between promotion and personality. We love it when authors are part of writing communities and support other authors. That means, when the time comes, those other published writers will support you too.

You should check out Carly’s Blog: http://carlywatters.com/blog/

PS Literary is looking for an intern. Carly has information about working remotely for them. If you have any aspirations to become a literary Agent, this would be something to consider.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Agent, article, authors and illustrators, list, opportunity, Social Media, Tips Tagged: 7 Ways to Make Yourself an Easy Author to Work with, Carly Watters

3 Comments on Agent Talk: 7 Ways To Make Yourself An Easy Author to Work With, last added: 8/10/2014
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12. Reviewing Poetry Books: Why Does It Matter?

Please welcome the incredible Jeannine Hall Gailey to the blog! She’s going to cover a topic that I don’t feel gets enough coverage: poetry book reviews.

I’m enjoying the guest posts on this blog, but they can only continue with your participation. If you have an idea, send it my way at robert.brewer@fwmedia.com, and we’ll work to flesh it out. No idea is too big, too small, or too “out there.” Okay, maybe some are, but I won’t judge.

*****

I recently had just this conversation over coffee with a colleague: Why do you write book reviews? I’ve been reviewing poetry books for almost a decade now, mostly (luckily) books I’ve loved, a few books I’ve been indifferent about, and very few books I’ve hated.

Does it benefit you in any way? Does it help your writing career? What do you gain from it?

All perfectly valid questions, and, easy to understand. Most of my reviews are unpaid, though I’ve been paid for a portion of them. It’s a lot of time and effort to spend lifting up someone else’s work, without a lot of reward – I mean, very few authors or publishers write me happy notes, saying “Thank you so much for that thoughtful review!”

Why Review Poetry Books?

The reward, I started to say, was being part of the larger critical conversation, where, let’s face it, not enough women are being heard. Reviewing teaches you to be a close and careful reader of books by writers I admire and respect, tests your aesthetic preferences and prejudices, and encourages you to slow down and pay attention to the poetry world around you, what’s being published, and by whom, what isn’t being published and why.

For instance, Copper Canyon Press and Wave Books are both Northwest publishers, but they have very different aesthetics. You learn something about publishers and publishing trends that might help you when you start sending your book around.

But even more than that, someone said to me in my late twenties, “If you want your poetry book to be reviewed, then you’d better review other people’s books.” In the spirit of paying it forward, we writers need to give back to our literary communities in real, concrete ways, and writing reviews is one of the ways we can do that.

In the same way that volunteering to edit at a literary magazine helps you understand the process of rejection and acceptance, reviewing helps you understand why your own book may or may not be reviewed.

How Do I Know If I Can Write Book Reviews?

Another question I’ve gotten a lot comes from a different angle: “How do I know if I’m qualified to write a book review? I mean, I have an MFA, but…” I hear this all the time.

How do you start writing literary criticism? I started out getting a lot of practice, starting at NewPages.com reviewing literary magazines, and from there I just kept practicing, writing for more and more outlets, some more chatty, others more academic.

If you want to learn how to review a book, read the reviews in some of the literary magazines you already enjoy, but also pick up The New York Times Review of Books, The Women’s Review of Books, Poetry Flash, The Review Review, and The American Book Review. Find and read the reviews from some of our best poetry critics, like Stephen Burt, one of my particular “critic heroes.”

Check out some of the more lively online review venues, like The Rumpus, to see what the hipsters are reading and reviewing (but full disclosure: I review for The Rumpus and cannot, strictly, be called any kind of hipster). After all that reading, you’ll have a good feel for what’s required, so just try your hand, practice, and send out some queries!

There are never enough good poetry reviews out there, and despite my aforementioned lack of poetry review thank-you-notes, authors will be grateful!

Jeannine Hall Gailey

Jeannine Hall Gailey

*****

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the former Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and the author of three books of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers.

In addition to being a great poet and supporter of poetry, including a guest judge for the 2014 April PAD Challenge on Day 27, she wrote a very generous review of Robert Lee Brewer’s debut collection, Solving the World’s Problems, in the most recent edition of Crab Creek Review. And Robert is very grateful!

Learn more about Jeannine (and buy some books) at her website: www.webbish6.com.

*****

Find more poetic goodies here:

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13. Amazon Reviews and Ebook Price Reductions

reviews

  • Give out a ARC to people who have a large following on their blogs, but ask them to commit to reading your book and doing a review. Need to work on this months before your book is released. Remember the more reviews you get the better your book will do, but they need to be good reviews.
  • For the people who you gave an ARC to, ask them to pass on the book to another person to read to expand your audience.
  • Ask everyone who does a review on Amazon to also put it up on Goodreads, too.
  • If you have an ebook, consider having Amazon offer it on their Deal of the Day. Reducing the price for a few days or a week, will boost your sales and start word of mouth.
  • Have family/friends/colleagues/fans buy your book during a ‘soft’ launch (pre-advertising, or promoting your book on social media).
  • Price your book at 99 cents (the lowest allowed by Amazon) and drive as much traffic as you can during your ‘soft’ launch window.  Once you have the bar filled you can re-price your book.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, How to, Marketing a book, need to know, reference, Tips Tagged: Advanced Reader Copy, Amazon Ebook Price Reduction, Amazon Reviews

1 Comments on Amazon Reviews and Ebook Price Reductions, last added: 8/7/2014
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14. Amazon Strategies: Sales Page

amazonsalespage

If your book is up on Amazon, you can have an Author Page. This is another opportunity for you, so use it. Here are a few tips:

1. Think of your book’s Amazon.com page as a ¼ page ad in a glossy magazine. You want to build excitement, hype, and the urge to buy rather than dutifully explaining your product.

2. Watch out for typos and grammar, so you put your best foot forward. Make sure what is written makes sense. If you can’t write a good Author Page, most people will think you can’t write a good novel, either.

3. Include review quotes. You want to draw someone into buying your book.

4. Put up book trailers, interviews, and videos on your Amazon page.

5. You can show recent blog posts and twitter entries.

6. List places your events and the dates.

7. Another thing you can do is to encourage a discussion with your fans on this page.

Let’s take a look at Yvonne Ventresca’s Author Page:

yvonneauthorpage

Yvonne has included a lot of the tips on the above list, but I’d like to see her add a few quotes from reviews of Pandemic, a book trailer, and to work on getting a video interview she can put up on the page. Adding these things will maximize the free space Amazon has given her and help increase the sales of her new book.

Good job, Yvonne!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, authors and illustrators, Book, list, Marketing a book, Publishing Industry, Tips Tagged: Amazon Sales Page, Maximize Book Sales, Pandemic, Yvonne Ventresca

2 Comments on Amazon Strategies: Sales Page, last added: 8/6/2014
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15. Amazon Strategies: Look Inside

amazonlook inside

blondeops

Let’s take a look at another feature that Amazon offers anyone who sells their books on their site.

Don’t miss out on using this feature. This is another reason why it is important to make sure your first chapter sings.

Personally for me to buy, I look over five things:

Price: I buy lots of ebooks that are offered at $1.99 or less, without having read anything about them.

Cover: I don’t buy books where I don’t like the cover, unless someone else said they were good. I guess I believe in first impressions.

Reviews: I read what book is about and a couple reviews. A few bad reviews don’t stop me from buying, since I’ve read many top-seller books that I thought were great that received a few terrible reviews.

Publisher: I check out who published the book. If it is from a well-known publisher, that could seal the deal right there.

Look inside: If I have not clicked the button to buy, I will “Look inside”. That’s when I put on my editor/agent hat and only give five minutes to the author to grab me before I make my decision. Sometimes the problem is that the book really grabs you and then you have to read the whole thing, even when the desk is piled with work and the kitchen needs to be clean. Many of those books have been self-published, so don’t stick your nose up at them or else you might missed something really good.

Here are some tips on using the “Look inside” feature.  

1. Keep front matter to a minimum. You want to make sure the reader can get to the meat of the story quickly. This is also important to do this with the full ebook.

2. Amazon Reviews. Work hard to get as many as you can when you launch the book. This will help raise your ranking and buyers who have read the first pages will look at this, especially if you are self-published.

3. At the end of your book you should ask the reader to write a review. Stats show that this helps you increase your sales numbers.

4. Hot New Releases List on Amazon should be in the forefront of your mind when planning a launch. Talk to your publisher to see if they have planned your novels launch based on other similar books coming out. If there are too many it will hurt your chances of making the list. The list is only good for the first 30 days of a books release.

5. Making sure your blog followers know about your book and doing book tours can help get the word out. It’s nice to get the buzz going, but you need to make sure you keep the big guns for the launch date.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, authors and illustrators, Internet, Marketing a book, Process, Publishing Industry, Tips Tagged: Amazon Look Inside, Amazon Strategies, How to Sell More Books, How to Sell More Books Workshop

7 Comments on Amazon Strategies: Look Inside, last added: 8/7/2014
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16. Character Buy-In

I’ve said often that the character is one of the main elements of a story that guides reader reaction/involvement. We look to characters to assess how we should be reacting, what we should believe, whether or not we should get invested. That’s what makes unreliable narrators so tricky–by the very nature of fiction, we, as readers, rely on the characters for a lot of our cues.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with quite a number of fantasy/sci-fi clients in my editorial business. And one of the biggest things I’ve been thinking about is “Character buy-in.” Before we’re ready to believe that dinosaurs roam the earth again (or whatever), the character has to believe it. Only then will the reader go along with the story and feel safe suspending disbelief. (We show up to the page with a certain willingness, but before we fully believe it, it has to be successfully sold to the protagonist or POV character.)

Let’s run with the dinosaur example, and I’m going to tell you a few issues that I’ve noticed when character buy-in isn’t accomplished as thoughtfully as it can be. The first issue is vacillation or flip-flopping. The second issue I’ll call “characterization friction.”

Flip-flopping. Let’s say we have a character who sees some dinosaurs running around à la Jurassic Park. It’s natural to question one’s eyesight and/or sanity if this happens, and your character can certainly do both of those things. But once that’s out of the way, it’s harmful to reader engagement to keep questioning whether they’re dreaming or not. Let’s say we see the dinosaurs on page 10 and have an immediate “Nuh-uh, this isn’t really happening” reaction. By page 11, once the dinosaurs have destroyed the school, the protagonist starts to buy in. “Maybe this is happening.” By page 12, they’re back in denial again. “This is all a dream and I’m going to wake up every second.” For the reader, who is waiting for the green light to buy into the story, this will get old very quickly. As long as the character keeps flip-flopping as to whether they’re going to play along with the plot, the reader subconsciously holds off going 100% into the story. You can do this once or twice, but there needs to be a moment that I can point to on the page where the protagonist decides, “This is real and I’m going to function as if it’s real from now on.” After that, no “I must be dreaming” business. You’ve devised the plot, now sell it and run with it.

Another issue here is that you’ve created a character who may clash with the overall plot, especially when it comes to buying in. If your super hippie-dippy out-there character refuses to believe that auras are taking over people’s bodies (the first example to come to mind, and it’s super lame, my apologies!), that strikes me as less likely. If that same character jumps into it and says, “This is super weird but I’m going along for the ride,” then I’m more likely to join her, because your characterization matches how she’s clicking into the story.

If you have an overly analytical, scientifically minded kid who is thrust into the dinosaur plot, and they jump into the deep end right away, there’s friction there for me. This character might need more proof, they might need to establish their own version of the truth before they can suspend disbelief. Long story short, characterization should be consistent with buy-in style, and without vacillating for too long.

This seems pretty self-explanatory, but I’m seeing some dissonance here as of late. What’s the moment your protagonist buys in? Is it decisive? Is their willingness to believe your story fast or slow? Is there flip-flopping? This moment is very important, because it’s guiding your reader, too.

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17. If You Don’t Read Magazines, Don’t Try to Write for Them

Magazine stackThe other day I was chatting with my Renegade Writer co-author, Diana Burrell, and she mentioned something that horrified me.

Diana teaches the fabulous Become an Idea Machine workshop that’s helped students land in the New York Times, Parenting, Success and other publications. She told me that more frequently than you would expect, she’ll suggest a student read through some magazines to help spur ideas, and they’ll reply:

“Oh, I don’t read magazines.”

Or, even worse:

“I hate magazines!”

I know this is not an uncommon scenario because when I do query critiques, sometimes it’s clear to me that the writer has not cracked open a magazine. Believe me, you can tell! For example, they’ll be pitching an edgy men’s publication and their query sounds like a government report, complete with 5-dollar words, passive case overdrive, and footnotes.

I’m not even sure how to respond to what I’m seeing out there. Why would anyone think that magazine writing is the only job in the known universe where you don’t need to know anything about the medium you hope to make money from, your clients’ products, or the marketplace?

It’s like if you were applying for a job as an accountant and you told your interviewer, “Well, I don’t know what accountants do and I don’t much like numbers, but will you give me a job?”

Of if you wanted to work at McDonald’s and you told your interviewer, “Oh, I’m a vegan and I’m morally against eating meat. I refuse to learn about your menu or serve burgers, but I want you to give me a job.”

This sounds ridiculous in all contexts — except, for some people, when talking about a freelance writing career.

Why?

I think there are a lot of Internet-famous business “gurus” out there who like to plug writing as an easy work-at-home gig where all you need is a laptop and the ability to string sentences together. After all, it’s FREElance, as in FREE to do whatever you want.

And that’s true IF you want to write $10 articles for the content mills.

But if you want to earn some decent money writing for top-notch trade, custom, and consumer magazines, for the love of all that is good and holy, you need to actually familiarize yourself with the magazine market.

When you want to become a magazine writer, reading magazines becomes a full-time job for you.

  • You read magazines you want to write for from cover to cover and study the writing, the departments, how articles are structured, and even the ads.
  • You read magazines you don’t want to write for, just for the hell of it.
  • You read Writer’s Market in its entirety every year.
  • You browse magazine directories online.
  • You become known as the crazy person who carts away stacks of outdated magazines from your hairdresser’s and doctor’s waiting rooms. (Yes, I have done this!)
  • You ask your neighbors to put their old to-be-recycled magazines on your porch. (Yep…done that too.)

When you go to the effort required to get to know the market, eventually it becomes ingrained in your brain. It becomes part of you.

So, for example…

  • When your kid’s school bus driver mentions she’d like to get into writing, you say, “Oh, you should try School Bus Fleet magazine.”
  • When you have an article idea about how to handle your tween’s hormonal temper tantrums, you know Family Circle may be a good market, but Parents is not.
  • Your article ideas become sharper and more focused because you’ve read hundreds of magazine articles and know what’s been done and how you can do it differently.
  • You’ll know that Inc. magazine ran an article two issues ago on a topic you want to pitch, so you’ll need to come up with a fresher slant if you want to query them.

This is not optional, folks. If you want to write for magazines, you need to read them. No, you need to study them. Lots of them.

Here’s your challenge: Today, right now if you can, read a magazine from cover to cover, studying every part. Or, if you have a copy or are near a bookstore or library, start browsing through Writer’s Market and read all the magazine guidelines.

How about you: Do you love magazines? Do you read them? Why or why not? (Hey, does this sound like a high school essay question?)

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18. Amazon Sales Strategies

This week we will look at a few strategies you can use to increase the sales of your books.

amazoncats

If you buy any books on Amazon, you may have noticed they list the Best Selling Books. You should give these categories some thought. It may help you get on one of their lists and getting on one of the lists will greatly improve your chances to get noticed and bought.

1. Try to choose a niche category on Amazon. There are less books, so you will have a better chance to be listed at the top.

2. By clicking the book ranked #100 in any given category, you can consult the Rank to Sales Estimator to see how many sales you need to qualify for that categories Best Seller List.

3. Self Published authors get to choose two categories.
Traditional publishers get to choose up to five categories. Make sure your publisher knows how the system works and how they can use it to their advantage. Choosing “Fiction” might not be the best category due to so many books. (over a million)

4. Example: Kindle Store> Kindle ebooks > Fiction> Mystery, Thriller & Suspense> Thrillers> Political. Your books will still show in all the categories above the one you chose.

A few scenarios:

Fault in Our Stars [Kindle Edition]
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#6 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store) This a list of all books (no categories)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Romance > Contemporary
#1 in Books > Teens > Love & Romance

Isla and the Happily Ever After [Kindle Edition]
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#11,151 Paid in Kindle Store
#100 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Romance > Contemporary

The First Third [Kindle Edition]
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#172,765 Paid in Kindle Store (See how this book was able to make the Top 100 List by picking Social Issues? That’s because there is less competition. This helps give the book a chance to be seen.)
#100 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Social Issues

The Year We Disappeared: A Father – Daughter Memoir [Kindle Edition]
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,006 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Social Issues
#5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Biography
#33 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Children’s Nonfiction

Neverwhere [Kindle Edition]
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,867 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#10 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Classics
#11 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Contemporary Fiction > Fantasy
#79 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror

5. Make sure you check to make sure the category you pick is on both the book side and the kindle side if you have a print book. Some of the categories do not match up.

6. If you are self-published you will need to do this for yourself, but don’t assume your publisher is choosing the best categories. Do your homework and discuss what you have found with them. But make sure you do this before they list it on Amazon.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, demystify, How to, Marketing a book, need to know, success, Tips Tagged: Amazon Book Sales Strategies, Amazon Rankings, How to Sell More Books, NJSCBWI 2014 Workshop

9 Comments on Amazon Sales Strategies, last added: 8/4/2014
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19. Once Upon A Sketch - Going Digital

Hi everyone!  Check out my new post on Once Upon A Sketch about the basics of transitioning from traditional illustration to digital illustration!

http://onceuponasketch.com/2014/07/going-digital/

0 Comments on Once Upon A Sketch - Going Digital as of 7/22/2014 1:17:00 PM
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20. Price Drop – Revise Your Novel in a Month

jillandmarthaSince, agent Jill Corcoran is such a good marketer, I am sure most of you already know about the video series that author of the PLOT WHISPERER, Martha Alderson and literary agent Jill Corcoran released three months ago.

You can watch the first video in the series for free, which I did last week. It was very good and since I watched it, I’ve been wondering how I could come up with the money to rent the rest of the series.

Today, Martha and Jill lowered the price to $75.00 to rent the 8 part series for a whole year, so now I can afford to buy the series and learn from what they have put together.

If you are a picture book writer, they even have something for you. You can pre-order: How to Write & Sell A Picture Book- Pre-Order and SAVE $25 https://vimeo.com/ondemand/writesellpicturebook

Here is the information for the Revising Your Novel in a Month: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/reviseyournovelinamonth

In this 8 Video (5.5 hours) Series, Plot Whisperer Martha Alderson and Literary Agent Jill Corcoran provide step-by-step instruction on how to revise your
• Concept
• Structure and design
• Tension and conflict
• Character growth and transformation
• Pacing
• Cause and effect
• Meaning
• Hook
• Polish
• Prose
in preparation for a major rewrite of your novel.

To complete the course in a month, watch two videos a week. Or, work at your own pace and take more or less time on the step-by-step exercises. You decide your revision pace as you explore and complete each video exercise based on your own individual needs in preparation for a major rewrite.
• 8 videos (available for viewing as many times as you would like for 1 year)
• 30 writing exercises- one for each day of the Revise Your Novel Month

apathtopublishing.com/for-those-who-purchased-aptp-videos/

PlotWriMo: REVISE YOUR NOVEL IN A MONTH
I. TRAILER
a. Introduction
II. OVERALL STORY LEVEL
a. Video #1: HOW TO REVISE + CONCEPT & CHARACTERS
• Welcome
• How to Approach Revision
• Organization
• Concept
• Characters
• Story Titles
III. PLOT AND STRUCTURE LEVEL
a. Video #2: TRANSFORMATION + GOALS
• Review
• Layers of Plot
• Transformation / Change
• Goals
b. Video #3: CONCEPT + ENERGETIC MARKERS
• Review
• Concept
• Energetic Markers
• Plot Planner
IV. SCENE LEVEL
a. Video #4: SCENES AND THEMES
• Review
• Scene and Summary
• Themes
• Character Motivation
• Antagonist
b. Video #5: CLIMAX
• Review
• Preparation
• Anticipation
• Event
• Reaction
• 3 Major Plot Lines
• Antagonist Crisis
c. Video #6: BEGINNING & END
• Review
• Beginning
• Traits, Skills, Knowledge, Beliefs
• Cause and Effect
• Antagonists
V. WORD LEVEL
a. Video #7: MANUSCRIPT VOICE + CHARACTER & ACTION
• Voice
• Transformational Journey
• Backstory Wound
• Subplots and Theme
• Crisis

b. Video #8: FIRST PAGES + FINAL TEST
• Every Word Perfect
• Sentence structure
• Dialog
• Prepare for Rewrite
• Rewrite
• Concept
• Structure and design
• Tension and conflict
• Character growth and transformation
• Pacing
• Cause and effect
• Meaning
• Hook
• Polish
• Prose
To complete the course in a month, watch two videos a week. Or, work at your own pace and take more or less time on the step-by-step exercises. You decide your revision pace as you explore and complete each video exercise based on your own individual needs in preparation for a major rewrite.
• 8 Instructional videos (available for viewing as many times as you would like for 1 year)
• 30 writing exercises- one for each day of the Revise Your Novel Month
Who will benefit from PlotWriMo: Revise Your Novel in a Month:
• Writers seeking to write a great novel
• Writers with a draft of a novel and uncertain how to proceed
• Writers with story problems
• Writers who feel blocked
• Writers who wish to move from where they are to where you wish to be
• Writers committed to improving your craft
• Writers interested in digging deeper into your story
• Writers needing help organizing for a major rewrite

Dolly D. Napal watched the series and said, “Don’t let the title fool you. This is not only a revision course. It’s a fully comprehensive writing course for PB, MG, YA, and Adult writers, at any point in their career.”

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, Agent, Author, opportunity, Process, reference, revisions, video Tagged: Jill Corcoran, Martha Alderson, Novel Revsion Video series, Plot Whisperer

3 Comments on Price Drop – Revise Your Novel in a Month, last added: 7/25/2014
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21. Sketching out your creative dream

 

love this & love her little illustrations. small talk studio by alyssa nassner

We all have dreams and aspirations they grow within us from any age, from the time we’re two years old and scribbling on any blank piece of paper in sight to the years in university when your dreaming up a life of bigger things you want to do and places you may want to go. Although as time goes by sometimes unless your extremely determined you can feel swayed or lose sight of the things you dreamed of and that’s why you need to grab a pen and sketch them out.

Sketching out your dreams keeps them in sight, gives you a reference to go back to when your feeling a tad lost in your aspirations or feel your not sure where your going. So here are 5 steps to sketching out your own creative dream for 2014.

1.  Grab a huge piece of paper or wallpaper roll across the floor , a couple of pens and your inspiration and start doodling and jotting out your aspirations and future plans.

2 .  Break them down with someone who motivates you the little steps you need to do to work towards those dreams ( They don’t seem so far away when the two of you narrow them down into tiny steps).

3.  Start paving roots and pathways to begin implimenting your plans .

4.  Meet new people and make connections with those who might help you on your way to where you want to be :).

5. Block out those niggling negative thoughts and “I can’t do this”, stay positive if something doesn’t work out brush yourself down and keep going as being self motivated is key and the effort you put in is sure to pay off.

Image by Designer  Alyssa Nassner you can find more about her and her designs “here”.

 

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22. Building a Portfolio Website

If you are an illustrator, I highly recommend having a simple portfolio website that you can use to display your work. When you’re querying, instead of attaching images (most editors and agents don’t accept attachments anyway), you can just send a link to your collection. Add new things, change out images in your rotation, and keep it clean, simple, and maintained. That’s about it. And if you’re not tech savvy, you may be able to hire someone via Elance (a freelance marketplace I’ve used to find web designers, or contractors in any arena, in the past) or in your circle of friends to put your image files (scans or digital creations) online. Just make sure that if you use scans, they are of high quality and taken under good lighting that’s true to your intended color scheme.

Two sites that I see a lot of illustrators gravitating to are Wix and SquareSpace. They are built to be user friendly and easy on the wallet. You can use templates provided or get someone to customize your site. These options are modern, work well across multiple platforms, and are easy to link to your other online efforts. I haven’t used either but I’m coming up on a project in my personal life and seriously considering SquareSpace because I like the design and functionality of their sites. I’ve been on WordPress for years and years, so maybe it’s time to try something new, minimal, and graphics-focused!

If all of this is very scary to you, you can just start a free Flickr account and make a gallery of your images. This is the bare minimum, and allows you to host your image and a description (I would opt for one if you can). Send links to the entire gallery in your query so that visitors can click through the whole thing instead of landing on just one image.

Many people overthink this sort of stuff because sometimes computers can be scary and the demands of building a platform seem overwhelming. Don’t let that stop you from putting up a portfolio. Hosting one online has become quite necessary these days, and agents and editors except to see several examples of your work, with different composition, subject matter, tone, palette, etc. (if possible), before they can decide if they’re interested or not.

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23. Working Out the Details

erikaphoto-45Hello again! Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

PATIENCE: Working out the Details

Speaking from my own personal situation, I just did a major revision on my chapter book. It brought my story a bit more full circle, drawing some of the ending and pulling piece of it into the beginning.

Exciting stuff and I love the way it’s reading now.

But that was a pretty major revision for me, and I’m realizing that in some ways, it’s set me back a good bit. There are parts that don’t flow as well now, character reactions that don’t make sense and redundancies that are just plain annoying.

While I knew it would happen, to be honest, it’s quite frustrating.

Grumble, grumble… I JUST went over all this stuff…

There is a part of me that instinctively desires to push things back the way they were so I can make certain scenes read through properly again.

Plus, I have this crazy voice in the back of my head. It keeps thinking about the SCBWI conference I attended at the end of June, the people I talked to, the editors and agents who showed interest and who I have this amazing opportunity to submit to. And the voice says:

YOU MUST SUBMIT IT NOW!! 

Voice absolutely hates the idea of letting too much time go by. It thinks that the agents and editors will wonder… what took so darn long???

And while you may get different opinions from different people, the logical side of my brain knows that Voice is simply wrong. They knew I had revisions to do, and I’m talking an extra month or two, not years.

Agents and editors, of all people, KNOW how long revisions can take. All the ones I spoke to, not only understood, but respected writers for taking the time to do revisions correctly and present the absolute BEST manuscript possible.

Now, don’t get me wrong, deadlines are important, and being realistic is important. In this case, there is no “deadline”. But still, I don’t want the agents and editors who were open to seeing my work to wait an entire year to see it. Largely because the chances of them still remembering who I am drop pretty dramatically. And if at all possible, I definitely want that little light to go on.

But revisions often lead to more revisions, and I think it’s important to ride that train until it naturally evens out and becomes the story that it’s meant to be.

So whenever making a major revision, keep in mind that you may end up producing more necessary changes than you expect. And don’t be afraid to change things that may cause large re-writes or entire character redevelopment.

After every major revision, I remind myself that I need to take the time to do what I call domino revisions

How did my revision affect the arc and rhythm of the story? Is there too little or too much action at any particular point now? Does a chapter break or mini climax need to be altered?

How did it affect the characters? Experiences shape our interpretation of everything around us. If a character’s experience changed at in my revision, their reactions to things later on may need to change as well.

Did my revision involve the scene, timeline, family dynamics… anything where I need to check for congruence throughout the rest of the manuscript.

The list goes on.

Manuscripts develop like the people created on their pages. Growing up can take much longer than we’d like, and the stage before we become adults can be the most frustrating part.

Who hasn’t met a teenager who makes dramatic changes? It’s not easy. But whether they stick with those changes or not, they are often a big part of what shapes them as an adult.

Our manuscripts need a lot of patience, as they are becoming the living beings they are meant to be. But you know what…. they’re worth it!

Thank you Erika for another great article to help all of us improve our skills.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, authors and illustrators, Process, revisions, Writing Tips Tagged: Erika Wassell, Jersey Farm Scribe, Revision Tips

5 Comments on Working Out the Details, last added: 7/29/2014
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24. Rookie Mistake

Having all daughters, I don’t get to pass on sage advice on how to be a man very often. I do have a bunch of nephews. All of their lives, I have mostly been Uncle Clown – the guy that comes in, stirs them up into a frenzy and leaves without any responsibility for the cleanup or calm down phases. I do get to thump them sometimes. Every young man needs a thumping from time to time.

My youngest local nephew is off to college soon. He’s a fine young man who is very devoted to a sweet girlfriend. If you analyze that sentence, you can find the potential problem. It isn’t in the devoted or girlfriend – it lies solely in the young man. We are a stupid breed. Recently I asked him who a young lady in a photograph was and he responded by saying, “the hot one,” with his girlfriend in range… a classic rookie mistake.

Being a visual gender, we tend to over-notice things, especially in the female realm. So I thought I would throw out a few pointers that just might help the young man keep his relationship from going south with his eyes.

1. She has eyes – two of them. In the early days of your relationship, they are mostly trained on you and she is very interested in where yours go. So if you are at the frozen yogurt store and a bikini model walks in, she sees her too. She saw you see her. You now have a choice. Do you want to satisfy that urge to look one more time and wear your desert or would you rather keep your head down and eat it?

2. A pithy comment once you’ve been caught won’t save you. Saying, “I don’t think that skirt would pass dress code at my school,” sounds really funny – but only points out that you’ve sized up what she is wearing along with the legs sticking out of it.

3. Any talk wondering about or complimenting a surgeon is as fake and plastic as what you are encountering. This is a minefield – walk in and there is no safe way out.

4. You aren’t an owl, look ahead when passing females and keep your head from rotating 180 degrees.

5. If you can’t control yourself, sunglasses are acceptable. But only outside, gentleman. Unless you are in the Secret Service, you can’t wear them inside the mall.

6. I think there is a verse in Proverbs that says, It is better to walk around wearing horse blinders than let your eyes wander when you are on a date. That might be a new, obscure translation, but the advice is sound.

I can't see nothing an I'm happy

I can’t see nothing & I’m happy

 

Most women are forgiving and understanding. If they weren’t, there would be no relationships and humanity would have died out long ago. Women understand we are stupid and can’t help ourselves. Heck, Victoria has built an empire out of our visual demands. What the young man often fails to understand is that it takes time to build up enough trust that one can say the stupidest thing ever and maintain his relationship. Twenty + years after I said it, I’m still married.

What was it?

 

To be continued…

 

Photo credit: Orso della campagna e Papera dello stagno

 

 


Filed under: Learned Along the Way

5 Comments on Rookie Mistake, last added: 7/29/2014
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25. Rookie Mistake

Having all daughters, I don’t get to pass on sage advice on how to be a man very often. I do have a bunch of nephews. All of their lives, I have mostly been Uncle Clown – the guy that comes in, stirs them up into a frenzy and leaves without any responsibility for the cleanup or calm down phases. I do get to thump them sometimes. Every young man needs a thumping from time to time.

My youngest local nephew is off to college soon. He’s a fine young man who is very devoted to a sweet girlfriend. If you analyze that sentence, you can find the potential problem. It isn’t in the devoted or girlfriend – it lies solely in the young man. We are a stupid breed. Recently I asked him who a young lady in a photograph was and he responded by saying, “the hot one,” with his girlfriend in range… a classic rookie mistake.

Being a visual gender, we tend to over-notice things, especially in the female realm. So I thought I would throw out a few pointers that just might help the young man keep his relationship from going south with his eyes.

1. She has eyes – two of them. In the early days of your relationship, they are mostly trained on you and she is very interested in where yours go. So if you are at the frozen yogurt store and a bikini model walks in, she sees her too. She saw you see her. You now have a choice. Do you want to satisfy that urge to look one more time and wear your desert or would you rather keep your head down and eat it?

2. A pithy comment once you’ve been caught won’t save you. Saying, “I don’t think that skirt would pass dress code at my school,” sounds really funny – but only points out that you’ve sized up what she is wearing along with the legs sticking out of it.

3. Any talk wondering about or complimenting a surgeon is as fake and plastic as what you are encountering. This is a minefield – walk in and there is no safe way out.

4. You aren’t an owl, look ahead when passing females and keep your head from rotating 180 degrees.

5. If you can’t control yourself, sunglasses are acceptable. But only outside, gentleman. Unless you are in the Secret Service, you can’t wear them inside the mall.

6. I think there is a verse in Proverbs that says, It is better to walk around wearing horse blinders than let your eyes wander when you are on a date. That might be a new, obscure translation, but the advice is sound.

I can't see nothing an I'm happy

I can’t see nothing & I’m happy

 

Most women are forgiving and understanding. If they weren’t, there would be no relationships and humanity would have died out long ago. Women understand we are stupid and can’t help ourselves. Heck, Victoria has built an empire out of our visual demands. What the young man often fails to understand is that it takes time to build up enough trust that one can say the stupidest thing ever and maintain his relationship. Twenty + years after I said it, I’m still married.

What was it?

 

To be continued…

 

Photo credit: Orso della campagna e Papera dello stagno

 

 


Filed under: Learned Along the Way

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