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Think about your absolute favorite book of all time. We all have one. A book we love, one that's practically perfect in every way. Got the book in mind? Now go to GoodReads. Look the book up. Filter the reviews for 1-stars (because I promise you, it does have one stars). And smile. Because if people can rate your favoritest book in the whole world with one star, then of course people can rate your book that way, too.
Few books are perfect. If you read like a writer you must read to gain what you can from each book, so reading then becomes a generous act. I tell my students they must learn to be generous readers, and judge each book not by whether it's the book they would have written but by whether it fulfilled the writer's apparent intention for it.
Words on the page. That’s what was important to us before we were striving to be published...Eventually, all of the glamour and the shine will fade away. The quarter that was dropped into the hype machine will expire, and the machine will go still and cold. But the story will remain. New readers will still find it, even if it’s only available in garage sales. And today’s readers will still remember it. It’s our job as writers to create a story we’ll still be proud of then.
Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to me. My creative task is done. The work now belongs to the creative mind of my readers. I had my turn to make of it what I could; now it is their turn. I have no more right to tell readers how they should respond to what I have written than they had to tell me how to write it. It’s a wonderful feeling when readers hear what I thought I was trying to say, but there is no law that they must. Frankly, it is even more thrilling for a reader to find something in my writing that I hadn’t until that moment known was there. But this happens because of who the reader is, not simply because of who I am or what I have done.
I spent fourteen years as an author in training, and while I learned many things in that time, I'm finding there are a slew of different lessons on the other side of publication. This spring, I examined the public, private, and writing life I want to cultivate. Right now, I'm trying to learn just how to protect my creativity -- how to let it grow and expand with a new project, how to feed it, how to keep it from being destroyed during the fragile moments a story is unfolding and finding its way. I've yet to figure this out, but here are a few things I'm pondering:
It's not the mind but the emotional self that gives us confidence or causes doubt. We are directly and indirectly taught the mind is a truer compass than the heart. And this is right oftentimes, especially for highly emotional people like me (and I would suspect most other writers, who tend to connect deeply and passionately with people, ideas, stories, and universal truths). The thing is, we writers know in our heads plenty of things that never penetrate our hearts. Whether we realize it or not, the emotional "truths" that occupy our lives influence our creative selves far more than we realize. How can we protect the vulnerable place stories spring from?
Surround yourself with supportive people. Obvious, right? Find a friend or group of people who support and understand you. While non-writing friends and family are wonderful, they don't always understand the writing world. Form a critique group. Become a part of a professional organization like SCBWI. Find people in the same phase of the journey you can encourage and commiserate with. Find people farther along who can show you the way.
Step away from the constant noise of the Internet. Never before have authors been asked to live the writing life so publicly. As soon as a book sells, the solitary falls away. We've got to find ways to protect our creativity in the midst of it all. There are too many ways to lose confidence -- reviews written by professional organizations as well as book bloggers or Goodreads account holders, articles in accessible publications like Publisher's Weekly or GalleyCat that praise our peers or their books and leave us feeling left out, or publications that praise us but leave us feeling like we'll never measure up again.
What are ways authors can protect their creativity?
I recently started my new job as guidance counselor at McLouth Middle/High School. No, it has nothing to do with the latest Triangulation anthology, but I'll get to that. Trust me.
Enrollment took place last Thursday night and Friday morning. I saw what felt like hundreds of parents and students in a small amount of time (it was probably only a few dozen, but the feeling was there). I changed schedules, enrolled new kiddos, and was just there for a few to vent.
I don't remember if I've ever blogged about "the well" before, but as I'm nearing 1,000 posts, I don't remember a lot I've blogged about. The well, the deep place inside a person in which they can feel emotion, has been my greatest ally in the last eight months.
When I coached forensics, I talked to my team about the emotional battery inside all of us--the well--and how they could draw from that to make their performances work. I guess I was teaching method acting; it's just the language which spoke to me. This year, one senior placed 5th at state in serious solo acting, the highest placement in years. His piece, "Griefstruck" by J.J. Jonas, involved a tragic car accident which wiped out a young man's entire family. The morning of the performance, I looked at my student and asked, "Do you need any motivation?"
We went there. He knew. I knew. State forensics came only a month after Aimee's death.
My biggest ally in healing--and not only healing from Aimee's suicide, but her illness and struggles over the past eight years--has been the well. Mine's pretty deep, and I don't mind drawing from it. It helps me hear other people in hurt. It helps me work with teenagers. In helps me be there for my own kids, even when I'm exhausted and stretched too thin. It helps me enjoy life, too. It helps me love.
Yes. The well is deep.
Triangulation: Morning After is now available. It's the fourth Triangulation book in which I've managed to land a story, and I thank Stephen Ramey and the whole crew. "Scar Tissue Wings" is as much about Max's stint in Children's Mercy last December as it is about a man who cannot die in a world which already has. The well helps me go there. Triangulation has always been about telling the truth even with a strange spin. Some of my favorite stories have been graced to find themselves in its pages: "Dancing Lessons," "The Good Daughter," "The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable," and now "Scar Tissue Wings." This may be the last year for the anthology because the price of producing it has stretched limited resources too far. Please buy a copy so future writers can find a venue for their truths.
Animal Cracker made it to the Editor's Desk on Harper Collins's Authonomy site. Number three no less! This means that some time within the next two months a real live Harper Collins editor will review the book and consider it for publication.
To be sure, publication's a long shot. Still, it's pretty gratifying to have been selected out of thousands of books.
With my third novel publishing on 1st September 2011, pop over to the Johnny Mackintosh website for the latest news. I’ll be posting a series of pieces on the influences on Johnny Mackintosh in the run up to publication (and probably just after depending on how quickly I can write them).
Join in the conversation about the new book on Twitter using hashtag #JMB4E.
Writing, for most writers, is a philosophical pleasure that needs to be supported by a day job. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. Most of us do want our books to be published and read, but except for a chosen few, the rewards are apt to be very modest for the long hours and energies invested in the writing.
The writer, Don Lee, describes a common chain of thought and events accompanying publication, as told in his interview by Jeanie Chung (Oct./Nov. 2011,Writers Chronicle):
"Maybe this will be big. And most of the time, it's not big. Most of the time, it goes all right. You get some nice reviews, maybe some not so nice reviews, and you sell a few copies, or not, and you move on. It's just a little blip. The purpose for your writing cannot be for that moment of publication. It has to be about writing the book itself."
It's a good, sobering reflection. It has to be about wanting to spend time alone with a particular exploration of thoughts and feelings, all channeled through a handful of characters and places dragged up from a subconscious mind. Sometimes it may be to explore past experience from other viewpoints, or to push past outcomes in different directions, or along new paths, and see what happens next. Most of the time, if we see our way through to finishing a manuscript, we hope to benefit by an enrichment of our conscious and subconscious being. Publication might only be a potential, added bonus.
As Lee's interviewer, Chung, noticed about a Lee character's commitment to making a huge sculpture that can never be exhibited and might not necessarily even be 'art.' For him, Chung says, it was all about the process:
"In some ways, (the character, Lyndon) may be advocating more of a workmanlike approach. Like it's your day job; whatever you do for a living, most people aren't working toward one big moment. It's just what you do every day."
Lee agrees, as might many other writers. A project one works on as an engineer is not typically viewed as heading toward any one big moment; it's the day job and we do the best we can at that stage in our career. In a related way, the fiction we write outside the normal day job doesn't have to be aimed at a one big moment, e.g., publication, with blockbuster sales; we do what satisfies the creative impulse best. Like Lyndon, maybe it's just engaging in the process.
Whenever you have a new book published, your contract allows you a number of free copies. How many you get depends on how generous (or mean!) the publisher is, but generally it seems to be about 10 copies.
The author's copies usually arrive a little in advance of the books hitting the shops. Baby Goes Baaaaa! is coming out next month, so I got home from a day at Prospect Hill Infants School in Worksop, to find a parcel waiting for me.
It's so exciting to see the final, actual item, all shiny and colourful and real! And of course, it's especially thrilling when the books are entirely mine: when I've created both the text and the illustrations.
Yes, today is the day (hurrah!) when all you good people can rush out to your local booksellers and demand multiple copies of my newest book, Baby Goes Baaaaa!
The book is stuffed full of sounds that baby will recognise and can easily make. Making these early sounds with a baby is fundamental to early language development, but the funny illustrations of various cute and silly animal characters romping through the book will hopefully make it a fun experience to share and explore together, while the learning happens behind the scenes.
Although the pictures here are square edged, the actual book has gently rounded corners to make it baby-friendly, plus it's fully laminated (thanks Egmont), to allow for enthusiastic licking and sucking!
My editor at Egmont tells me that we have already sold over 7000 copies (queue fireworks...)!! These are not sales made over the counter at bookshops of course, since it's only just available to buy
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Today I have a great article about the craft of writing from writing coach Suzanne Lieurance.
How to Write Tight - Self-Editing Tips to Make Your Manuscript Ready For Publication
by Suzanne Lieurance
As writers, we hear it all the time. We need to "write tight", which just means we need to trim all the flab from our manuscripts and make every word count.
Here are some self-editing tips that will help you "write tight" and take your manuscripts from flabby to fit for publication in no time!
1. Avoid a lot of back story - information about the POV character's history and background. Weave all this into the story instead of loading the manuscript down with too many sentences or paragraphs of straight narrative before the action begins.
2. Simplify your sentences wherever possible. Watch for redundant or unnecessary phrases. As writers, we need to "show, not tell" as often as possible. Yet, some writers tend to show and then tell the same information, which is redundant. Watch out for this in your manuscripts. Also, look for the redundant phrases below and others like them.
Stand up = stand Sit down = sit Turned around = turned He thought to himself = He thought She shrugged her shoulders = she shrugged She whispered softly = she whispered He nodded his head = he nodded
3. Avoid adverbs for the most part. Use strong, descriptive verbs instead.
Flabby: She smiled slightly at the photographer. Fit: She grinned at the photographer.
4. Avoid using the same word over and over in a paragraph. Go back and reread each sentence. Have you repeated the same word several times within a single sentence or paragraph? If so, substitute another word with the same meaning.
5. Don't overuse names. Beginning writers tend to have the characters address each other by name too often. When you speak to a friend, you don't constantly say his name. Don't have your characters do this either. It doesn't ring true, and it draws the reader OUT of the story.
6. Limit the description in a dialogue tag. Again, beginning writers tend to load down the dialogue tags (the "he said, she said" part of the dialogue) with too many details. If you must describe what a character is doing AS he says something, put that information in a separate sentence, not in the dialogue tag. And keep it short.
7. Avoid participle phrases - particularly at the beginning of sentences. Participle phrases end in the letters -ing. Go back over every page of your manuscript and circle the places where you've started a sentence with a participle phrase. If your manuscript is loaded down with participle phrases it tends to distract the reader and pull him out of the story.
8. No idle chit-chat. Be sure the dialogue advances the storyline. Readers don't need to hear the characters talking about anything that doesn't somehow relate directly to what's happened so far or what will happen next or later in the story.
9. Minimize use of the passive voice. Here's an example of passive voice: The ball was hit by Susan. Here's the same information in active voice: Susan hit the ball.
10. Use active, descriptive verbs. Flabby: I was the one who made the decision to go home. Fit: I decided to go home.
Strengthen weak verbs. You can usually eliminate was and were by replacing them with stronger, more descriptive verbs. Usually, was and were precede an -ing word, and you can change the -ing word to make it stronger.
John was doing our weekly shopping expedition to our local Sainsburies last week, while I was getting on with my the roughs for my new book. I was sketching away when the phone rang. "Guess what I'm looking at?" said John. "Baby Goes Baaaaa!"
I got him to take this pic on his mobile:
It's the first copy of Baby Goes Baaaaa! we've spotted in the shops: that first one is always a bit of a thrill. Especially when it's in Sainsburies, as this is the first time we've ever come across one of mine in a supermarket. Egmont did tell me they'd taken a load, but it's not the same as seeing it there with your own eyes (well, with John's eyes anyway)!
For more than twenty-five years the Drue Heinz Literature Prize has recognized and supported writers of short fiction and made their work available to readers around the world. The contest, which includes a $15,000 prize and publication, is open to writers who have published a book-length collection of fiction or at least three short stories or novellas in commercial magazines or literary journals.
The Drue Heinz Literature Prize Call for Submissions 2012
The Drue Heinz Literature Prize recognizes and supports writers of short fiction and makes their work available to readers around the world. The award is open to writers who have published a book-length collection of fiction or at least three short stories or novellas in commercial magazines or literary journals.
Manuscripts are judged anonymously by nationally known writers; past judges have included Robert Penn Warren, Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Russell Banks, Rick Moody and Joan Didion. The prize carries a cash award of $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press under its standard contract.
The winner will be announced by the University Press in January. No information about the winner will be released before the official announcement. The volume of manuscripts prevents the Press from offering critiques or entering into communication or correspondence about manuscripts. Please do not call or e-mail the Press.
The award is open to writers who have published a novel, a book-length collection of fiction or a minimum of three short stories or novellas in commercial magazines or literary journals of national distribution. On-line publication does not count toward this requirement.
The award is open to writers in English, whether or not they are citizens of the United States.
University of Pittsburgh employees, former employees, current students, and those who have been students within the last three years are not eligible for the award.
Translations are not eligible if the translation was not done by the author.
Eligible submissions include a manuscript of short stories; one or more novellas (a novella may comprise a maximum of 130 double-spaced typed pages); or a combination of one or more novellas and short stories. Novellas are only accepted as part of a larger collection. Manuscripts may be no fewer than 150 and no more than 300 typed pages.
Stories or novellas previously published in book form as part of an anthology are eligible.
Format for Submissions
Manuscripts must be typed double-spaced on quality white paper, unbound, and pages must be numbered consecutively. Clean, legible photocopies on high quality white paper are acceptable.
Each submission must include a list of the writer’s published short fiction work, with full citations.
Manuscripts will be judged anonymously. Each manuscript should have two cover pages: one listing the title of the manuscript and the author’s name, address, e-mail addre
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The bold baby animal illustrations are designed specifically to catch the eye of babies from 1- 3 yrs, but I've worked hard to try and make sure that both books are also a funny read for the poor parents (some baby books can be a little basic in content, so gruelling on the 50th repetition...). I wanted mine to be fun to read aloud and easy to share with baby again and again.
I got the idea for Baby Goes Baaaaa! from noticing that many of my friend's baby's loved making animal noises. I knew that phonics was very important for early language development and learning, so created a book to help readers practise the all the different sounds that all babies enjoy: educational and fun!
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I'd love to know more about your road to publication and how you found your agent. I started writing in earnest almost thirteen years ago. This was before blogging and Facebook and critique groups on-line (at least that I knew of). I did a lot of stumbling around for years, learning through my mistakes, from the how-to guides I found at the library, and from the middle-grade novels I read and shared with my students.
During those years I'd faithfully send out queries to publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Most of the time my work would be an exclusive submission, and I would wait month after month for those rejections to come. I can still remember anticipating the mail, the surge of hope that accompanied every SASE in the mailbox, and the frustration that after months and sometimes years on submission, the answer was always no.
Because children's authors can still get published without an agent, I never consistently pursued one until 2009. I had just decided to stop teaching and try out writing full time, without a book deal, agent, or lead of any sort (yes, really). I queried a number of books to a number of agents, trying to match my books to each agent's preferences and got a good number of requests for fulls and partials. My strongest piece, this little verse novel thing, was one I only sent to a select few because honestly, who would want to represent a quiet literary historical for kids?
After a few months of this, I decided I had to shop my best work. Whether is was salable or not, it was what I believed in, and I hoped it would attract someone who could see beyond its non-flashy surface to the story beneath. With my focus just on MAY B., more agents responded, and long story short, I signed with the super-wonderful Michelle Humphrey, who had just the right combination of risk, enthusiasm, and hard work to sell MAY B. at auction.
I found Michelle through Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog. By the time I signed with her, I had received seventy-five agent rejections and over two hundred editor rejections over eleven years.
How is the reality of achieving your dream different than the dream itself? The reality is one hundred times better. It's harder, too, but in a really, really good way. I've learned so much about writing this past year. Going through the revision process has been like going back to school, except this time around I've got the advantage of having my instructor's undivided attention, interest, and commitment. Even that rough patch, when my book was homeless for a few weeks, as
Yes, it's true. I've posted my comic novel, Animal Cracker, on a site owned by Harper Collins called Authonomy. Those books judged the most popular (by being "backed" by readers) actually have a shot at publication by Harper Collins.
Yes, while my trip to Brazil popularity contest continues, I've entered another. Why do I keep competing in these? Perhaps it's time to return to the shrink. Hmmmmm....
For the last three weeks, I've been plugging away at my author questionnaire. The packet I received started with a note from my editor which included this:
What you tell us here will serve as the foundation of our marketing, sales, subsidiary rights, and publicity efforts for your book, so your responses are very important.
I was grateful to have spent some time last winter thinking through things like my target audience, comp. titles, and institutions/organizations that might be interested in MAY B. (such as prairie museums).
For those of you who missed my series on Marketing Plans, click here to see the first post.
It's surprising to find out how interesting this aspect of publishing is to me. I never expected to find promotion fun, but I'm telling you, there is something very satisfying about discovering a person or organization that might connect with your book. Think matchmaking and treasure hunting combined.
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When I laid all my sketch sheets out on her desk, I was thrilled by how much she laughed (in a good way, fortunately). She said she really liked the idea and did seem genuinely keen, so it all looked very positive. But...
...I have been waiting all this time for a verdict on whether the book is to go ahead. To be honest, I was starting to resign myself to the inevitable rejection. Then early last week I got an email: I only had to hold my breath for one more week, because this week my book would be going before an acquisitions meeting at Gullane.
All new project ideas need to be taken to an acquisitions meeting: it's there that final decisions are made about which books will happen and which will bite the dust. Unfortunately, I've been told on at least two previous occasions that this project was scheduled for the next meeting, but it keeps getting put back.
But this time it actually happened. In fact, it was TODAY (gulp). I have been trying hard not to think about it too much and get on with Baby Goes Baaaaa!, but at 5pm I got a phone call from the editor to let me know that the answer is... YES!!!
There are still all the contract negotiations to get through, but, all things being equal, it will go ahead, so celebrations are definitely in order. HURRAY!!
I'm entered into a contest sponsored by Harper Collins UK on their Authonomy website. Writers submit their work and get "backed - voted on - and rated by others on the site. The top five books get considered for publication by real live Harper Collins editors. And, ta da - out of about 5,000 authors on the site, I'm currently number 21!!!
You can vote for me by going to the site, registering, and backing and rating (six stars if you please) Animal Cracker. It's easy and might actually help me get published. Here's the link to the Authonomy website and my book.
Publishing is a team effort, and much of the process can be likened to a relay race. You are responsible for (and familiar with) only your leg of the journey. That means a lot of the process is left shrouded in mystery, especially for first timers like me.
Thank you, Chris, for this glimpse into your end of things!
Hi everyone! I've started a new project on Kickstarter. It's my new kids picture book "Super Alphabet". Please stop by and take a look. I would greatly appreciate in advance if you contribute but I totally understand if money is tight. If you could take a few minutes to post the link to other sites and possibly send it to friends who might be interested, that would help greatly and you would have my undying appreciation. Keeping my fingers crossed and working on the text for the interior of the book. Here's the link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/180530905/the-super-alphabet-picture-book Thanks, Mike
If you haven't read my short humor piece, "How to Write a Horror Story" at Eric's Hysterics, I invite you to do so. It's inspired by... Well, something I'm sure. Maybe you'll find it informative.
Triangulation: Last Contact has been released as well, and I'm pleased to say I made the cover this year. Grab a copy at Amazon ($16.00) or Barnes and Nobel (only $10.25!) and read this year's fine entries, including my minimalist sci-fi tale, "The Good Daughter".