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1. PubCrawl Podcast: Critique Groups

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This week Kelly and JJ discuss critique groups: how they found theirs (each other!), how to find one in general, whether or not you need critique groups, and how to give effective feedback.

Subscribe to us on iTunes, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please, please, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. We know you’re listening! You tell us you do! So why not do us a favor and let other people know? Thanks in advance!

Show Notes

Kelly pointed out that she and JJ met 10 years ago, and now they both feel super old. They met through a mutual friend when they were both living in New York.

  • Browse all our posts on Critique Partners
  • How to find critique groups
    • Start your own or join an existing group
    • Do research: online, literary center, library, organizations like SCBWI or RWA
    • Critique groups are often about chemistry, and that you all understand each other’s work
  • How to critique work and offer feedback
    • Generally, line edits are not useful feedback at the drafting stage
    • Character development, plot obstacles, etc. are more helpful than pointing out misplaced commas
    • Once a month is probably a better timeframe to meet than weekly, in terms of how much time you have to produce work and to review others
    • Asking questions is good method of critiquing, as it allows the author to remain in control of their own work
  • Try and find a group of people who are “at the same level” or slightly “better” than you so you can learn from them and learn together. Being the “best” in a group means you have nothing to learn and you’re just teaching. You want to challenge and inspire each other.
  • Before going into a critique meeting, maybe come up with a list of concerns that you would like your partners to focus on: voice, characterization, dialogue, etc.
  • Stephanie and Stacey will be hosting a critique partner connection here at PubCrawl later this month, so stay tuned!

What We’re Reading

What We’re Working On

  • Kelly is working on her YA and rereading old drafts
  • JJ is struggling to get the culture of East Asia and its language into an English mode

Off Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! Next week we will be talking about ROMANCE. Be prepared for a long one, folks, as both Kelly and JJ have FEELINGS.

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2. Moving Beyond Rejection and Into the New Year!

Hi friends, Stacey here, with my critique partner and fellow pub-crawler, Stephanie Garber! Today we are chatting about something we imagine most of you are all too familiar with..

Rejection. We’ve all been there, starting with the threesome of friends that decided to become a twosome without you, or the unrequited love you slathered on that skinny basketball player in sixth grade. Writing is not for the faint of heart. It often feels like the bad days outnumber the good, that the days of utter dejection and rejection will stop the ship from sailing all together. Many days, I feel like the luckiest person alive to be doing the one thing I’d always wanted to do — make a living as a writer. Some days, I feel like I might chuck it all. Go catch up on those movies I’d been wanting to watch, those travel adventures I’d wanted to take. I wouldn’t read, because reading would only remind me of my giving up. But it would be an easier life, wouldn’t it?

Statistics show that the average number of rejections writers receive before selling a manuscript is about 3,967, based on absolutely no evidence at all. Once you do make that sale, there may be and probably will be dark days ahead. There is the pain of being rejected for blurbs. The torment of not feeling cool enough on social media. The agony of reviews, both professional and bloggers. There is the consternation of not being included on ‘lists,’ or not being invited to conferences, and the heartache of being passed up for awards. There is the distress of having an agent fail you, or an editor leave, or your publisher not buying your next book.

Stacey: Speaking as someone who has a book out and two on the way, When I feel down about publishing, I distance myself. I surround myself with Stacey-supporters and avoid that thing that brings me pain. I get busy doing other stuff, cleaning out the coupon drawer (I know, I have a coupon drawer) finding stuff to giveaway to the Salvation Army, I research my next vacation spot.

Then, when I’m ready, I talk to other people who have ‘been there’ and can validate my experiences. One of my favorite quotes is, “misery shared is misery halved, and joy shared is joy doubled.”

Stephanie: As someone who has shared both misery and joy with Stacey Lee, I can say that the above quote is so true!

One thing that helps me deal with feelings of rejection is to think of books as if they are birthdays.

When it’s getting close to my sister’s birthday and my family starts talking about how we are going to celebrate, I don’t start feeling sorry for myself. I never wonder, Why isn’t anyone talking about my birthday? Isn’t anyone excited for me? Same for her presents. I’m not going to count how many presents my sister receives and then compare the number of gifts I’m given for my birthday—that would be ridiculous.

And I believe the same type of comparing can be said for books.

So, let’s say, your book is slated to come out in summer or fall of 2016, avoid the temptation of feeling bad because the winter and spring books seem to be receiving most of the attention right now—those books have birthdays coming up, they should be getting the buzz.

Stacey: It’s important to remember that there is more to you than your writing. We are not in a race. What can screw us up is the image in our head of how things are supposed to be. As nobody ever said, the flower does not compare itself to the beauty of the flower growing beside it, it just blooms. We each proceed at the pace we’re meant to proceed, taking the losses as they come, but also the wins. There is the joy of connecting with a reader who needed your book. The hug from your critique partners, whose love and support goes way beyond books. There are the emails from your publishing team calling you ‘awesome.’ There is the simple joy of losing yourself in your storytelling. These things must be remembered.

*Cue a rainbow.*rainbow_183687

Stephanie: During the holidays I spent sometime cleaning out my closet and I found a journal from when I was in high school. I was nervous about looking inside it—I was a pretty depressed high school student—so, afraid of what I might find, I told myself I would only peek for a second. The page I opened to was a list, written in brightly colored markers, full of all the things I wanted. I listed things like clear skin, perfect SAT scores, to be able to dance, and to someday write a novel. And while I still don’t have clear skin, my SAT scores were far from perfect—and sadly so are my dance skills—I did write that novel.

And I know I’ve said it here before, but just writing a book is a huge accomplishment, whether it sells or not. I meet so many people who tell me they want to write a book, but hardly any of them actually sit down and do it. So if you have written a book that is awesome. If it’s being published, or if it’s about to be published, that is even more incredible!

Stacey: Remember the speeder chase scene through the redwood forest in Return of the Jedi? It’s exhilarating to watch that scene because the camera shows it from the perspective of the rider, Luke. You don’t get a sense of exactly where he’s going, but you feel all the bumps and jolts and swoops and loops that he experiences. As we enter this new year, take a moment to rise above the chase scene, and view it from the top, where unlike that scene in Star Wars, you will not see all the bumps and dips, but the one thing you will see is your progress.

Now it’s your turn. We know all of our readers are in different places with their publishing journeys—we’ve shared a bit about our experiences, so now we’d love to hear from some of you.

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3. PubCrawl Podcast: Interview with Beth Revis

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This week JJ talks with New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis about her publishing journey, revision, how she learned to revise and critique, and what she’s reading and enjoying!

Subscribe to us on iTunes, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. Thanks in advance!

Beth SquareBETH REVIS is the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, as well as The Body Electric, Paper Hearts, and the forthcoming A World Without You. She lives in the Appalachian mountains with her boys: one husband, one son, and two very large dogs. You can find out more on FacebookTwitter, or online. If you never want to miss a thing and also get exclusive insider opportunities, sign up for her newsletter here.

Show Notes

  • Our previous podcast episode about revision, as well as all the articles we’ve ever written about Revision on PubCrawl!
  • The podcast episode where we discuss the vagaries of The New York Times bestselling lists
  • Learn to revise by editing! Beth learned to revise by practice, and by critique other people’s work. JJ learned to revise by editing other people’s manuscripts.
  • Creation vs. Discovery writers, or rethinking the Plotter vs. Pantser dynamic by JJ

Beth’s method of revision

  • Approach your booze of choice.
  • Make up a list of all the changes that need to be made.
  • Take out all the compliments.
  • Work chronologically through the manuscript.
  • Beth uses the split screen function on Scrivener, with the old version on top and new on bottom.
  • Go through the list of changes and work page by page.

What We’re Working On

Just to let you guys know, both JJ and Kelly will be doing an AMA at the /r/YAwriters subreddit on MONDAY, JANUARY 25TH. Come and ask us questions about publishing, revision, and whatever else might cross your mind!

What We’re Reading

Off Menu Recommendations

  • Jessica Jones (TV show)
  • Daredevil (TV show)
  • Bojack Horseman (TV show)
  • We Bare Bears (TV show)
  • Steven Universe (TV show)
  • Adventure Time (TV show)

Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice

Paper HeartsYour enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there’s no wrong way to get words on paper. But it’s not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won’t make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical Advice Meets Real Experience

With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:

  • How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
  • What Common Advice You Should Ignore
  • What Advice Actually Helps
  • How to Develop a Novel
  • The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone
  • Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
  • How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
  • How to Deal with Failure
  • And much more!

Enter for a giveaway of PAPER HEARTS: Some Writing Advice! Beth has generously donated a signed copy!

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That’s all for this week! Next week we return to our regularly scheduled PubCrawl podcast posts and discuss X MEETS Y, or THE HIGH CONCEPT IDEA.

 

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4. How to Set Up a Website

A question I used to see a lot from aspiring writers when I was still working in publishing was Do I need a website? Do I need to get on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Instagram/[insert social media platform]? What do agents and editors mean when they say “online presence”?

I won’t lie; whenever I received a submission from an agent, the first thing I did was Google that author. I wasn’t necessarily looking to see if the author had an enormous platform or following; I just wanted to get a sense of the person behind the words. For me, it was always the most helpful if the author had a personal website where I could go, read their bios, find their social media links, etc. Not having a professional website isn’t a deal-breaker, but these days, it would strike me as a little odd.

I’ve been coding and designing websites since I was in high school (does anyone else remember Geocities? No? Bueller? Bueller? Okay, I’m just old then.), so I’m pretty comfortable with this sort of thing, but I know this entire process bewilders a lot of people, so I thought I would write a tutorial for our readers (and some of our members!) to help them out.

Full disclosure: Here at PubCrawl, we use Bluehost, so the screenshots used in the tutorial will be of their website. We’ve been pretty happy with Bluehost in the five years we’ve been with them and would never endorse something we ourselves did not use or wholeheartedly support. There are a myriad other hosting options out there, but if you choose to go with Bluehost, we would appreciate it if you would click on the link we’ve provided, as it generates a little revenue for us at PubCrawl. We do what we love here for love and not money, but a little kickback would help us fund our giveaways and keep the lights on!

This is a bit of a long post with a lot of images, so the rest is under the cut!

1. Pick a domain name.

A domain name is your address on the internet, as it were. Ours is publishingcrawl.com, but as an writer, it’s best to have a domain under the name you’re writing under. (For example: Mine is sjaejones.com because I am writing as S. Jae-Jones.) The first thing I would do is check to see if your name is available. The easiest way to do that is simply type yourname.com into your browser and see if anything turns up.

If your name is already taken, then you can add -writer or -books to the end of your name, or else try .net or .biz, although .com is probably best for search purposes.

2. Select a web hosting plan and register your domain.

Most web hosting services will register your first domain for free, and for the sake of simplicity, I would recommend you do it all at once.1 Select your plan of choice. (For most writers who don’t expect heavy blog traffic, the most basic plans are sufficient. You can always upgrade later.) Register your new domain name with your host provider.

3-Domain Registartion

3. Install WordPress.

Okay, now here’s where things get a bit complicated. Think of a website as a piece of property: the host is the land itself and the domain is the address. If you want to live on that piece of land, you need to build a house.

If you know HTML, you could code that house yourself. (I’ve done so; it’s incredibly time-consuming and exhausting.) Or you could download and install a CMS, or Content Management System, like WordPress, Joomla, or similar. We at PubCrawl use WordPress (and I do for my own website as well).

Once you’ve set up your domain, you will prompted to set up a username and password for your host. Once you’ve done that, log in to access your Control Panel (usually called cPanel by most hosting services).

9-Bluehost login

Once you’ve been logged in, at the top navigation bar, you will see cpanel. Clicking on that will lead you to your Control Panel, which will look something like this:

11-cPanel-WP

Bluehost and other providers will often provide a 1-step installation for WordPress and other CMS builders. Under Website Builders, click on the WordPress logo and you’ll be brought to a page that looks like this:

12-Wordpress

Start a brand new install, select your domain name, and Bluehost will do the work for you.2 Set up your WordPress login with a username and password.

Once everything’s been installed, in order to access the backend of your website, type www.yourname.com/wp-admin/ and you’ll see this:

18-WordPress Login

Fill in your username and password and that will take you to your Dashboard, which looks like this:

19-Dashboard

Ta-da! Now your website has been set up. Time to make it look pretty.

4. Select a theme to install on your website.

The default WordPress theme is actually pretty decent, but if you want to put your own personal stamp on your website, I would recommend browsing the WordPress themes gallery. There are a lot of themes you can choose, many of them for free. You can also hire a designer to make your website more personal at this point, but to be honest, a lot of the free themes at WordPress are clean and professional, so there isn’t a huge need to break your bank account.

5. Fill your website with content.

In your WordPress Dashboard, you’ll see an option on the lefthand navigation bar titled Pages. This is where you can create different pages for your website: an about page, information about your books, a blog, a contact page, etc. As an editor, I didn’t need all that much, just a place to contact you. Readers may like a lot more extra content, so include as much information about your book as you please!

That’s all for this post. Hope this was helpful for everyone who’s looking to set up a website and didn’t know where to start. If you have any further questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer, although each case will be different, of course. 

  1. If only to avoid the headache of having to go into your domain registration page and point the DNS servers to a different host, etc.
  2. As opposed to having to set up an FTP login, finding an FTP client, access MySQL databases, fiddling with wp-config.php files, etc. I’m an old hat at this, you guys.

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5. Should I Give Up On This Novel?

Recently I critiqued two unpublished novels. Their authors wanted to know whether they should give up or not.

There’s no clear cut answer to that question. Some great novels had unspeakably bad early drafts.1 Some that their author never feels happy with, and are never published, have pretty good early drafts. Who am I to say this particular novel has no hope of one day being excellent?

I have novels started years ago I’ve never managed to get into a publishable state. But who knows? Some day I might. I never give up on a novel. I just kind of abandon them for, um, a while. Sometimes a really long while.

It’s also true that I rarely go back to these abandoned novels. There’s always a newer, more shiny novel to write.

Other writers do go back to them. I know someone who only got an agent after they pulled out a long forgotten novel, rewrote it, and sent that out. It was exactly what the agent they most wanted was looking for.

However, I would definitely suggest you give up on a novel (however temporarily) if you’ve been writing and rewriting it for years. Particularly if it’s the only novel you’ve ever written. It’s more than past time to write a new one. Who knows maybe in the process of writing a second novel you’ll figure out what was wrong with the first one?

Almost every novelist I know has given up on a novel.2 The important thing to remember is that writing that novel was not a waste. What you learned writing the abandoned novel will help with the next one. Bigger than that: YOU WROTE A NOVEL. You did it once so odds are good you can do it again.

Sadly, the lessons learnt from writing the previous novels don’t always directly apply to the next novel. Usually the lessons are more of a what-not-to-do kind of a thing. You’ve learned not to write novels with only one character locked in an empty room. Maybe you’ve learned about creating believable characters, but sadly not much about world building or setting, because you only had that one empty room to describe.3

Each novel tends to present different problems.4 They do this in order to keep things interesting. Thanks, novels.

So, yes, feel free to give up on a novel. But only once you have a complete draft.

If you’ve never finished a novel before, no matter how much you hate it, no matter how convinced you are that it will never work, you need to see it through to a complete draft. Especially if you’ve never completed a draft before.5 Scott has some cogent words to say on the necessity of writing endings as well as beginnings and middles.

It’s also good to keep trying to make a novel work. I know too many (mostly) unpublished novelists who don’t rewrite. Instead of continuing to work on the newly completed draft to make it work they move on to a brand new novel. The problem with doing that is rewriting requires a different set of skills from first drafting. You’ll never write a good novel if you can’t stand to work past that initial draft.

“But I don’t know how to rewrite!” I hear you cry.

For your convenience I have written this handy guide to rewriting. You’re welcome.

Whatever decision you make it’s going to be okay.

TL;DR There is no definitive answer on whether you should give up on your novel or not. It all depends.

  1. None of these novels were unspeakably bad.
  2. Or two, or twenty, or a hundred.
  3. There are many first novels sent in the one room with hardly andy characters that don’t go anywhere. Funny that. About the only successful novel set in one room I can think of is Emma Emma Donoghue’s Room, which totally pulls it off. But then not the entire novel is set in the room.
  4. Unless you’re one of those writers who writes the same book over and over again. If that one book is super popular. Congrats! You are a sure-fire commercial success. We readers love authors who are consistent and don’t freak us out by writing totally different books in completely different genres.
  5. Once you’ve finished a bunch of novels you’ll have a better sense of whether a novel isn’t going anywhere and can put it aside if it’s really not working.

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6. Lessons from the NaNoWriMo Trenches

Hey PubCrawlers! So, you participated in NaNoWriMo. First, congratulations on what you accomplished, even if you didn’t (technically) finish. That takes a lot of work, a lot of guts, and a lot of stubbornness. So…what’s next? Let me start by telling you what I’ve learned over my years of participation (and also as a literary assistant).

  1. Sometimes the book you’ve written isn’t one you end up loving enough to keep.

It can hurt to write that many words, only to realize it’s not a story we want to show to the world. But it’s okay to feel this way – every word written is important, regardless of what happens after. Even if it stays in a drawer for years, you accomplished something that helped you grow and learn as a writer. Even the most prolific writers learn something new about themselves every time they write.

A lot of us have this tendency to believe that everything we write should be work-shopped and queried and edited and shaped. But I’ll be honest – I have at least two NaNo novels that have never seen the light of day. They’re not great – structure-wise, they fall apart halfway through. The characters are inconsistent. The story is so-so. And I love that I am the only one who has the privilege of reading them and seeing just how far I’ve come.

Getting to know who you are as a writer is never a bad thing – it’s one of my favorite aspects of this contest.

  1. Don’t query the book on December 1st (or even in December, period).

This one comes from the agency side of my experience. Agents get an influx of queries those first few days after NaNo and it’s usually a sign that a writer is querying his/her NaNo draft fresh out of the contest. I get it – finishing a novel is incredibly excited, and lots of us are guilty of querying too early, NaNoWriMo or no. But if you decide to revise the book and query later, querying too soon means rejections, which means you’ve crossed a handful of agents off your query-able list when it comes to that project.

  1. When revising, an outline works wonders, even (or especially, if you’re a pantser) when the draft is already on paper.

When you write 200 pages or more in a matter of weeks, plot lines can get crossed, characters can disappear, motivations can get muddied, and epiphanies can change the entire trajectory of your book. But what can you do? If you want to finish, you have to keep writing. That is, after all, what NaNo is about – disengaging the part of your writing brain that tells you to edit as you go, and getting the words on paper.

When you outline after the fact, you can see where the events you might have missed should go, where the characters who faded away might re-emerge (or that they aren’t needed, period), and where the dead-ends can be smoothed back into roads.

This tends to be the first thing I do with NaNo novels – it’s the easiest way for me to get on track with revision.

  1. Apply what you learned to future projects.

Before finishing my first NaNoWriMo years ago, I had a hard time finishing a novel. I constantly went back on passages I had just written and edited them, making them absolutely perfect. I felt like, if I could just make this chapter perfect, the rest would follow more easily than if I just wrote anything and everything on my mind.

I was…not entirely correct. Because I spent so much time smoothing and perfecting and correcting, I lost sight of the story itself. Writing another chapter became even harder, because suddenly nothing was as perfect as the chapter I’d spent all that time fixing. So I’d spend just as much time fixing the next one. And the next. And the next. Until finally, the process became boring and tedious and I’d give up.

NaNoWriMo gave me the freedom to simply do what I had to do to finish the race. To get the words out. To write “The End”. And I realized that editing and perfecting and smoothing is so much easier and so much more satisfying when you’re doing it to a finished product. Sometimes you end up rewriting half the book. Sometimes you don’t. But until you make that lump of clay, there’s really nothing to shape anyway.

  1. There are whole communities of people who want to write with you.

And you don’t have to stop when NaNo ends. If you have trouble finding beta readers, critique partners, or just other writers to commiserate with, NaNoWriMo is a wonderful place to meet people. In person, in forums, as buddies, whatever. Whatever you’re comfortable with – the set up is tailored for introverts and extroverts and extroverted introverts alike. Going to a write-in can be so helpful – not only do you got words into the draft, you have the opportunity to exchange information with other people looking to hang out with writers.

  1. It’s okay to not finish the race.

Seriously. This year, I ended November with 35,000 words, and I’m more than okay with that. The most important thing is that you’ve challenged yourself as a writer. Challenging yourself is the whole point of the contest – and for some people, that might mean finishing 10,000 words or 120,000 words (yes, I know some people who manage insane word counts and it boggles the mind). Whatever you’ve achieved, that’s exactly what it is – an achievement. Don’t ever worry that you’ve achieved less than someone else – one word written is still one word more than zero.

 

These are just a few of the things I’ve learned from participating in NaNoWriMo. I’m intrigued – are there any lessons you’ve learned or wisdom you’ve attained from participating? I know there are a lot more insights than the ones I’ve listed above, and I’d like to hear about them!

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7. My First Publication

This poem was first published when I was nine. First in the Newcastle Morning Herald and then later in the feminist magazine, Refractory Girl.1

I can fly.
They say I can’t.
They don’t exist.

I can fly.
They won’t believe me.
They aren’t real.

They can’t understand me
They won’t understand me
They don’t understand me

They say I’m mad
no-one can fly.

I can fly
They’re dead.

The day after it published in the local newspaper some of the kids at school demanded that I fly for them. They recited the poem back at me and laughed in my face. I spent the day wishing I’d never written it but also basking in my teachers’ praise.

The next day the other kids had forgotten about it but the teachers were still praising me. Yup, I was still buzzing about being an actual published poet. I enjoyed and was weirded out by the publication and attention thing. Praise = good! Kids laughing at me = oogie!

It was an early lesson in the gap between writing and publication. The writing part is private and often wonderful. Publication and public responses to the writing is a whole other thing. I’ve been doing my best to keep that in mind ever since.

  1. My mother, Jan Larbalestier was part of the Refractory Girl collective. Yup, nepotism got my poem republished. For the record, I didn’t know anyone at the Herald.

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8. How My NaNoWriMo Went

My NaNoWriMo ends today.1 The following is what I thought of the NaNo experience, which let’s be honest, is not aimed at someone like me, who’s already a professional writer with multiple novels already published for whom writing is my job. So take it with a massive grain of salt.

I have been writing every day for 56 days in a row.2 Twenty-five of those days took place during NaNo. Before NaNo I was averaging about 300 words a day. During NaNo I averaged 700 words a day.3

I already knew that gamification works on me. I’ve been using Scriveners’ Project Targets for years so that when I reach my word count goal my program congratulates me. Why, yes, I do take a bow.

Obviously, for me the NaNoWriMo word count goal is too high. It’s been at least a decade since I averaged anything like 1,667 words a day. So I went in with the lower goal of 10k words for the month in mind. I passed that goal on Day 12.

NaNoStatspageI enjoyed watching the word counts of my “writing buddies” going up. There definitely was an increased sense of camaraderie. I am not in this alone! Look at all these other people striving to finish their novels! Look at their bar graphs going up! I would love to have a stats page like the NaNo one for all my novels. I loved that bar graph.

But . . . by the second week the 1,667 words a day expectation was starting to get to me and the ever-increasing words per day in order to finish on time was really freaking me out. The line on the bar graph shows you every day where you’re supposed to be and I was never even close. I only hit 1,667 twice. I was starting to feel like a failure for not hitting 1,667 words a day and falling into the bad habit of typing in order to hit the word count, rather than choosing the right words. I was starting to hate that bar graph.

On day 16 I had a stern talk with myself: Are you a writer, Justine, or are you a typist?

I spent that day reading everything I’d written of this new novel, rearranging and deleting loads of it. It was my best writing day of the month. Not because it was a 1k day but because I was really happy with those words. I’d started to figure out what the novel’s about and where it’s going. I was beaming.

From that day on I went back to my usual practice of starting each writing day by reading over what I wrote the day before, editing it, and only then writing new words. I was back in the rhythm of my novel and feeling happy. I wasn’t thinking about word counts, I was thinking about the novel.

NaNo didn’t work for me because I struggled to get that massive word count goal out of my head. Yes, I wrote more, but much of that excess of words was more typing than writing.

I would have loved NaNoWriMo back when I was a teen writing obsessively and feeling like I was the only one on the planet who was trying to write novels. It would have given me a structure and a community. I would have been in heaven. And, wow, would I have blitzed that measly 1,667 words a day goal. Those were the days when I could write a 5k story in a day without breaking a sweat.4

Also back then I had no clue about rewriting. I thought you were supposed to produce perfection in your first draft. NaNo dedicating January and February to Now What? would have clued me into the whole rewriting thing much much sooner. How lucky you all are!

I won’t be doing NaNo again. I’m too competitive. I really wanted to hit that word count goal even though it would have played havoc with my RSI. Despite my self-pep talk I’m still annoyed I didn’t come close to 50k. But I’m really glad I tried it. I’ve been recommending NaNo for years without actually knowing how it worked. It really is a pretty sweet and easy to use interface.

It’s proven itself over and over again to be just the thing for new writers who keep getting in their own way. Finally, someone is giving them permission to just write! And they do.

It also had the lovely side effect of getting me to check in more frequently with my writer friends on where they are with the latest. Knowing that you’re not alone with your novel, that there other people sweating over theirs, is reassuring. We humans are social creatures. We mostly prefer to suffer together.

The following are some little tweaks I’d love to see on the NaNo pages:

I would love it if you could edit your stats page to put your own word count goal in. Mine would have been 300. It would have made that line on the bar graph far less intimidating.

More writing achievement badges! At the very least one for ever 5k increment would be lovely. The jump from the 10k badge to the 25k badge and then from the 25k one to the 40k one is too steep. More rewards = more better!

I’d also love it if the word counts continued to be visible even after people hit their 50k goal. So instead of just seeing that those writing buddies are WINNERS! you can see that they’ve continued writing. It would be a good reminder that hitting 50k is not the end goal—finishing a novel is. (For those who didn’t know 50k is a very short novel. Most are at least 60k. Razorhurst was 90k. It’s not a long novel.)

TL;DR: NaNo’s fab but didn’t work for me. However, my younger self would’ve loved it.

  1. I’m ending early because I’m off to Adelaide for the historic first day/night test. I can’t wait!
  2. That’s unusual for me. I usually take at least one day off a week but more usually two. I’ve been experimenting to see whether it makes my RSI worse. So far so good. I did have a flare up but that seems to have had more to do with trying a new treatment.
  3. I also stopped blogging for the month of November so the jump in word count is not quite as dramatic as it looks but it’s still pretty dramatic.
  4. Those are the days that led me to having RSI now. But I digress . . .

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9. PubCrawl Podcast: NaNoWriMo 2015 Digging Deep

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This week Kelly and JJ discuss digging deep and finding the will to continue with NaNoWriMo. Also, real talk: we talk about bipolar disorder and depression, and the difference between I Don’t Want To and I Can’t.

Subscribe to us on iTunes, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice! If you like us, please leave a rating or review, as it helps other listeners find the podcast. Thanks in advance!

Show Notes

Here’s the thing, y’all: NaNoWriMo is great for getting words on the page, but also remember to be kind to yourself.

What We’re Reading/Books Discussed

Off Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! Next week: THE FINISH LINE. NaNoWriMo comes to an end!

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10. Emotional Roadblocks and Writing

We talk about a lot of things on Pub Crawl – writing craft, the submission process, the editorial process, the industry, and lots of stuff in between. We like to encourage writing by hopefully imparting insight and advice. Lots of people do; bloggers, writers, editors, agents. And at one time or another, you’ve likely seen this advice: Write Every Day. There are no excuses. Do it or you’ll never get better. Practice makes perfect – so practice every single day.

But for many of us, this advice can actually be detrimental to the process because we are going through a different kind of process: Healing. And sometimes, healing means not writing every day, or at all, for a long time. And the biggest key to this is understanding that it’s okay. That your pace may different. That even your writing routine may change. This does not make you less of a writer, nor does it mean you won’t still improve.

Full disclosure: I lost my father in March of this year. I say this not to garner sympathy, but to give some context. It was shocking in many ways, and completely unsurprising in others. But the thing I didn’t expect? How grief really felt, and still feels. How it comes out at strange times, making the rest of your day difficult to get through. It’s a daily struggle, and I am only just beginning to understand that it will be for a long time yet.

The worst of it was, I lost my will to write. For many years, I posted poetry and flash fiction on my blog a couple of times a month. In addition, I did write nearly every day, or revised finished projects, or dashed off a few lines here, a few lines there. A random scene. A conversation between characters. For a long time, I was lucky enough to be full of inspiration.

After March, I still tried to write. But I was dissatisfied with the words, with the content. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure who I was as a writer. What did I even enjoy writing? What stories did I have to tell? Everything was colored by this new way I viewed the world, however slight the difference might have been. I would begin a story, short or long, and see it through to 5,000 words before deciding I wasn’t into it. I’d sit down to dash off a line here, a line there, and end up staring at a blank screen instead.

I read advice that told me to keep writing, to keep doing, to keep practicing OR ELSE. So over and over again I attempted it, and more and more the anxiety over that command made it impossible. And you know what? It wasn’t until I finally allowed myself a break, some time away from the page to actually breathe, that writing finally started to be of interest again several months later. Now, I’m using NaNoWriMo to encourage that interest – but I’m not punishing myself when I don’t hit the word count.

This is not to say I am not still struggling. Every word is harder to write than it used to be, because I’m fighting to understand who I am now versus who I was then. This is the same for those struggling with depression, or even with physical illness. Sometimes the idea that a true writer is one who writes every day, despite the struggle, despite the emotional hardship, is more detrimental to a struggling writer than the idea that we are allowed some time off, or we are allowed to adhere to a schedule that works for us – even if it means not writing daily. We are allowed to back away for a little while, to regroup, to think, to fight.

There is only one “right” way to write, and that is whichever way empowers you as an individual. If the idea of writing is giving you anxiety, remember that it’s okay to take a break if you need one. Writing isn’t going anywhere – it’ll still be there when you’re ready.

I’m certain I’m not alone in this – if you’ve found a way to write through emotional hardships, tell me about it! I’d love to know what you’ve done, or are doing, to find writing in your life again.

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11. Betareaders Rock: Meet the Readers Who Proofed This Gulf of Time and Stars, and Win a Copy of the Book!

A few years ago, we had the pleasure of hosting a wonderful world building Q&A with Julie Czerneda around her then-new release, A Turn of Light. Now she’s back, but instead of us asking her the questions, she turned the spotlight onto the unsung heroes of the literary world: beta readers. In honour of the latest installment of her Clan Chronicles sci-fi series, This Gulf of Time and Stars, we have the privilege to share with you not just a giveaway, but an interview between an author and her trusted second (and third) pair of eyes.
So without further ado, welcome Julie!

Science fiction folks know. What they like and don’t like. Most particularly, they know what they love. All about what they love. I’ve been to conventions. Trust me. You can count me among them for I’m just as cautious about a “new” take on a beloved film or tv series. Hopeful, yes, because I want more. But cautious.

Because, seriously. What if They mess it up?

There’s no mysterious and plural They involved in my books. There’s just me. My publisher, quite rightly, expects me to know what I’m doing. My readers do too. So when I returned to write more about Morgan and Sira, I understood the stakes. I had to get it right. Me. All by myself.

Unless…I had help. What if I could find another set of expert eyeballs? Someone who’d recently reread the first six books of the series. Someone who cared about details. Someone who loved the story enough to tell me if I messed up their hopes for it.

Impossible, I thought, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Having received permission from my publisher to grant access to the unpublished manuscript, I set up a webpage with quiz questions drawn from the series, and launched a Betareader Competition. (You can try it yourself, with answers!)

EGAD! People leapt to participate. It was amazing. I took the top ten respondents and grilled them with a second, tougher quiz. At the end, I’d found my readers. I’m delighted to introduce Carla Mamone and Lyndsay Stuart, winners of a tough job and official betareaders of the first draft of This Gulf of Time and Stars.

Carla Mamone is a newlywed from Ontario, Canada, who loves to relax with a good book, her cat in her lap, and a hot cup of tea. She loves puzzles, the colour pink, and all things furry and cute. Carla earned a Bachelor of Arts in music, studying voice, composition, and music theory. She is currently working as a secretary for her family’s appraisal company, but hopes to soon join the publishing profession editing science fiction and fantasy novels.
Lyndsay Stuart got her start proofreading while working on internal communications for a big player in the Canadian automotive industry. She has worked as a mosquito identifier, is the kind of person who has a favourite lichen (Xanthoria fallax), earned a Tae Kwon Do black belt in Korea and can kick serious butt as a swordsman. She has a husband whom she saved from a bear and two little children who she thinks are the sweetest little monsters that ever were even though they’ve covered the whole house with chocolate finger prints.

Julie: Ladies, whatever made you do all this?

Carla: When I heard about the betareader competition, I thought it sounded really fun and interesting. I’m a very meticulous person, so I knew I could (hopefully) do a good job. Plus, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with one of my favourite authors.

Lyndsay: I was spending a lot of time stuck in a chair with a new baby and needed to set my mind to some work or go crazy.  It was a chance to use my powers for good.  Besides, how could I live with myself if I let the chance go by without even testing myself on the quiz?  

Who am I kidding? While all that is true, the draw was the chance to read the book early!  I’m terribly impatient and all the work was worth it!

Julie: I have to admit, it was wonderful knowing you were both so excited to do this. But it was work. What did you find the hardest part?

Carla: Not being able to tell anyone about the story. I love talking about the books that I am reading, so it was really hard not to talk about such an exciting story. My husband would ask me what was so funny or why I was crying and I couldn’t tell him about any of it. That was definitely the hardest part.

Lyndsay: The characters and the story aren’t mine so who am I to say when they aren’t right?! It was a bit tough to look at things a little more critically than usual – especially when the story was so interesting & exciting that the last thing I wanted to do was flip back and double check things! In a few places I had to highlight the text and admit that I didn’t understand the reasons underlying particular tensions or a character’s reaction to ::cough, cough:: circumstances.

Julie: Carla, you went above and beyond. I do believe I would have trusted your husband. But thank you for being so good about the non-disclosure thing. (Sorry about the tears, but it did help to know where the story had impact.) Lyndsay, when you showed me what you didn’t get, that was great. Very often I’d been obtuse, or found a different way to tweak. Now, I’ll feel less guilt once you’ve told us what was the most fun.

Carla: Not having to wait until November to see what happens next to Sira and Morgan. I also really enjoyed working with you and Lyn. You’re both so kind, I couldn’t ask for better people to work with.

Lyndsay: I bounce-floated around the house for a month, the surprises in the story are so good! Julie doesn’t just dish out surprises, she’s given us clues about the next book too! I have my guesses and can’t wait until you guys read the book. There is much to discuss.

Julie: Back at you, Carla. And the wait’s over now! One thing I’d asked, and you provided, were any bits you especially enjoyed. Thank you both for those.

The crucial factor, for me, in choosing a betareader wasn’t only expertise, for many people had that, but how well—and quickly–you could communicate my mistakes to me. Time was of the essence, as I had only the gap between my submitting first draft and the final galleys in which to make corrections. You were both amazing, but be honest, how hard was it to squeeze this into your lives?

Carla: The timing actually worked out perfectly. I was in the middle of planning my wedding and was getting pretty stressed and overwhelmed. Betareading gave me an excuse to take a break from wedding planning for a few weeks. So, after I was finished, I was excited to get back to planning and didn’t feel as overwhelmed.

Lyndsay: When this competition began I had a 2 month old baby and a 2 year old toddler, all my reading, studying and annotation couldn’t happen until nap time and I knew Julie was depending on me. Eek! I learned that diapers and reading tablets do not mix with pleasing results.

Thankfully it seems that my real world job experience reviewing written material paid off and for once I got to offer helpful suggestions on something I love. Is this what we call a Unicorn? It’s at least Cinderella getting to go to the ball.

Julie: Congratulations again, Carla! And how lovely being a reader was something good at the time. Whew! Lyndsay, as a person who started full time writing with a 6 month old and a 2 and a bit, I tip my hat. It’s hard enough to get to the bathroom, let alone think. Bravo, both.

Both, you see, because I decided to have two betareaders. (As well as a trusty standby third in case.) Why? Firstly, so you could, if you wanted, talk about me behind my back. The main reason, however, was because I saw from your quiz answers regarding the sample scene that you each identified different problems to bring to my attention. I’m not sure you knew that, but I knew I should have you both. How did you choose what to point out to me?

Carla: I tried to find anything that didn’t match the characters’ personalities or descriptions from the previous novels. I didn’t include anything that was specific only to Gulf, unless I felt that it was necessary.

Lyndsay: Hmm, how to answer without spoilers? For example, there was a section where the timeline had a tiny hiccup. A discrepancy of +/- a few hours doesn’t usually jog a reader out of the story, but in this book I had to point it out. It mattered because the characters can’t go out in the dark so the timing issue created an impossible situation.

Julie: Humbled, I was. Grateful, most of all. Thank you, Carla and Lyndsay, from the bottom of my heart. Gulf wouldn’t be the book it is without you, and you gave me the confidence to send it forth knowing those who’ve loved the series will continue to do so. It’s only fair to let you two have the last word!

Carla: I just want to thank you, Julie, for your wonderful books and for letting me be a part of this one. I had a great time!

Lyndsay: To Julie & DAW, I’m very glad to have gotten this opportunity and thankful to all who helped make it happen.

To you, Readers, I must say that at the end of Rift in the Sky Julie promised all of us we “ain’t seen nothing yet.” Julie knows exactly who and what we love and she’s filled this book up with all of it. Wondering what’s next to come is killing me! Until then it’ll be a big treat to read the final, polished version of This Gulf of Time and Stars.

Julie: Thanks again! A last, last word. (I get to do that.) Invaluable as my betareaders’ expert eyes proved–followed by those of my alert editor, copyeditor, and proof readers–please remember the responsibility for consistency and continuity in the Clan Chronicles is mine alone.

As it should be. Enjoy this new installment!


And now, the giveaway! Enter to win a free copy of This Gulf of Time and Stars, open to participants in the US and Canada. If audio books are more your thing, we’re giving away one of those, too! Listen now to a sample from the audiobook of This Gulf of Time and Stars narrated by Allyson Johnson, courtesy of audible.com

This_GulfofTime_andStars_wpro

Cover Credit: Matt Stawicki

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future with interstellar travel where the Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

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Julie Czerneda author photo credit Roger Czerneda PhotographySince 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her Night`s Edge series. Her most recent publications: a special omnibus edition of her acclaimed near-future SF Species Imperative, as well as Book Two of Night`s Edge, A Play of Shadow, a finalist for this year’s Aurora. Julie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her Clan Chronicles series. Book #1 of Reunification, This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released by DAW November 2015. For more about her work, visit www.czerneda.com or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

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12. PubCrawl Podcast: NaNoWriMo 2015 Ideas

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Kelly and JJ kick off NaNoWriMo month! This week they talk about how to find an idea to write into a novel, and some tips about how to start writing.

Subscribe to us on iTunes, or use this feed to subscribe through your podcast service of choice!

Chat

What a Gchat conversation between Kelly and JJ looks like.

nanowrimo

JJ had to draw this, of course.

Show Notes

It’s all JJ, all the time this week!

Some Tips and Tricks

  1. Keep a journal to write down scraps of ideas, or Story Seeds
    • Character
    • Premise
    • Plot
    • Match any of the Story Seeds together for a novel–need at least 2 to start writing
  2. If Story Seeds aren’t coming:
    • Write a list of your favourite books
    • Identify which tropes are contained within them (visit TV Tropes as needed)
    • Divide the tropes into Character, Premise, and Plot
    • Pick 2, see if it sparks anything and start writing
  3. Start telling yourself the story—DON’T START WRITING YET—write a “long, shitty synopsis”
  4. Figure out the inflection/turning points of the first act
    • Inciting Incident: the thing that changes the status quo
    • The Point of No Return: the moment the protagonist takes action and becomes personally involved
  5. START WRITING

Troubleshooting

  • Describe your character using three adjectives, without describing their sex/gender, ethnicity, looks, or profession/occupation.
  • Specificity helps. BE SPECIFIC.

Books Discussed

Apologies for some audio issues at the end of the episode.

Off-Menu Recommendations

That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll have another pep talk for you, plus answering your questions! Comment with any questions you have for us about writing, drafting, motivation, etc. or send us as ask through Tumblr.

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13. Bringing The Fun Back Into Writing

Hey, All! Stephanie here, with my good friend and fellow pub-crawler, Stacey Lee. Today, we are so excited to talk about two of our favorite things: writing and fun!

Stephanie: It’s the beginning of November, which means NaNoWriMo has just begun!

I love the idea of NaNo. I love that it’s a race to write fast, and one that everyone can win. So instead of competing, people are rooting for one another. A wide array of authors give inspirational pep talks. Strangers write together in coffee shops. Friendships are formed as people participate in group writing sprints.

NaNo is fun! And I think this is a key reason why it is so enduring. I don’t know about all of you, but whenever I’m feeling particularly stuck, uninspired, or that everything I’m writing is really garbage-y, I think it’s because I’ve forgotten to have fun with it. And I believe it’s nearly impossible to write a story others will love if you’re not feeling any love as you write.

So Stacey and I have put together a list of, Seven Ways To Bring The Fun Back Into Your Writing:

1. Fall in love with words again.

Stephanie: When I was younger, being the super-cool kid that I was, I sat in my room a lot and read my thesaurus. I loved discovering new words. I’d highlight the ones that sounded most interesting then write little stories around them. Sadly, my teachers often informed me I was actually using many of these words incorrectly—but that’s another story.

The point of this story is, I made an effort to uncover new words as if they were treasures to be found. I’m not sure when I stopped (probably around the time I started making friends), but lately I’ve started hunting for words again, and listing all the lovely words that I’d been neglecting. It inspires me—like finding the perfect party dress and deciding to throw a party because of it. Now it’s even easier to re-discover words with awesome sites like thesaurus.com.

Some of my most recent favorites include:

Arsenic, Rancor, Lurid, Insidious, Velveteen, Ephemeral

I’m also a big fan of McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions.

Slang Dictionary

This book also has a thematic index. For example, if you’re searching for a term to use in place of liquor store, you’d find: candy store, comfort station, filling station, guzzelry, happy shop, headache department, headache house, juice house, leeky store, LIQ, oasis, thirst-aid station.

2. Commandeer your setting.

Stacey: Stand up, and wiggle your shoulders. Roll out your neck. Now make fists and pump them toward the heavens and say, “I am Master of my domain!”

Now sit back down and examine the world you’ve created. How can you make it better? Don’t settle for what’s ordinary, or expected because when we do that, we put readers (and ourselves) to sleep. Make it more vivid, more memorable. How? By not just adding a crooked door to the cottage, but creating an emotional connection between the crooked door and your character. Maybe every time your character sees the door, she remembers how her dad kicked it down when her mom locked him out. Or maybe the door is always threatening to fall. You can create a lot of layers, and have even more fun with your writing, by commandeering your setting.

3. Let Your Imagination Leap Out Windows.

Stephanie: A couple weeks ago a former student of mine sent me this lovely quote:

Her imagination was by habit ridiculously active; if the door wasn’t opened to it, it jumped out the window. –Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

When I read this I pictured a bored woman jumping out of a window. But I believe the author is really saying that writers should shrug off anything confining them and take bold daring risks that will bring them to frightening and dangerous places. This goes beyond breaking rules. It’s simple to say, “I don’t care  about what everyone says, I’m going to start my book with my character waking up.” But mining deep within yourself, to find a subject that will not only force your reader to see some facet of the world through a different lens but stretch you as a writer, that is something else entirely. This might not be ‘fun,’ but it’s definitely exciting.

4. Find Reasons To Celebrate:

Stacey: I think sometimes we’re running so fast, we forget to stop at the rehydrating stations. Celebrations are one of the ways we can rehydrate, along with eating and sleeping and laughing. I book a spa appointment every time I turn a draft in on time—my own private pat on the back for making my deadline. And speaking of celebrations, Stephanie and I are preparing a celebration for our one-year anniversary on Tumblr because it’s basically an excuse to be merry and giveaway an awesome stash of books.

5. Pick a Theme Song

Stephanie: I know a lot of people do playlists, which are also awesome, but playlists usually encompass a variety of emotions. A theme song should be your anchor to one distinct feeling, which you are excited about threading throughout your entire novel.

For the first book I wrote, Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós was my theme song. It was whimsical and beautiful, and it made me think of make-believe things come to life. Whenever I felt as if my writing was stale, I would put that song on and it reminded me of what I was attempting to achieve.

6. Get into a good story.

Stacey: Nothing helps me rediscover the joy of writing like reading a good book, watching an awesome film or play. When I’ve reached a roadblock, sometimes just reading the words of others inspires me to go back and kick some roadblock bootie. Great stories I’ve experienced recently:

  • Phantom of the Opera musical (made me want to write a tragic love story!)
  • The movie The Martian (plotting brilliance)
  • Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (the evil scheming ballerinas!)

 7. Participate in NaNoWriMo.

We know the month has already started, but it’s not too late to join in the fun.

Now it’s your turn! We’d love to hear any tips you have that might help put the fun back into writing!

silly pick of s and s

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14. Exciting News About BORDERLINES, My Next YA Novel

From Publishers Weekly Nov. 2, 2015 issue:

FSG Crosses the ‘Borderline’ With Perkins
After winning a multiple-round auction, Grace Kendall at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers took world rights, for six figures, to Mitali Perkins’s YA novel Borderlines. The book, which is set for a fall 2017 release, was sold by Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Agency. Perkins has written nine books for children and won multiple literary awards, including the E.B. White Young Adult Honor. Rennert said Borderlines, which links 15 stories about a Bengali family in Queens, features “the literary charm of The House on Mango Street and the bittersweet poignancy of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent.” Perkins was born in Kolkata, India, and the novel, Rennert noted, is “inspired by [the author’s] own experience as the youngest of three sisters who arrived in America with a wave of immigrants in the 1970s.”

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15. Come join us for November writing tips!

 

WGDW #58b

The response has been great! We’ve assembled a nice group of folks who are looking forward to their free daily writing tips all through the month of November.

There’s still time to sign up. Just go here for all the details and to get the free download of TOP 10 MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE. And be sure to tell your other writing pals. The more the merrier!

0 Comments on Come join us for November writing tips! as of 10/29/2015 11:41:00 AM
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16. Remembering How to Write

Hi, my name is Kelly. I don’t write anymore.

I was asked to contribute to Pub Crawl almost entirely on the depth of my industry experience. And don’t worry, most of the posts I have planned will be about the publication process. I’ve worn many hats throughout my career since starting out in 2005 typing out reader reports for a Foreign scouting agency in a pay-by-the-minute internet café in Times Square. In the ten years since then, I’ve worked at literary agencies and publishers, have begun freelancing, and will soon be teaching as well. I’m particularly passionate about empowering authors to take creative control of their work and their careers.

But I wanted my first post to be more intimate. To give you a chance to get to know me a little before I start bellowing at you about how you should always, always read your contracts. I figured I might as well tell you the truth about me, and the truth is that I don’t write anymore.

I don’t write anymore, and it makes me so sad.

I could tell you about how I used to write, all the time, since childhood. How I studied writing in college and wrote novels and short stories and scribbled notes onto every spare inch of my waitress notepad. How I was invited to read my writing at several selective literary events and joined productive and delightful critique groups and spent all my time writing, writing, writing. Until one day I just stopped.

Objectively I can come up with excuses, but really I think that what it boils down to is that I tend to self-sabotage and am very risk-averse. I started working in the publishing industry, and it’s difficult—at least, it was for me—to be on both sides of the fence at once. I moved half-way across the country and got married and had a kid and put my time and creative energy into other things. I don’t know exactly why or how I stopped writing but I know absolutely why I didn’t start again, and that’s because I was terrified.

I am still terrified. But I decided to write again, anyway.

I did not wake up in the middle of the night, feverish with a new idea, driven by a force greater than myself that compelled me to write now. I have received no visits from a muse, have not carefully cultivated a story that needs telling, have not yet figured out what it is I have to say. I just miss who I am when I am writing. I just want writing back in my life.

Writing is not like riding a bicycle. It has not just come back to me. The act of putting words to paper (or screen) used to be so simple and is now so agonizing. I have forgotten not only how to compose sentences, but how to get to know my characters, how to pace a story, how to have an idea. So many long years stretch between now and the last time I wrote fiction that all my previous years of writing count for nothing. I am not just emerging from writer’s block or coming off a dry spell. I am learning how to do this all over again. And I need help.

If you want to cheer me on you can find me on NaNoWriMo under the name bookishchick. If you have any tips, tricks, or magical spells useful for getting back to the discipline and inspiration and courage writing requires, then please share them in the comments. If anyone else has returned to writing after an unimaginable break, then I would love to hear about it. To know I’m not alone. To know it can be done.

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17. GUEST POST: Beth Revis on Writing Advice

Hey all! The PubCrawl gang here with a special Tuesday guest post with Beth Revis, the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, and one of the smartest and most generous people we know! Because Beth is so generous, she has written—not one, not two, but three—books of writing advice! We are giving away the first here today, which I think many of our readers attempting NaNoWriMo this year might find useful!
DON’T MISS OUT ON THE GIVEAWAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST! All orders of Paper Hearts made before November 15 from Malaprops will come with a special gift—more details below!

There is Always a Reason to Be Jealous

writingadviceWhen I was a kid, scribbling stories and beaming when the teacher or my mom displayed them on the wall, authors were as mythical as unicorns. Walking among the shelves of a bookstore felt like walking among giants. It wasn’t until I wrote my first novel that I started to think being an author wasn’t an impossibility.

And that was also about the time when I started to feel jealous. I wanted, more than anything, to be a published author, and as time went on, I became more and more jealous of anyone who already held the keys to elite circle. That feeling just became more and more intense as I wrote manuscript after manuscript, hoping to find the golden ticket into publishing.

I would tell myself, If I could just get an agent, I’d be happy.

And then, eventually, I got an agent. And so I said, If I could just get a book deal, I’d be happy.

And I did. I got the book deal of my dreams. But then I said, If the book could just do well, maybe some awards or hit the list…then I can be happy.

And it did. And I was blissfully, gloriously happy. I had all my dreams come true. A great book deal, a trilogy that hit the NY Times bestseller list, publisher sponsored book tours, fan letters, literally everything I ever wanted.

But there is always a reason to be jealous.

Always.

Someone else hit the list higher. Someone else got a bigger deal. Someone else is heralded as the height of the genre. Someone else has higher ratings and better reviews. Someone else has everything I have, but also a nice lake house and isn’t allergic to kittens.

There’s always a reason to be jealous.

Even if you have it all, even if everything’s perfect…it won’t last. It just won’t. I guarantee that even J. K. Rowling worries that her next book will flop and the glory days are over. A number one New York Times bestseller fears that no one will read his next book. An author on the red carpet of the movie based on her book has a niggling fear that this is the peak and everything is downhill from here.

And even if you are riding that high, there is always someone who is higher up than you. There just is. That is the nature of the game. We all want to be the best of the best. We all want to be made immortal through our works. We all want to know that the things we wrote made a difference in someone’s life. And it’s hard to measure what our success is. So we look at things that do measure “success.” Things like author rank, or sales numbers, or who gets invited on a book tour, or who gets the most fan art on tumblr, or who is friends with who, who got a blurb from this other author, or which publishing house is better, or who gets more attention from their editor, or who stays on the list longer than who else, or who even makes the list, and in the end none of that matters.

None of it.

There is always a reason to be jealous.

No matter how successful you are, there is always someone more successful than you. No matter what you think the epitome of your career is going to be, when you reach it, there will be a higher point you want to reach. And that is good. You always want to be striving forward, you always want to be trying to make your art better. But if you become focused on what other people have, you waste your life on jealousy. You become bitter. You start reaching for the false goals. You quit celebrating the success of others, because you’re so wrapped up in yourself.

There are countless reasons to be jealous. But that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to them.

You can win a journal with this cover!

You can win a journal with this cover!

I wrote Paper Hearts for the writer I used to be. The questions I used to have plagued me when I was starting this career path. How do I get to the end? What’s the proper way to structure a novel—is there even a proper way? How do I make my book stand out from all the other ones on sub?

Now, fifteen years, eleven unpublished books, three New York Times bestsellers, one self published book, and countless hours working on craft and working with other professionals, I think I finally have the answers that I needed way back then.

Unfortunately, I can’t travel back in time.

But what I can do is try to help others. I’ve been compiling articles on the things I’ve learned about writing, publishing, and marketing for years, first informally on blog posts, then more collectively on Wattpad. After hitting 100,000 reads, I realized that I should take Paper Hearts more seriously…and that I had not one book, but three.

Fully revised and expanded, the Paper Hearts series will feature three volumes, one each on writing, publishing, and marketing. Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice will be out on November 1, with the other two following in December and January.

Preorder it now from: Independent Bookstore | Amazon | BN |  Kobo | Smashwords

PAPER HEARTS: Some Writing Advice

Paper HeartsYour enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there’s no wrong way to get words on paper. But it’s not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won’t make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical Advice Meets Real Experience

With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:

  • How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
  • What Common Advice You Should Ignore
  • What Advice Actually Helps
  • How to Develop a Novel
  • The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone
  • Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
  • How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
  • How to Deal with Failure
  • And much more!

BONUS! More than 25 “What to do if” scenarios to help writers navigate problems in writing from a New York Times Bestselling author who’s written more than 2 million words of fiction.

Remember: if you pre-order the print copy from my local indie bookstore, Malaprops, you’ll also get a chapbook of the best writing advice from 12 beloved and bestselling YA authors included in your order for free!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Beth SquareBETH REVIS is the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, as well as The Body Electric, Paper Hearts, and the forthcoming A World Without You. She lives in the Appalachian mountains with her boys: one husband, one son, and two very large dogs. You can find out more on Facebook, Twitter, or online. If you never want to miss a thing and also get exclusive insider opportunities, sign up for her newsletter here.

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18. 7 Lessons I’ve Learned So Far…

Alas, Pub Crawl readers, the time has come for me to make my exit. I’ve been writing for this blog since 2012 and it’s been a blast. From sharing publishing insights and craft advice, to engaging in wonderful discussions via the comments, to just geeking out over books and pop culture, I’ve had so much fun contributing to Pub Crawl!

But I also can’t ignore the fact that I am stretched too thin, that my writing time is precious and I need to guard it fiercely. It was a hard decision, but I need to cut back on my blogging obligations. I’ll still be writing books and sharing advice (via my blog, newsletter, and social media outlets), I just won’t be doing it here on Pub Crawl.

Before I go, and as Alex Bracken and Amie Kauffman have done before me, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned since entering the publishing industry…

1 — ADAPT

There is no perfect time to write, and there is no perfect place to do so. You might have an ideal—your dream writing day/situation—but if you sit around waiting for it, you’re burning precious hours. In the words of Tim Gunn, you just need to “make it work.” I wrote my debut in half hour sprints after work and on the weekends. Then I became a full time writer and had all the time in the world. It was marvelous. Of course, I now have a one-year-old and am back to writing in sprints and cramming copy-edits in during naps and brainstorming while I push the stroller. All this to say: nothing is life is constant. Be prepared to write under any circumstance.

2 — YOU ARE NOT YOUR BOOK

If your book tanks, that doesn’t define you. If your book is a massive hit, that doesn’t define you either. Your identity is not tied to the success of your books. Remember that age-old mantra, The only thing you can control is the words? Well, it’s true. So don’t let your happiness be tied to things you can’t control, like sales numbers and best-seller lists. Find other passions and hobbies. Spend time with friends and family. Love writing, but live outside it too.

3 — SHARE KNOWLEDGE

I only made it through my debut season without going insane because kind, thoughtful, gracious writers who were ahead of me in their journey reached back and told me what to expect. They shared knowledge. They acted as a sounding board. They pulled back the curtain. Publishing can often feel like a giant mystery, like you’re wandering down a road-blocked, pothole-ridden street while wearing a blindfold. Help your fellow writers out. Pay-it-forward. We’re all in this together, I promise you.

4 — TAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA BREAK

Seriously. You’re allowed. As soon as you start feeling burned out, that you can’t keep up with the tweets, that the fun’s been sucked out of tumblr and that your networks are just another thing you have to maintain, STEP AWAY. Take a week or two off. Maybe more! The internet isn’t going anywhere. It will carry on just fine without you and it will be there when you get back. You’ll be amazed at how much you don’t miss, and how rejuvenated you feel when you finally return.

5 — CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Write outside your comfort zone. Explore new genres. Take risks. Do something that scares you. The only way you grow as a writer is by trying new things. Comfort—writing only what feels safe—will keep you stale. It will stall your growth. And aren’t we all trying to grow?

6 — DISSECT EVERYTHING

Storytelling is everywhere, so when you watch a movie, binge a TV show, read a book, look at a photo, listen to song lyrics, peruse a gallery… take note of what you love. What works? What inspires you? On the other hand, what do you hate? What would you change? Apply that to your own writing.

7 — ENJOY THE NOW

The grass is always greener ahead. The future holds great promise. It could be when you land an agent, sell that book, get a movie deal, go on tour, hit a list, get showered with awards, and so on. But if you’re too busy looking ahead, you’ll miss the things happening now. And remember my point in #2? Those fancy things are wonderful, but journeys without them aren’t pointless journeys. Remember to live your life. Be present in the moment. Tomorrow is going to happen no matter what, so make sure you enjoy today.

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19. Guest Post with Christy Farley: Turning a Standalone into a Series

Amie here first: Hello! Before I left Pub(lishing) Crawl back in July, I asked the very talented Christy Farley to write a post for us, and here it is! Read on for great wisdom indeed, and an awesome giveaway!

Gilded-FarleyWhen I sold my YA contemporary fantasy, Gilded, it was one of those WOW-is-this-really-happening-moments. The elation on a scale of 1-10 was definitely an 11. Not too long after the deal, I visited my editor in New York. Over coffee, we chatted about books and series and what made us fall in love with them. During that convo, we had the “what happens next” talk. I’m not going to lie. I was really excited to think about what would happen next, but also terrified. My editor asked me some tough questions. Did I want Gilded to be a standalone? Two books? Three? But the hardest question was: “Why?”

I didn’t know the answer.

So I went back home and played around with some ideas. I brainstormed and wrote up a potential synopsis, but I really wasn’t feeling future books.ChristinaFarley_Sivern

It was actually after my editor sent me her revision letter that everything began to click into place. She asked all the right questions. Sure, they were tough, but as I began to answer them, my world solidified, my characters grew, and in turn, so did I as a writer.

When I turned in my edits for Gilded, I realized I didn’t want to leave that world.

Literally the moment I turned in those edits, I started writing Silvern (book 2). I didn’t follow the original synopsis for the book. Instead, I allowed my characters to take me on an unexpected journey into North Korea. It was invigorating and I was hooked. I wrote that first draft in two months while teaching full time and being a mom.

BRAZEN cover by Christina FarleyMy agent sent Silvern to my editor. She loved it and bought it. YAY! More celebration. More freak-out moments. But in the back of my mind, I knew the story wasn’t complete. I had left my main character in the most horrible of situations and I knew I couldn’t leave her there. I didn’t think, didn’t ask, I just wrote the next book. And that’s when Brazen (book 3) was born.

So perhaps in many ways, writing this series was based on passion and hearing my characters tell me their story. Even still, I know I couldn’t have written the Gilded series without the seven key elements below.

Quick Tips for Writing a Series

  1. Keep a Series Bible

In my series bibles, I keep a section for each character with their physical characteristics, sayings, and personal history. Since I’m a fantasy writer, I make sure I take copious notes on the rules for my world. I also love printing out pictures for visuals of my settings.

  1. Timeline

This can be kept in your series bible or on a separate piece of paper. This will help you remember when events occur in your character’s life. It will also assist you when you create the overarching arc for your series. Interestingly, there are many events in my characters’ lives that never made it into the book, but I need to know to understand my characters better.

  1. The Hansel and Gretel Technique

So when I wrote the Gilded series, I sprinkled what I call cookie crumbs throughout the books. These not only provided bridges and continuity for the series, but gave the world a fuller, richer feel.

For example in book 1, I introduced a secret tunnel that leads to North Korea, but my main character never uses it. Why? Because I knew she needed it for book 2. Another example, Haemosu (the antagonist) mentions he’s working for Kud, the god of darkness. Kud never has screen time in book 1, but he becomes the focal antagonist for book 2 and 3.

  1. Book Arc vs. Series Arc

Remember that each book in your series has its own plot and character arc. But what creates a successful, satisfying series is when the writer has developed an arc for the entire series. There must be a larger, overarching issue or problem that isn’t solved completely in each book. It must grow over the course of the series until the stakes are at an all-time high, culminating in the final book.

  1. Plot Like Mad!

So I’m an obsessive plotter. I like to know my end game before I even begin. Because of that, it really helped me create a full series arc. Take the time to make sure your series has a rising conflict, a climax, and a resolution.

  1. Let Your Characters Drive

So yes, you should plot, but never forget that your characters are the essence of your story. They must be likeable (your readers will be spending lots of time with them), real, have flaws, a purpose, and grow. Don’t be afraid to let your characters drive your story in unexpected ways because they’ll take you on adventures you never thought you could imagine.

  1. Make Your World A Reality

One of my best author moments was when a 7th grader asked me how to get into the Spirit World. He really believed that the dragons and white tigers in Gilded existed.

To create a realistic world bridge your readers between ours and yours by using the familiar. Think how J. K. Rowling used a train to bridge us. Or Riordan used dyslexia for demi-gods. And don’t forget to make sure your rules are rock solid so your reader isn’t turned off by the unbelievable.

Have you ever wondered if a book you are writing could be a series? For those of you who have written a series, please share your tips as well!

To celebrate the release of BRAZEN, Christina is giving away a Kindle Fire (US only) and a $50 Amazon gift card (international). The letter for this stop is A.

Click here to enter!

FARLEY-1011 CHRISTINA FARLEY is the author of the Gilded series, a YA contemporary fantasy series set in Korea. Gilded was nominated for the 2014 Morning Calm, the 2015 Buckeye award, and the Tome’s It List. As a child, she loved to explore, which later inspired her to jump on a plane and travel the world. Christina’s adventures sparked her to write stories, infusing the real world with fantasy. Currently she writes from home in Clermont, FL with her husband and two sons—that is until the travel itch whisks her off to a new unknown. For more details, check out her website at www.christinafarley.com or visit her on Twitter @ChristinaFarley and Instagram @ChristinaLFarley.

And remember, there’s still time to enter the giveaway for Leigh Bardugo’s latest book, Six of Crows!

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20. Guest Post: Down the Research Rabbit Hole with Mindy McGinnis

Amie here first: Today we have a guest post from the lovely Mindy McGinnis, whose latest book, A Madness So Discreet, came out yesterday! She’s here to tell us about the entirely unreasonable demands of her muse, and the amazing book that resulted!

MadnessSoDiscreetCOVERUSEMy muse is fickle and unreliable, which is really frustrating for me because I’m the type of person that is constantly busy. I knit while watching TV because being still is not in my body’s repertoire. So when Miss Muse shuts down for a little bit, I tend to get frustrated with her, and she usually responds by dumping three to four great concepts into my lap at once, declares her job done, and disappears again.

She pulled this trick on me in 2013 when the barren waste land that had formerly housed my inspiration suddenly said, “Hey, you should write a Victorian Gothic novel set in an insane asylum about a girl who assists a criminal psychologist in catching killers. Also, she has to pretend to be lobotomized in order to escape her abusive father. That should be easy to deliver, ta-ta.”

To which I said, “Hey, thanks muse. Nice. How do I go about doing that?” But she didn’t answer because she’d already jetted off to wherever she goes when not spouting difficult-to-execute concepts at me. But I already knew the answer: research. I needed to know a lot of things in order to even come close to doing this the right way.

How did insane asylums operate in the 1890’s? How was criminal psychology executed then? How often was it right? Was the science accurate enough that a well-trained person could conceivably have caught a killer based on what they knew about the criminal mind at the time? How were lobotomies performed?

OOPS—snag. Lobotomies weren’t a medical practice in 1890. That’s a pretty huge roadblock for me since the plot hinged on my main character being (supposedly) lobotomized. Shifting the timeframe to 1936, when the first lobotomy was performed in the US, would screw up my plot even more. So instead I needed a feasible situation where a doctor could be aware of the benefits of a lobotomy-like procedure, without…you know…actually calling it a lobotomy. This train of thought ended with me reading this book, and this one. Yes, I was really popular on public transit.

I also read this book, and this book, this one (it has pictures—ouch), and to get the other side of that story, this one. And finally a slightly more relaxing one so that I was familiar with my setting. Then just to be thorough, I took a trip to the asylum where the book is set because I’m a big fan of knowing what the hell I’m talking about.

A year after Miss Disappearing Muse dropped the concept on me, I figured I knew enough to actually start writing the book. Except, no. This was the first time I’d ever attempted to write a historical, and because I despise anachronisms I had to get things as correct as I possibly could. From what kind of lighting was in the room my character waked into (Fire? Gas? Electrical?) to what she was wearing, to the question of whether she was working side by side with “policemen,” “cops,” or “constables,” I found myself in the position of not being able to finish most sentences without a quick fact check.

It was painful, torturous writing – and not only because of what I put the characters through. To make thing worse, I’d spent so much time researching that I’d painted myself into a pretty serious corner in terms of deadlines. I won’t tell you how quickly I wrote MADNESS because you’ll question my sanity, but I will tell you I gained almost fifteen pounds doing it because I basically shut myself in my room and wrote while slamming cheeseburgers. At one point I would’ve accepted a catheter just to get the job done more effectively.

A Madness So Discreet released yesterday, and I’m pretty proud of it. It marks a genre departure from my earlier works—Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust are post-apoc survival—but not a departure from what I do best. Which apparently is write rather stomach-churning scenarios while eating.

Told you I’m a multi-tasker.

Amazon Head ShotMINDY MCGINNIS is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, Not a Drop to Drink, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film my Stephanie Meyer’s Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, In a Handful of Dust was released in 2014. Look for her Gothic historical thriller, A Madness So Discreet on October 6 from Katherine Tegen Books.

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21. Summarizing Your Novel: The Query Trenches Part Two

Hey guys! Hannah here. Last month, I posted some tips on little ways to take your query out of the blah zone. JJ and Kelly also posted an awesome podcast on the query process.

When giving query advice, a lot of us take for granted that you’ll know what we mean when we tell you a query must have a short synopsis of your story. We also take for granted that you’ll figure out how to do this in 300 words or fewer. I’d like to talk a bit more about what goes into creating a good, cohesive summary that will entice an agent to read more in just a few paragraphs.

You’ve probably seen a lot of advice that tells you a good query is comprised of a hook followed by a summary of your story, ending with a bio and a few sentences on why you chose the agent you are querying. Structurally, this is sound. But when you have a sprawling epic with many perspectives, or even a quietly complex contemporary, it can be tough to know how best to distill your story into a summary that makes sense.

What I usually see in the slush is this: a summary that goes over many of the big points in the plot but rushes through due to lack of page space and direction. The agent reading might miss key plot points, or have no idea what that made-up word is. Maybe the summary began too deep into the story, and the agent is confused by the list of events. These questions are distracting for a query reader, and can bring them out of a query quick.

So how do you summarize your novel and do it well? We have a tendency to think we must somehow shove the entire plot into this tiny space. But that isn’t actually the case. The best summaries (even the sprawling, epic ones) contain these: your inciting incident, your main conflict, the plan, and the stakes.

Before we get into the summary, let’s talk about the hook. There are two reasons why your hook is so important. Number one: It’s the hook! Okay, that one is obvious. It’s designed to give agents a peak into your character that entices them into reading more. Number two: if done well, it should help you cut huge swaths of fluff from your summary.

A good hook tells us about the character and the conflict in one go. I’m taking this example of a hook from Erin Bowman’s post Querying: The Do’s and Don’ts (thanks, Erin!), to show you what I mean:

Gray Weathersby is counting down the days until his eighteenth birthday with dread, for in the primitive and isolated town of Claysoot, a boy’s eighteenth is marked not by celebration, but by  his disappearance.

We know who the main character is, we know something personal about him when the book opens, and we know what his conflict is going to be. I’m intrigued to keep reading.

Next: What is an inciting incident? This is that moment when the status quo is no more, and the character is forced to take action. This is a step I often see skipped in queries, resulting in a strangely disjointed summary.

Figure out what the inciting moment is for your character, and tell us about it. For example, a precious jewel is stolen from a museum—this is the catalyst for the Private Eye to enter the picture and solve the mystery. Or, your protagonists loses her job and instead of applying elsewhere, chooses to fulfill a dream and travel the world. Tell me about the moment when everything your character thought she knew is turned on its head.

Now that your character has been called to action, tell us what needs to be accomplished. This is where you flesh out your conflict. We don’t need each and every detail; just enough to show us what the protagonist must overcome. The P.I. must now solve the mystery of the stolen diamond—but a nefarious gang will stop at nothing, including murder, to prevent it from happening. And, the more the P.I. digs, the more he unearths about a political conspiracy (give some detail on that conspiracy) attached to the diamond theft. The World Traveler has all of her money stolen in a foreign country. The hostel where she was staying burns down with all of her worldly possessions. Maybe she, too, stumbles into a political conflict she knows nothing about.

So what are your characters going to do about it? They have decisions to make. These decisions are informed by the stakes. For a lowly P.I., getting in the middle of a nefarious gang AND a political conspiracy might not be worth it. So tell me why he gets involved anyway. Is he blackmailed? Does he have a personal tie to a person or plan within the gang or the conspiracy? Tell us why he MUST solve the murder, and what is at stake for him if he doesn’t. For the World Traveler who has lost everything, tell us how she plans to get home, what she must sacrifice to do it, and what happens if she fails. Is her father dying back home? Is her sister getting married? Is her house set for demolition? Why is it important for her to overcome this conflict?

A note on fantasy: it’s very tempting to try and give all the backstory about the world, its magical systems, its government, or its religion. These are things you’ve worked hard on – your story is not the same without these elements. But if character IS story (and it is), then the most important thing is to make us understand your character’s struggle at the most basic level. Leave the made-up words and the complicated hierarchies out of the query.

When you look at the summary in this way, you can see that even sprawling epics can be broken down into short summaries. These components make up the heart of the story, and that’s what an agent wants to see in a query.

I hope this has been useful! If anyone is interested in a Part Three, let me know below!

 

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22. Sign Up for November Writing Tips!


WGDW #58b

November is novel writing month! I’ve decided to expand the secret gift I was going to send a writer friend of mine, and send out daily writing inspiration and tips to anyone else who would like them! Here are the details. Sign up and let’s write!

0 Comments on Sign Up for November Writing Tips! as of 10/15/2015 9:34:00 PM
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23. Doing Your Research: The Query Trenches Part Three

Hey all, Hannah here! Last week, I spoke in depth about how to summarize your novel for a query. The month before, I gave some tips on little ways to take yours to the next level. Today, I’m going to go into a bit more depth about some of the larger mistakes I often see that might give agents a reason to reject a query.

This is a hard truth: many agents receive hundreds of queries a week, and yours will, someday, be among them. When an agent reads so many queries every day (if they are lucky enough to find the time among all of their other responsibilities), it sometimes becomes easier to find reasons to reject a query, rather than reasons not to.

The number biggest reason a query gets rejected, aside from simply not fitting an agent’s list or tastes? A query that betrays poor to no research. So without further ado, here are some mistakes I regularly see that tell me a querier has jumped the gun.

Mistake: Telling instead of showing.

Yes, this is true in queries as well as fiction. Every so often I’ll see a query that has a very short summary, often even more like a logline, detailing the very broad plot points of the story, followed by many paragraphs explaining character motivation and themes.

For example:

When a girl and a boy are thrust into an emotional situation, they are forced to confront the realities of friendship and go on a search for the meaning of life.

I wanted to write this book because the themes of lost love and identity speak to me, and, as someone who has experienced a terrible breakup, I felt I was the best person to tell this story. Michelle and Tony are best friends but I wanted to drive an emotional wedge between them in the form of a third love interest.

Etc.

This tendency comes from not knowing how to summarize your story. Rather than over-explaining to the point of confusion, the story is under-explained to the point of being too broad. Anyone who still doubts their ability to summarize their novel well should check out last week’s post for guidance. Because an agent should be able to tell quite clearly from the stakes you outline in the summary what your character’s motivations are.

Mistake: Explaining this is the first book you’ve written/that it’s recently completed OR calling this your debut/yourself a debut writer

This is a mistake because it highlights you as possibly inexperienced whether you are or want to be framed that way. It isn’t pertinent information – it changes nothing about your story, how you summarize your story, or anything within your bio. The only thing it does is tell me that there’s a possibility you haven’t done your research.

There is no need to point out if this is your first book or your fiftieth. Let the work speak for itself.

Mistake: Confusing “personalizing your query” for “restating the submission page on the website”

This actually a very easy mistake to make. We often see advice that suggests personalizing a query by telling the agent why you chose him or her. This shows the agent that you didn’t just mass email your query – you took time and put thought into who you contacted.

But what I often see instead of “I noticed quirky, adventurous middle grade on your #MSWL, and felt my manuscript fit the bill”, is: “I went to your website and saw that you are looking for thrillers and upmarket fiction and romance and that you enjoy working with new authors. Therefore I am emailing you.”

Here’s the thing: the agent knows what’s on the website. Don’t waste valuable query space repeating it. That space should be for you and your story. And if you don’t have something more specific to personalize with, that’s okay! If you chose the agent based on what the website says he or she wants, just start with your hook and go from there.

Mistake: Naming more than three characters.

A long, confusing summary often gets that way when too many characters are named in a query. The moment you name a character is the moment you tell a reader that character is important. Perhaps you have more than one main character – maybe you have five, or seven! It doesn’t matter. Pick your most important character, the one whose struggle your book is ultimately about, and focus your query on him or her. After that, only name those who absolutely must be named in relation to the summary. If you can help it, try not to name more than three characters. The person reading your query will (hopefully) be far less confused.

One of the things I struggled with when querying was exactly this problem – knowing who to name and who to leave out. But trust me: it can be done.

Mistake: Using bad comp titles.

This one is actually really hard to get right, in my opinion, and if you aren’t entirely certain, just don’t use them. Do they help? Only if they’re spot on.

Using books that are huge sellers/extremely well-loved is generally a no-no. Why? Because comparing yourself to J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins or Stephen King goes back to the haughty or poorly researched issue. It’s much safer to use titles that do/have done well enough and are known, but not so huge that you look arrogant or ignorant of other good books. It’s also generally best to use something more current – more than a couple years old and they begin to lose relevance.

See? Told you it was tough.

Another question I sometimes get: can a querier use TV shows or films as comp titles? The answer is…yes and no. Tread lightly here. I wouldn’t use more than one TV/film comp title, and if you do, it’s often helpful to balance it with a book title. Lots of agents feel differently in this category – some hate when queriers use TV/film titles, and some really like it. If you aren’t sure, do your research. Check out an agent’s twitter, interviews they have done, etc. If there are no answers to be found and you aren’t 110% certain of the titles you’ve chosen? Skip them. This is another area where it’s best to err on the side of caution.

It’s true that there are writers who make mistakes like these and still get agents. All of publishing is subjective – what bothers one agent may not bother another. The format one agent loves, another might hate. But being informed and well-researched shows in a query, no matter who you’re querying. And that is far more valuable than you realize.

Once again, I hope this has been useful. Good luck to everyone in their querying endeavors!

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24. Go, Indie! Young Writer Go, Indie!

On July 13, 1865, Horace Greeley penned an editorial that is famously quoted: “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

I had the privilege of meeting with a young writer this week who wanted to chat about her future. She’s articulate, smart and engaged. She’s already a member of a fan-fiction forum where she chats with other teens about writing. She’s planning to take the NaNoWriMo challenge and write 50,000 words in November. Even at fourteen, with parental controls carefully in place, she’s linked in and excited about the future of book publishing. Here are some of the things we discussed.

Go Indie, Young Writer, Go Indie, and Grow Up with the Industry.

Write 10,000 hours. If you want to be a writer, you must write.
I asked Young Writer, “How many hours do you need to write to become a great storyteller?”
She said, “My preacher said 10,000 hours to be good at anything.”

Obviously, someone has read Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, where he claims experts need that level of commitment. Whether you believe that number or not, it’s true that writers write. They don’t talk about writing, they don’t study text books about writing, they don’t wish they had written. They write.

Likewise, most writers who are successful are readers. It’s certainly possible to avoid a deep literary background of reading–but I believe it’s much harder. Pour language in to get language out. The wider the variety of reading, the better.
Go Indie Young Writer: Advice to Teenagers Just Starting Their Careers | Fiction Notes by Darcy Pattison
Prepare to be a social media maven. A second skill for writers growing up today is social media. Aspiring young writers should become comfortable on different social media platforms and participate a variety of communities devoted to literature. One thing that definitely means is the young writer needs skills in photo editing. Taking your own photos is even better, but for sure, they should be able to edit photos. For example, Facebook needs horizontal photos, while Instagram prefers square, and Pinterest highlights vertical. Can you take one photo and format it to fit each platform. Even as platforms morph (Instagram now allows horizontal or vertical, while preferring square), the ability to reformat photos will remain a valuable skill. One step farther, video skills will become increasingly important online. These are things that even a fourteen-year old can do, before they are even allowed by cautious parents (Hurrah for cautious parents!) allow social media accounts. For example, Lynda.com offers reasonably priced video tutorials on a wide variety of skills, including photo editing.

Prepare to be a small business person. Already, Young Writer was asking, “Should I go Indie?”
When I said, “Yes,” she was excited. She was already tending to think indie was a strong option for her.

And fourteen years old is the time to think Indie, because it requires an entrepreneurial mindset. Indie authors are small business persons. They need a variety of skills: accounting, marketing, graphic design for book covers and book layout, social promotion and more. This was perhaps the biggest surprise for the Young Writer’s Mom. She had thought only of writing and producing the books, not of marketing them.

Now is the time to think about the classes to take in high school and college that can feed into a successful venture in indie publishing. Learn accounting and financial management. One of the biggest challenges for me has been the financial side of indie publishing; in fact, I’d never even taken a basic accounting class before I started my venture. I suggested that Young Writer invest time in accounting, accounting software, and thinking like a financial planner.

Likewise, books are an exercise in graphic design. Whether you do ebooks or print books, the book cover is a crucial sales tool, and the interior must be laid out in a professional and pleasing way. I’m not saying that Young Writer must do all her own graphic design; rather, she must be comfortable acting as an art director for her books. That means some experience in a graphic design class will help her see possible difficulties and solutions and hopefully, give her an eye for great design. Maybe an arts appreciation class is just as important as the graphics design class.

What should I major in in college? asked Young Writer.

The answer depends on Young Writer’s goals. Indie authors create multiple income streams to survive, especially in the early years. Typically, a writer earns income from book sales, speaking engagements, and teaching. Throw in some extra sales from repackaging the book for different formats: paperback, hardcover, ebooks, audiobooks, online video courses, and so on.

If Young Writer wants to be a creative writing professor at a university level, then an MFA in Creative Writing makes sense. Or even a Ph.D. University programs are generally great at turning out professors, and not necessarily (with exceptions, of course) turning out practicing and successful writers.

However, if Young Writer wants to really go entrepreneurial and try to make a living from her writing, I’d advise a minor in Creative Writing (while working on her 10,000 hours experience), and a degree in something else. Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and other classics, graduated from medical school, although he never practiced as a doctor. The expertise in medicine–and his comfort in dealing with technical issues from chemistry to anatomy–brought something unique to his fiction. He was comfortable discussing the genetics of bringing back extinct species of dinosaurs – and making the science fiction plausible. Likewise, Young Writer might benefit from a degree in history, archeology, sociology, anthropology, medicine and so on.

It depends on Young Writer’s goals, their personality, and their commitment to writing. But now is the time to think about options. And I think the future for smart young writers is in their own hands. Go Indie, young writer, go Indie, and grow up with the industry.

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25. About That White as Default Thing

WARNING: Extremely contentious topic ahead.

A while back, author Malinda Lo tweeted a story where she came across a woman who told her that she deliberately left her character’s race ambiguous so the reader could decide. Malinda’s response was that the woman should define her character’s race clearly.

Bear with me here. I’ll explain my comment to Malinda in a bit.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve actually broached this topic a few times, particularly when it comes to describing a character physically. I’ve been fairly adamant about wanting to know straight away if a character isn’t white, although some people take umbrage with that.

Needing to know a character’s race or ethnicity “right up-front” with “irrefutable textual evidence of a character’s not-whiteness” smacks of prejudice. Why would anyone assume that every character is white unless she is told otherwise?

Look. Being identified as non-white is not prejudicial…unless you have a problem with non-whiteness. There is theoretically is no value judgment on being black, Korean, biracial, or gay. Theoretically. Being ethnically non-white is a fact; facts don’t have value judgment. We, as humans, assign value judgments to neutral facts.

Author Linda Sue Park wrote in a comment in a discussion with the Cooperative Children’s Book Center about the concept of a race neutral character.

I am not black, but as a nonwhite I can attest that my race is an everyday issue. For Asians such as myself, it has negative ramifications far less often than for blacks in daily U.S. life, but not a day passes that I do not confront the question in some form. This is perhaps the single most difficult aspect for those of the majority complexion to understand: There may be moments or even hours when my Asianness is not at the surface of my thoughts, but NEVER a whole day, much less weeks or months.

She also very succinctly why people—even and especially non-white readers—read “white as default” in her blog post here.

I want to deconstruct the idea of whiteness a bit.1 “White” isn’t a race; it’s a cultural construct. Caucasian is given as the racial designation, but not all Caucasians are “white”. For example, the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are Caucasian…but they are not considered “white”. Neither, for that matter, were the Irish or the Italians at the turn of the early 20th century. Slowly, as these cultures became more assimilated to the “mainstream”, they became white.

This is what I meant when I said to Malinda that “white” is the absence of race. “White” erases all traces of Other. When people talk to me about living in a “post-racial” society, I have to focus all my efforts into not rolling my eyes so hard they fall out of my head. White people might live in a post-racial society; the rest of us do not. We cannot.

My dad is white. My mother is not. Because she is not, I am not. Because my features are more hers than my father’s, the world sees me as Asian. This is not something I ever “forget” or don’t think about.

My partner is also multiracial. His father is Goan-Indian, his mother is white. He is white-passing. Because his features are more his mother’s than his father’s, the world sees him as white. He has to constantly “prove” he is not.2

I describe myself as Asian. But white people don’t generally describe themselves as white; they have the privilege of not having to think about it. That’s why I will always, always read a character as white until told explicitly otherwise, and why I will never be able to see me in a racially “neutral” character.

Because white is the absence of color.

  1. Note: I’m being US-centric because that is the culture in which I was raised.
  2. He gets hideous questions like, “What kind of Indian are you? Dot or feather?”

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