Wednesday, June 29, 2011

5 Steps to Using an Agent Catalogue

Wouldn't it be great if there were some catalogue of literary agents, which you could pick up and browse at will?

Oh, wait.  There is!

Check out your local bookseller (I went to Barnes & Nobles, because there's one just down the street.)  A lot of large stores will carry books like The 2011 Guide to Literary Agents or a similar title.  If you're not in the RWA, or if you're looking for a different genre and haven't joined the association yet to get access to the association's list of agents, the book's a pretty good resource.  Heck, it's good even if you are a member.

But not every agency listed will sell your book.  And, as every writer should know, it's just plain silly to query an agent who doesn't sell your sort of book!  They don't have the connections, haven't studied your market, and may not even enjoy reading your genre at all.  So do your research before writing your letter.

Step one is to flip to the index.  That's right, the big books I've seen have a lovely little "by genre" index in the back, which will allow you to make a list of all agencies which might actually be willing to accept your novel (or your instruction book for decoding the mathematics behind taxes, as related to the housing market in China.  A lot of the agencies do take nonfiction.)  As for me, I only noted down the agencies I hadn't seen on the RWA website, or which I'd seen but not yet applied to.  No point researching someone to whom I've already sent a query!

Step two is to actually read the blurb provided.  Just because an agent sells romance, doesn't mean they sell paranormal/fantasy romance.  I marked everyone off my list who didn't sell my specific genre.  I also marked off a few who did, but who only take new clients by referrals, or who work with only established authors. 

Naturally, step three is to note down the contact information and preferences of the agency. 

Step for is not to query them.  Step four is to research them by going online, checking out their agency and their agents, and figuring out which agent is most likely to be interested in my work.  I also check out any blogs connected to the agency, and read through to get a better feel of what interests the agents, what their pet peeves are, and if they have any particular preferences for what should be included in the submission.

Step five, yes, is to actually send the query, and wait for a reply.  Try not to be like me and fidget too much in the interval, especially since it usually takes a few weeks for agents to get back to you.  Remember that they get hundreds of e-mails a week (sometimes a day.)  Jennifer Laughran suggests that waiting is good for you: if an agent sends something back immediately, usually it's a rejection.  They think about the submissions they like.  And, if you follow ettiquette, you should query no more than five agents at any one time, except in cases where an agent says they prefer an exclusive query (obviously, you'll be sending to just them.) In the latter case, they usually tend to be quicker on the return replies.

And, if you're lucky, step six will be to get a follow-up phone call, wherein you'll ask a lot of questions. 

For those published writers out there, how did you find your agent?  Through a recommendation, a conference, or a cold query?  Through a contest or a class?  How did you choose which agent to query?  And do you have any warnings or suggestions for debut authors?

Pitching in Person, as advised by Virginia Kantra

I'm going to keep this one short, since you'll go read the article if it's of interest to you.

Another blog for ya'll to check out:

Virginia Kantra is a best-selling paranormal romance writer who also has a ton of great advice for budding authors.  This particular article is on giving pitches to an agent/publisher in person, if you happen to be in a place (like a conference) which allows you to sign up to pitch to such an esteemed person.  If you're planning on going with a traditonal publishing house, I recommend it.  Also, I'd recommend browsing through her other articles, even if you're self-publishing.  She's worth the read.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dear goodness, another query???

Hey, I've made another revision of my query letter!  Just thought that I would show that I'm still working to make it better.  After taking a couple of classes and dragging my friends into editing for me (Thanks especially to Jess, Kat, and Gwyn!), I've made a yet another version.
You know what's crazy?  I'm still not satisfied with it.  I want to know more about my female lead.  BUT, it does address several main issues.  It's under 250 words; it introduces the book first; it demonstrates the conflict and doesn't bog the reader down in a multitude of subplots.  The entire purpose of a query letter is to get the agent to ask for more.  It's the synopsis that actually tells the story; the query is just a hook.  But still...  Maybe it's just perfectionism, but chances are, you'll see another version soon enough, if this one doesn't start getting responses (and quickly!)

By the way, a good query letter should supposedly net you at least an 80% request rate.  If it doesn't, you're supposed to rewrite it.  Mine didn't.  So, I took a few classes and rewrote it.  Wish me luck!

How many versions has your query gone through?  Have you ever taken a class, or found a book, that made the difference between a form rejection and a manuscript request?  And what was your biggest error?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Some more online classes for your perusal

I figured that some of these looked useful, and no one said they never wanted to see class links again after my first post, so I went ahead and compiled some more. The first one is free to both members and nonmembers of the host chapter (and yes, like all the courses, you can take it even if you're not a member of the RWA!)

FREE: Why did that editor reject me?
"Publisher and Editor Liz Pelletier of Entangled Publishing will teach you how to evaluate your submission package from an acquisition perspective, so you'll be able to eliminate any deal-breakers from your own manuscript.  This workshop will include dissection of sample submissions so you can see an editor's thought processes as she reviews a submission package and decides its fate." 
*I've taken a class with this instructor before; check out the review of my last class with her
Runs July 18-July 24

The X-Tremely Productive Writer
"What writer doesn't dream of producing three, four, or five books a year? It's more achievable than you think. Writing is like using a muscle; if you increase your outcome a little at a time, it's easier than trying to suddenly write as fast as Nora Roberts."
Cost for nonmembers: $25
Runs July 5-Aug1

Polishing Your Sample Pages
"When submitting to agents, you often get to include five sample pages with your query. This workshop will teach you how to get those pages to shine, from character introduction, conflict, voice and formatting--to ensure that agent will want to read more."
Cost for nonmembers: $20
Runs July 5-July 18

Medical Speak for Writers
"Medical Speak for Writers is a four-day class that covers the various types of medical facilities, the departments of a typical hospital, medical terminology, various medical specialties, patient experiences and common injuries."
Cost for nonmembers: $20
Runs July 25- Aug 1
Cost: $16
Use-of-force workshop
"Want to make your Law Enforcement character come alive, give her what she needs to know so that she thinks and acts like a real cop when things go bad?"
Runs: July 8-July 29
Writing Regency-Period Novels
"This workshop covers:
        • What makes the Regency a fascinating era
          - How to use this era to add wit gallantry and elegance to your setting and your novel.
        • Key research resources:
          - What do you need to get right and
          – What can you invent.
        • Brief overview of the history of the Regency era, with its great contrast, and therefore great conflicts, and rich background."
Runs: Aug 5-26
Cost for nonmembers: $20
How to get an Agent - and not get scammed
"Week 1 will focus on mistakes writers make that can result in being the victim of a scam, and week 2 will present positive steps for finding a legitimate agent."
Runs July 11- July 20

Friday, June 24, 2011

Online class: A Publisher's Guide to Contracts

I've never seen a publisher's contract before.  I had no idea of what to expect, and since this is my industry now, that's not okay.  So when I found a free online class through the RWA on publisher/author contracts, I signed up.  How could I resist?  Why would I resist?  I may not be at that stage in my career yet, but I expect to be there one day.  And in case I don't remember everything... well, I archived the yahoogroups daily digests.  You know, just in case.

Some things I didn't know before:

Right of first refusal:  Most publishers will include a "right of first refusal" clause in the contract.  What, exactly, is included in this clause is negotiable: sometimes it's anything that the author writes (Steer clear of this if you can!!!).  Usually, though, it's any other book containing the same characters, and often (but by no means always) it extends to include anything set in the same world.  If the publisher works with several genres, they may require anything between certain word lengths (and the instructor did mention that she knew of several cases where authors had successfully negotiated word lengths, for example, from 5K-100k down to from 5K-70K, leaving the author room to write longer works and publish them elsewhere.)  In most cases, however, that last clause isn't included, and I think I'd require it to be removed from my own contract before signing.  Also, just because a publisher is offered the next book, doesn't mean they'll take it.  Once they've turned the next one down,

Timelines:  These are actually written into your contract.  They seem pretty generous to me: for example, if you're requested to write a second book, you're required to produce the second one within (let's say 12 months; seems pretty standard.)  The publisher then has (12 months) to actually publish the book (which means it doesn't happen right away!)  If you decide you don't like your publisher anymore and try to slough them off by not meeting your deadline, you have to repay your advance.  Oh, and if you ever do finish that book, you stillhave to offer it to them.  (The next book, by the way, gets its own contract, even though it's written into this contract that you'll write it.  The contract process starts all over again when the second manuscript is turned in.)
Contract termination:  There are several ways to terminate a contract.  Most contracts automatically expire after a certain amount of time, rights immediately reverting to author.  Also, there is a sales termination clause: If combined sales of all publisher's editions (including both digital and print) fall below (150 copies in 12 months,) the publisher can pay ($500) and say the book is still in print.  Otherwise, it's not considered in print anymore, and the contract is terminated, rights reverting to author.  It's this final part that the instructor suggests you negotiate: if you want the contract to possibly terminate sooner, raise the copy numbers.  But 150 in 12 months is apparently pretty standard.

There were, of course, other things discussed in class, but those were three clauses in particular that I was interested in.

On the whole, I did really appreciate the class.  The instructor did a good job of presenting the contract, and explaining the "scariest" clauses (and really, all the main ones.)  She answered all the students' questions, including some that weren't directly mentioned in the contract (like subsidary rights.)  And she provided both publisher and author perspectives for most of the clauses, giving a rounded view on topics (like right of first refusal) on various and potentially sensitive topics.  On the other hand, it was still dense reading, and there was a lot of information.  Even after breaking it down into lay terms,  I can't say I completely understand the contracts now, just because there's so very much to digest and remember, and the class was only a single week.  And it's going to be little a while until I actually have need of the information, so it's not immediately useful.  Furthermore, I don't usually have too much of a problem reading legalese.  I had no idea, however, what's considered "standard" for most contracts, and without the class, I could have been ripped off by a less-than-sterling publisher and never known it until too late. 

Grade: B+ Extremely useful, but with more subject than time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Upcoming workshops

Since I just spoke about a workshop I took, I thought I'd share a few more coming up.  The listed cost is the cost for non-members of the host chapter.  If you happen to belong to that chapter, you'll pay less!

Self Defense for Writers:
Write a realistic self-defense scene.  Cost: $30
Registration deadline: June 27

Powering the Proposal:
Beef up your book proposal (including query, synopsis, and first few chapters) to get your book out of the inbox and onto the agent's desk.  Cost: $30
Registration Deadline: June 27
Curing the "What Comes after the First Three Chapters" Blues: Dealing with the Middle of Your Story"
Getting past the writers' block that strikes after the first three chapters to craft the middle of your story.  Cost: $25  Registration Deadline: June 28
Runs: July 1-28
Rock Hard with a Heart of Gold
Creating  a rock-hard alpha hero... with a heart of gold.  Cost: $15  Registration Deadline: June 28
Runs: July 1-15

Silencing your Inner Saboteur
Recognize the 'voice' of your inner saboteur, realize the tricks it uses to keep you from writing, and learn to get past it.  Cost: $25  Runs: July 1-31

Ergonomics for writers
Avoid the common physical ailments of writers, caused by poor ergonomics, and learn to recognize the signs.  Cost: $25 Runs: July 1-31

Would you be interested in me continuing to post links to online classes about once a month?  Have you taken any which you've found particularly helpful?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Online class: "Breaking Free From the Slush Pile"

As you all know (or maybe as you now know,) I'm a member of the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter of the RWA.  I recently took an online class I discovered through the group called "Breaking Free From the Slush Pile."  It was taught by CJ Lyons (who has a 90% response rate for her queries!!!)  Online classes such as these usually do charge a small fee, usually around $20 (with a discount if you're  a member of the host chapter.)

In this class, we had lessons on writing blurbs, pitches, and queries.  CJ defined for us elevator pitches, premise pitches, and high concept pitches.  She gave us guidance for writing our own, and gave us feedback on each.

She also gave a lesson on searching for agents (mostly "Do your research!") and what to do during an actual in-person pitch (like at a conference, or in an elevator where they can't run away when they graciously allow you to give your pitch.)  Turns out, most agents don't like being stalked.  It's a little unprofessional (not to mention creepy.)

I would very much recommend the course and the teacher (her new website on writing:  It's not just for romance, either.  I'd have to give the course an A+ for usefulness, for clarity of information, and for honest (and somehow still tactful) feedback

Here's a little teaser from the course:
A high concept pitch: combine a universal icon (coming-of-age) with a hook (of a genetic experiement).  This should ideally evoke an emotion and also draw in your listener.  For HALVES, my high concept pitch would be: The coming-of-age story of a genetic experiment.

An elevator pitch: Gives a person with ultra ADD a quick comparison between your work and something similar.  For POSEIDON'S DAUGHTER: The movie 300 meets Jean Johnson's Sons of Destiny series.  (The latter is a fantasy romance - if the agent doesn't recognize the series, there's a discernable chance he or she isn't the right agent for me.)

A note on queries: The one and only purpose of a query is to get an agent interested enough to ask for more.  It isn't to tell them the story.  It isn't to introduce the characters or teach all about your awesome world.  It's to spark enough interest that they want to read the synopsis (which does tell the main plot of the story) and then pick up the sample pages (hey look, the characters and your awesome world!)  Just give the agent enough of a blurb so that they know your writing style and what makes your book unique. 

Oh, and you should probably include one of your plots, too.  Preferably the main one.  But don't make it too confusing - the longer your query is, the less likely your overworked prospective agent is going to spend his or her time reading it.  Under 250 words is pretty much the standard.  And yes, I KNOW.  I had to slice and dice mine, too.  It was about as nerve-wracking as walking into surgery to find a doctor with shaky hands and a bottle vodka, and as fun as removing unnecessary bodyparts (such as fingers, tonsils, and that extra kidney) - but I did it, and now have an excellent query to show for the pain.  Now it's time to turn those form rejections into some requests!

Many thanks to CJ for instructing the course!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Can it hurt to be prepared? I think not.

Can it hurt to be prepared for the agent's call?

I think the real question is, "would it hurt to be unprepared?"  And yes, yes it would.

I just wanted to share a terrific post from Query tracker:
It suggests questions to ask the agent, when he or she picks up the phone and gives you a call in response to a manuscript, saying they might want to represent you.  That's right.  The moment I'm waiting for: a phone call.

(Which, if you know me, is highly ironic, considering one of my life goals is to boil a cell phone.  Yes, I love them that much.  Still haven't gotten around to it, though - mostly because I've only got one phone.  Anyone want to volunteer a spare?)

Since your agent becomes your business partner (NOT partner-in-crime!), you need to know him or her.  That means, just because you get the call, doesn't mean you should automatically take him or her up on the offer - this is someone with whom you'll be working, hopefully for a long time.  This is your job, folks, so interview your agent as you're being interviewed. 

Of course, I certainly wouldn't be upset if I wind up with the perfect agent on the first try.  But I don't trust in luck (mostly because I know exactly what kind of luck I have,) so I'll take the smart route: I'll ask.

What's the first question on the list that you would ask?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interviewed by a character

We're doing a blog-chain at the HCRW, where characters get a chance to interview their writers.  I'm letting Lauralyn Reynolds, one of the stars of my science fiction work-in-progress (WIP,) interview me - but shhh!  She doesn't know who I really am! ;)

Full list of blog-chain participants:  (Go check out their interviews!  I really enjoyed them!)
Aimee Laine
Lyla Dune
Carol Strickland
Amy Corwin
Lilly Gayle
Rebekkah Niles : Hey, you're here!
Laura Browning
Andris Bear
Marcia Colette
Nancy Badger
Sarah Mäkelä
Jennifer Harrington
Scott Berger
The interview:

I’m just finishing a cup of tea when someone knocks on the door to my third floor apartment.  I hear my roommate rustle out of her room to go answer – she’s expecting a package, and her room is closer to the door than our sunny little dining room.  A second later, she calls back to me.  “It’s for you!  A couple of guests?”

“Oh!  That must be her, the girl I mentioned wanted to interview me.  Thanks, Angel!”  I get up to greet them, setting my teacup by the sink to deal with afterwards.  My guest has indeed brought her pet, as she’d warned me she might.  “Lauralyn Reynolds?”  She nods.  “Please come in.”

She enters with a polite smile, the backpack on her shoulder typical for a college student. Nothing about her shouts 'money'; it's more a subtle whisper in her posture, in her voice, and in the tailored-perfect fit of her unlabeled suit.  Her backpack, though, shows all the well-battered signs of overuse: a practical woman, then, not one obsessed with appearances.  After a moment, I remember that her father is a wealthy businessman, one of those big-shots who probably considers his kids to be accessories as much as children.  “Please, call me Laurie.  And thanks for agreeing to this interview.  It’s a big part of my grade.  Mother will murder me if I fail a humanities course.  And I promise, Jake won’t be any trouble – he’s well-trained.  He won’t bother your cats at all.” 
Jake is a rosy-skinned half-oni, his straight black hair atypically long for his kind and his fitted clothes much neater than expected.  Like most half-oni, his eyes are wide, bright, and about as comprehending as the average cat’s: humans and oni aren’t completely genetically compatible, and the rare offspring are incapable of developing more than animal intelligence.  Since the war began, there have been an increasing number of them born.  No one was on board with genocide, so the politicians came up with an alternative to dumping the unfortunates on our already overburdened mental health system: for a fee and with a couple of months of training, families could adopt them as pets.  They're ridiculously expensive to adopt, and that's probably why they've become such a fad.

“All right. I was thinking we might sit in the living room?”  It’s fairly nice for a two-bedroom, but it’s still an apartment, and that means our choices for sitting space are limited.  Laurie and I settle on the couch, which has a nice view of the morning-glory covered balcony.  She pulls out a pet-pad for Jake, unrolling the yoga-mat-like pad on the floor at her feet.  He obediently migrates to it, and she places a toy in his hands.  He immediately begins gnawing on the rubber top and playing at the brightly colored dangles, ignoring the large stock of board games inches away from his face under my coffee table.

“He’s very well trained,” I comment.

Laurie nods.  “We’ve had him since I was four.  He’s always been a good boy.”  She pats his shoulder, and he leans affectionately into her knee, his face flushing a slightly darker rose of affection.  And then it’s time to get to business, because she takes out a recorder and a pad of paper.  “Now, then.  Let’s start easy: What kinds of books do you write?”

“I write fantasy romance and science fiction.  I say fantasy romance, because it’s more towards the emerging market of high-fantasy romance than towards the better-known paranormal and urban-fantasy end of the scale.”

“Wait.  What?”

“My romance is about mages in the Bronze Age, trying to save an island stuck between a volcano and an invading army.  In order to cast magic, though, they have to first find their soul mates.  And since the enemy numbers in the tens of thousands, and the island’s forces are about five thousand, they’re really going to need a little magic on their side.”

She looks a little confused.  “Where does the volcano come in?”

“The army is after the island’s natural power source: a huge pool of magic underneath the mountain.  Unfortunately, the magic happens to be very volatile, and if it’s not properly drained, it could cause the mountain to erupt.  When the islanders found out that the enemy would be invading, they allowed the magic to fill, in hopes of intimidating the larger army.  The plan backfired when the pool got out of control, and they had to sacrifice the only mages capable of controlling it in order to stop an eruption.  Now the islanders have to find seven new mages strong enough to drain it before it refills.  Only a mage isn’t really a mage without a soul mate, so they’re scouring their own people for their true loves.  The first book is on the general of the islander’s army.  If finding a soul mate weren’t hard enough, he also has to repel the invaders.”

I’m pleased to see her leaning forward, curiosity sparkling in her eyes.  “So it’s a series?”

I nod.  “Yes.  But enough about the book – you can read it when it comes out.  You said you had more questions?”

Disappointed, she sits up and glances down at her paper.  “Oh, yes.  What did you do before becoming a writer?”

I glance out at the flowers on the balcony.  “Before being a writer, I was a florist at a grocery store.  It wasn’t a bad job; I discovered that I really like working with flowers, and I made a lot of friends.  But the promotional potential was at that point almost non-existent, and I was barely making rent working more than 40 hours a week, especially with trying to pay off my college loans.  I decided that if I was going to be losing money, I might as well do it while doing something I loved: writing.  So I quit my job, wrote a romance novel, picked up a couple of part-time jobs, and started a science-fiction novel while I plan the second romance.”

Her eyebrow, at this point, has practically climbed into her hair.  “You quit your job to become a writer?”

I shrug. “Yes.  I did.  I had some savings, thanks to a few months of living at home with my parents.  I don’t have kids, or a husband, or a mortgage.  If I’m ever going to have a chance to pursue my dream, it’s now.  And I knew that I would always, always regret it if I never even tried.”

She jots this down, and I think from the amount of writing she does, she probably just took a full quote.  When she looks up, it's with another question already on her lips.  "Does your family live in the area?"

I nod.  "I grew up in North Carolina, and as you can see, I still live here.  I attended college at Appalachain State University, then moved back to the peidmont.  But even though I'm NC born and bred, I've done a lot of traveling in my life.  Both sides of my family have spread out across the country, and family is very important to me.  That means that, from a very early age, I've been flying to the four corners of the States, sometimes alone or with my older brother."

"Is that why your stories are in such exotic locations?"

I nod.  "I'm fascinated with traveling outside the country.  I've only been a few times, mostly in late high school and college, and I'm dying to go further.  I have to admit, I'm really curious to visit Santorini, since that's the volcano around which I've based my romance.  Oh, and I'd love to see Fuzhou, China, which is a key location in my sci-fi."

She pauses, a little indulgent smile on her lips.  "That's the name of the army base my brother serves on.  You'll have to wait until it's well-secured before you go visit: it's on the front lines right now.  I'm pretty sure you don't want to see what it's like with the Hanyou in the area."

That makes me shudder.  The Hanyou's a notorious general for the other side, well known to be emotionally unstable and viciously unpredictable in her attacks.  I neglect to mention that in my world, there is no war in China right now.  "You're right," I say instead.  "I'll put that on my bucket list for when it's safe.  But after spending so much time researching the area, I'd still like to see it myself some time."

Laurie’s pen flies as she sketches down a few notes on her paper.  “What sort of research have you done for your writing?  Jake, gentle with the kitty.  Gentle, boy.”  My orange cat, Bard, has wandered out from my room to sniff at the interesting newcomer.  Jake sniffs him back.  Clearly, ‘gentle’ is a command word, because the half-oni is very delicate when he wraps a hand around Bard’s tail and pulls it to his nose.  Bard gives him a very affronted look.

“Well, as I said, my first novel is set in the Bronze Age – albeit an alternative one, but still the Bronze Age.  Naturally, I know next to nothing about that era.  I was drawn to it when I decided I wanted to work with Atlantis, and I discovered that most scholars believe the Atlantean legend rose from the explosion of the island of Santorini in 1628 BCE.”  I laugh a little at myself.  I’d had no idea when I’d first started researching just what I was getting in for.    “When I first started sketching out ideas, I had Romans invading the island.  Guess what?  This story predates the Trojan War by a few hundred years! Forget Romans – we’re pre-Greek here!  So, obviously, there was a lot of research involved.  One of my first steps was finding out which civilizations actually existed at the time.” 

Bard’s noticed Jake’s toy.  With a clatter, he pounces on the dangles and begins trying to maul one.  For a second, I’m terrified that Jake will take offense, but I quickly realize that I’ve got nothing to worry about: Jake is watching him in fascination, making the toy roll over so the dangles move even more.  I  see Sonnet peek her nose out from one of the table chairs to eye the toy.  She’s a little more shy, though, and decides that interacting with scary strangers might not be worth the play.  The flash of black fur disappears again.  “Gentle, Jake,” Laurie says again, and turns back to me.  “What was your biggest challenge getting started?”

“Hm? Oh.  Probably the biggest issue I’ve had is the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about actually getting published when I started.  From day one, I’ve been researching, guessing, learning, and often flying by the seat of my pants to figure out where to go next.  I joined the RWA – that’s ‘Romance Writers of America’ – and one of the chapters, the HCRW, or ‘Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.’  That was probably the best decision I’ve made: not only are all the people wonderful, but I’ve been able to find the resources I need to learn about writing as a career.”

“Like what?”

“A little research online, for one thing, told me that I’d need an agent to get published by my target publisher.  And for that, I’d need a query letter.  But let me tell you: since I joined the HCRW, my query letter has undergone about fifteen or sixteen substantial revisions.  I now know how horrible it was at first, and more importantly, why it didn’t work.  I’m taking a class online through another RWA chapter, ‘Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal,’ or FF&P for short.  I expect to revise the query at least one more time by the end of class, and then send it out again.  Hopefully, I’ll actually get a request for a full submission this time.”

Laurie looks a little lost at the alphabet soup, so I give her a moment to catch up.  When she’s finished writing down all the names, I have a question of my own: “You said that you had to do an interview for a humanities class.  Mind if I ask what the assignment is on?”

She takes the break to shake out her hand.  “Not at all.  We’re supposed to talk about the risks and rewards of self-employment, and whether or not it’s something we’d consider for ourselves.”  She shrugs.  “Writing seemed like a good self-employed career to me.”

“If you ever do get into it,” I warn, “don’t expect to make millions.  I chose romance because it’s a genre with a large market, and thus I stand a reasonable chance at making a livable salary from it, if I can get published and build an audience.  We’re not looking at six-figure incomes, here: enough to pay the bills is all that I want.  Even New York Times best-sellers tend to earn less than $30,000 each.  I’ll have to write at least two to three books a year to be able to write as my only job.”

She nods, thinking.  I don’t know if she’s interested in writing; Laurie’s poker face is very good, so I have no idea what’s going on in her head.  But she gives me a bright smile, and pats Jake on the shoulder.  “Thank you for the interview.  I think I’ve got what I need.”  I think I see Jake unhook one of Bard’s claws from where it’s gotten stuck on the mat.  But no, even a pet as well-trained as Jake isn’t that smart.  I’m sure Bard just got himself free.  The orange fuzzball pounces again.

I stand up, and Bard stops playing with Jake’s toy to dash into the kitchen and meow plaintively.  Crunching follows as soon as he realizes that his food bowl is, in fact, not actually empty.  “You’re welcome.” I watch as Laurie packs up, and shake her hand as I walk her to the door.  “Thanks for coming.  Good luck with your paper!”

“Thank you,” she replies, and waves good-bye as she walks off, Jake’s leash in hand.  He follows obediently, walking on his feet instead of all fours, as most half-oni prefer.  I wonder-

But no.  Everyone knows half-oni are just animals.  Right?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shiny Syndrome: Another great story idea?

I'm writing a novel.  I'm really thick into it, about 55K in words. Then I have this dream, one with a really great appeal, which would make an even better novel than what I'm writing now.  Should I abandon my story for a better one?


First of all, most "brilliant" ideas sound terrific, but by the time I get into them, I realize there's something missing.  Sure, there's probably a lot of potential in the idea oinking around between my eyes and my ponytail, but without enough marination time, it's not ever going to be dinner-worthy BBQ.  So even if it is better than what I'm doing now, unless what I'm writing actually sucks, I'm better off sticking to what I'm working with.

Secondly, there's the "Shiny Syndrome."  If I fly off after every shiny new idea I have, I'll never finish anything.  Magpies don't get published.  I frequently have ideas for possible novels (That night wherein I had three distinctly awesome dreams comes to mind: The power to turn dirt into water is pretty darn awesome, right up until you're in a desert and almost drown yourself. An outcast cat-man from outerspace seeks to reintegrate into his society by finding another man's missing daughter in the midst of a power crystal shortage.  A kidnapped alien being experimented on by other alien scientists gets rescued by a blonde bimbo too stupid to work her own spacesuit, which happens to make her invisible.) They all sound great at first imagining, but even a few hours leaves me throwing most of them into the mental slush pile.  If they're still good months later, they get moved to the "possible, when I finish what I'm working on" pile.

Just because an idea is good, doesn't mean it needs to be written.  I'm fairly confident that someone, somewhere, somewhen, will eventually write those plots (who wants blonde bimbo and the invisible spacesuit?  Going once, going twice...)  Therefore, I don't mourn the ideas I don't use. 

The only exception is when I'm working on something I finally have to acknowledge actually is terrible (and yes, I admit it, that's happened.  Abandon ship!!!)  Then it's back to the drawing board.  After all, it's not like I have a giant pile of stories just waiting to happen...

What do you do with terrific ideas that pop up when you're busy writing something else?  Do you file them away?  Note them down?  Hand them off?  Are there any you plan on going back to, one day?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Am I Ready for the Edit?

One of my friends mentioned to me this morning that she'd been asked to edit someone's book.  Most of my friends are good enough writers to be able to give a good editing, but therein lies a problem:

Few beginning writers understand what a good edit actually is.

Friendships can be ruined when someone asks, "Will you edit my novel/story/memoirs?"  There's nothing innately inimical in the question; it's actually a display of trust.  But does the writer want an edit, or does she really want a review?  Perhaps what she's looking for is actually encouragement.  That isn't editing, although it is important. Or maybe she wants some grammar correction, or a little syntax help.  That is editing, but it's not a full edit.

When I ask for someone to edit my novel, I am basically asking, "Please tell me all the ways in which this sucks.  Go into detail, and be specific on how terribly each and every page is written.  Look for every flaw, inconsistency, poorly chosen word, and confusing pronoun.  Give me an in-depth explanation of how my characters aren't believable, engaging, and well-rounded.  I also want a full summary of every minor plot hole, loophole, and stupid gimmick I've included.  If I'm not crying by the time you're done, go back and do it again." I'm not a masochist - I just want my novel to be the best it can possibly be. And if I don't know where the flaws are, I can't fix them.

Many people find it much easier to ask a stranger to do the editing, because there's less emotion involved; I prefer to have friends do it, because I know my friends are well-trained and because many of them have let me edit something or another of theirs, and they deserve a little revenge.  Since I plan on publishing, and preferably with a traditional publishing house, I expect criticism.  I don't want to put out any writing sample I'd be ashamed of calling my own: that is, anything with inferior grammar, inherent plot holes, or large logical fallacies.  So I'd like my works to be well-edited even before they hit the publisher's editor, and that means I need true editing, not just a little encouragement or typographical correction (not that both of those aren't nice, too.)

If you think your story is ready for editing, consider if you're ready to ask someone to tell you all your writing flaws.  This should make you cringe.  If it doesn't, you're not being really honest with yourself.  It will be emotionally bruising, especially at first, and it is very easy to get discouraged when someone you care about points out the flaws you didn't know you had.  But, like all forms of self-improvement, the pain is a necessary part of growing.  If you get a stone of dread in your stomach but you still want to hear the feedback, then you're probably ready for someone else to edit your story. 
It's okay not to agree with all the edits provided.  It's okay to change only what you think is relevant.  But it's not okay to ask for an edit and then stop being friends with your editor, because they gave you the genuine, in-depth, highly critical edit they thought you asked for.  So if you're not positive you're ready for the real thing, then be honest and be specific: "Will you read this for me and tell me what I'm doing well?" or "I'm writing a book, and I'd like someone to look for typographical errors.  Would you be my spellcheck and grammar check?"  Otherwise, you may get more than you wanted - and lose someone very important to you for the price.

What are your experiences with editing?  Have you ever been asked to edit by someone who wasn't actually ready to get an edit?  What happened?