Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Teresa Kennedy of The Editorial Department said about "Emily's House"

I just got feedback today from the freelance editor I hired, Teresa Kennedy of The Editorial Department.  Teresa and TED were good to their word and delivered the whole book review I hired them to do within the four weeks they promised it.
Being a typical hyper-self-critical writer of a first novel, I worried that Teresa would tell me to pack it in and forget about it.  I was nervous over the weekend knowing that Teresa's review was coming.  I have so much invested.  What if she said it just sucked?!
Well, the good news is Teresa didn't tell me to pack it in.  In fact, she had some very nice and positive things to say.  Here's some of the good news:

Teresa said:  "It's a rich and imaginative effort that combines a wealth of interesting tradition in a classic young adult quest . . ."
Other good news:  "[T]he novel has a great deal going for it in terms of originality, readability and a lot of stylistic appeal . . ."
Teresa gave me high marks for my dialogue and she enjoyed the characters.  Teresa said, "the speakers really came alive during the exchanges of dialogue and I particularly appreciated the great dynamic between such unlikely pairings as Macha and Dughall.  There are some great scenes there, and indeed your ear for the way these characters interact contributes a lot to the sheer readability of the book."
One question I had in my mind was whether I was descriptive enough or at times overly descriptive.  Teresa says:  "There's a nice flow to the prose, Emily's first-person narrative voice is strong and well established, and it's clear to me that you have considerable descriptive power, that's neither overwritten or too spare to really be interesting."

Now for the bad news:  Teresa's evaluation confirmed what I have feared - I need to substantially re-work the first third of the novel.  As she said, "it's time for some housekeeping to clean up, throw out and cut away those elements that are getting in the way of your story, in order to really make it shine."
I've procrastinated the housekeeping long enough - time to dig in!
If you're a writer, I want to share with you my impressions of this editing process so far.  First, I recommend TED.  They have been prompt, professional and very nice to work with.  Second, I think Teresa Kennedy knows her business and she too was prompt and efficient in her work.

Would I do a Whole Book Review for my next novel?  Probably not.  I think it was necessary for me on this, my first novel, to have an editor do a whole book critique.  I needed the input of a seasoned professional.  But the vast majority of what Teresa told me I already knew!  I just needed confirmation from someone else.  But I won't spend the money again to have someone give me confirmation of what I already know.  Next time I'll just do it!

I'll probably be going back to Teresa in the coming months for some follow-up help as I rework Emily's House.  With my next novel, I'll probably skip this first editing step and work with Teresa or someone else at TED on more of a consultation basis.

Have you hired a freelance editor?  If so, what was your experience?

Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 SCBWI-AZ Writer's Retreat with Kendra Levin, Associate Editor at Viking

Last weekend I spent three days at the beautiful C.O.D. Ranch in Oracle, Arizona retreating with fellow writers.  It was fabulous spending three days in the company of 23 others with such a passion for writing and literature for young people.  We learned not only from Kirby Larson, Newberry Honor award winner  and Kendra Levin, Associate Editor at Viking Press, but also from each other.

Kendra gave us many great ideas that weekend, and it was helpful to get an editor's perspective.  Kendra is also a life coach coach and her creative visualization exercises were very helpful.  But Kendra's presentation Sunday morning on revision was my favorite part of the weekend's material.

You see, I knew that my MS for Emily's House needed major work.  And after workshopping it all weekend, I had ideas of the areas that needed work.  But I was feeling overwhelmed.  There was so much to do!  Where to start?
Kendra laid out a step-by-step process and that framework helps me feel less overwhelmed.  If you are really stuck, contact Kendra for her writer coaching services.  She can help you get on track and provide guidance for the revision process.

I will share with you one thing that I had tried to do (as recommended by books and others) but I had been unable to do successfully:  Pare it all down to one sentence.

Pare down what?  In one sentence, what your novel really about.  Who is your book about?  What does he/she have to do before the book ends?  What is the goal of the character?

Here's what I came up with for my one sentence description for Emily's House:

What if a teenage girl must destroy a runaway black hole to save the ones she loves?

I had been trying to do this - come up with the one sentence description - for months and came up short every time.  Having spent over three years with this project and written over 94,000 words, it was hard to whittle it to a one sentence description.

What is the point of this?  This one sentence leaves out a lot of important stuff about the story of course.  The point for me was to see the basic skeleton of the story structure.  We know who she is (a teenage girl) and what she must do before the story ends (destroy a black hole) and what her goal/motivation is (save her loved ones).  That's it in one sentence!

We did additional exercises that took this one sentence and then plumped it up to  a synopsis.  And all of those exercises provided me a deeper insight into what my story was really about and what in those 315 pages is important.  Now, when I go in and revise again, I'm ready to "kill my darlings" because I can now see how some of those scenes are just not important to the story.

If you are editing a manuscript and haven't done this exercise yet, try it.

                                  Kendra Levin, Associate Editor at Viking Press
                                  with attendee Brian Herrera

                                  SCBWI-AZ Members Dawn Dixon and Sharon

Here are some of the books written by the retreaters:


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Guest Post from Elle LaPraim on Writing Process & Rockin' the Short Story

Hi All. I’m Elle LaPraim and I publish Sci-fi and Fantasy short stories on the Kindle and the Nook.
I was honored when Natalie asked me to do a guest post on her awesome blog. When Natalie told me I could write about anything I wanted, I knew I had to write about what I was most interested in: process. I am absolutely fascinated by the nuts and bolts of peoples' process. It is something people rarely talk about with new writers. So here is my process, not that mine is the right way, but I've found it helpful to see how other people organize their time and ideas.
            So here goes... I wake up and walk down to the local coffee shop and write there for about three hours. That’s three hours of solid writing. I am there for more like four, but some of it is spent texting, checking my email and looking out the window and generally goofing off. So yeah, three solid hours is good for me. I have about a million ideas and I used to just write down all of them as they came into my head. That, unfortunately, resulted in having thirty unfinished short stories lying around. I realized I had to be more disciplined if I was ever going to finish one. Now I make myself write on the same story every morning until it is done. Later in the day, if I have an idea I just have to write down, I will pull out my “Ideas Journal” and quickly sketch it out there. I never write more than a page on the new idea because I need to stay focused on the one I am working on.
             After that I have some lunch and catch up with Glee, The Good Wife, and American Idol. Don’t judge me, I can’t help myself. Then in the afternoon I either type up a story I have just written at the coffee shop or work on editing one I need to get up online. I print out a copy of my story after every major edit and keep it in a file. That way I don’t have twenty versions of one story on my computer. Also if my computer dies, I have a back up set. If you're one of those people who likes to have a bunch of versions on your computer, then make sure you title them by the date and not “version 4” or “edit 5”. That way if you come across version 4 in nine months you won’t wonder how many versions you actually did.
            After that I break for dinner, and maybe a little TV with the hubby. Then it’s reading in bed or a big comfy chair for at least two hours. I wish I could be as good as Stephan King wants me to be. He says you should read for 4 hours a day and write for four hours a day. I am certainly not there yet but it is a good goal to work towards. I keep a running log and short review of all the books I read. That way in twenty years I can see how many I read and know which ones are worth recommending to people and which ones should be used as doorstops. When I wake up in the morning, I do the whole process again, five days a week.
            There are two reasons why my process might not work for you personally. One is that I write short stories, so I am constantly editing one project while writing another, thinking of a new project, and sending something off to my editor. You may be writing a five hundred-page novel so some of my thoughts might need to be tweaked a little for you.
The other reason is because I write eBooks, which means it is important for me to be very prolific. That’s how I make enough money to keep the lights on over my computer. I need to be an assembly line of sorts. I need to be always writing something, editing something, sending something to my editor for final look over and putting something up on line. This works for me because I am very ADD and like doing a lot of things at once.
Honestly, the most important thing I do is think about it as a job. I get up every morning and tell my husband I am going to work. So what if my work is at a coffee shop. When someone calls me, I say I can’t talk because I’m working, not that I can’t talk because I’m writing. People don’t understand that writing is working. You need to be clear with yourself and with others. You’re a writer, not only is that who you are, but it’s also your job, even if you have another job. Good luck and if you have a process that works really well for you. I would love to hear it. You can find me at the following links.
Thanks again Natalie! I look forward to following your blog.

These are the links to my facebook about writing and my amazon author page.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Self-Publishing a Collaborative Process?

I spend some time each day reading blog posts by writers and others in the publishing industry.  One blog I enjoy quite a lot is by Nathan Bransford.  Many of his blog posts, at least since I've been following him, are a compare/contrast between self-publishing and traditional publishing.  Because Nathan's first book recently came out, published by a legacy publishing house, his choice was to engage the traditional publishing industry rather than self-publish.

In a recent post, Nathan said:  "Personally, I like the collaborative element of traditional publishing."  He was commenting on the fact that he enjoyed working with his editor and the illustrator and enjoyed the collaborative effort of bringing his book to fruition.

This statement seems to presuppose that a self-published book is not a collaboration.  Self-publishing IS a collaboration with all the same folks you'd work with if you had a contract with a publishing house.

I'm getting my first book ready for self-publication this fall and it is quite a project!  I feel like I'm the General Contractor for my book and I have to hire all the sub-contractors I'm going to work with on my project.  I recently went through the process of choosing an editor who is busy at work on the first professional edit.

I already hired an artist to create cover art (I chose Claudia at PhatPuppy Art).  The process of creating a cover was definitely a collaborative process - back and forth with Claudia as I worked to express my ideas and she worked to translate it into art.

After the editing process is complete, I'll need to hire someone to do the interior book design and e-book formatting.  Again there will be a back and forth between me and the designer about how the interior should look.  What fonts will we use?  Will there be flourishes?  How will we separate chapters?  Where will the page number go?  I've never published a book before, so while I have ideas about what I like and how I'd like the book to feel, I will rely on the professional who has done this many times to guide me and help me create the polished book that I want.

I'll also need to hire a cover designer.   This person will take my cover art and create a front cover, spine and back cover.

In all, I will likely work with three to five different people in the publication of this one book.  It is indeed a collaboration and I agree with Nathan that - so far anyway! - it is a very satisfying process.  But unlike with traditional publishing, I get to choose the people I collaborate with.  I'm steering the project.  My ability to choose is one of the largest differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

Having said all this, I am aware that some writers who choose to self-publish do not hire designers and artists and others to help them create a professional-looking final product.  I think that this is changing and will continue to change as self-publishing becomes more common and as there will be more competition amongst self-published books.

What are your thoughts?  Do you self-publish?  What is the process like for you?  Are your books published by a  publishing house?  What is that experience like for you?

Nathan Bransford's middle grade novel, Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow is now available.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Social Networking: Powerful New Procrastination Drug of Choice for the Writer

The new conventional wisdom for the writer:  Social Networking is a Must.
You have to "build a platform."  Create the audience for your work.  If you're an unknown writer, you must tweet and Facebook and blog and link in.
In the past, my procrastination drug of choice:  Gaming *head dips in shame*.  It started innocently enough.  I had to check out Pirates Online before I let my kid play it.  But like so many things, a little was good, a lot was better.  My child quickly lost interest.  Me?  I played until my wrists hurt from clicking the mouse; played until my character was maxed out.  Then the power of the drug had worn off.  I needed something harder.
World of Warcraft ("WOW") was just what I needed.  Characters could go to level 85 (not the wimpy 50 of Pirates Online).  There were whole continents to explore, powers to learn, weapons to earn.  Ahh, that's the stuff.  Gaming heaven.
My family tried to reach me but I said "just one more battle."  Once in a dungeon I may not surface for over an hour.  My refrain was "it boosts my creativity" and it "helps me relax."
What I was really doing was procrastinating.  The longer I played, the longer I avoided looking at the dreaded white screen.  When playing, I didn't have to think about how I was going to get my characters of the precarious situations I'd put them in or worry about plot problems.  When gaming, I was on auto-pilot, closing out the world around me.  
But I was also silencing the world within.
With the help of my husband (my ever-present external wise man and knower of all that is Nat before Nat knows it) I realized that gaming didn't "relax" me.  If anything, it made me more tense.
And there was no enhancement of my own creativity.  Gaming impedes my creativity.  When you game, you enter a world someone else created.  It can be fun, but if you spend too long there, you're just closing off your own creative powers.
The pact was made within - no more gaming.  And it helped when I got my new MacBook because I just didn't load the games.  Out of sight, out of mind.
And creativity thrived.  Writing happened.  White screens were filled with words.  Not always great, wonderful, beautiful strings of words, but words.  I was writing again and living the life of a writer.  Every day, writing happened.  That's what being a writer is all about.
And then . . . Social Networking happened.
It is necessary.  Whether your book is acquired by a legacy publisher or you self-publish, you must self-promote and these days, to self-promote you must be engaged in the online conversation.  No question.
And it is valuable.  You learn a lot from the conversation.  
But oh, the seduction it holds for the OCD-type.  Tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, checking, reading, following threads, re-Tweeting.  Round and round it goes.  Loops and follow-backs and some Goodreads thrown in for fun.
You look up at the clock and it's noon and you haven't written a word on that novel or short story or poem.  After lunch you open the document and look at the empty white screen before you.  You look down and you've got 7800 words. That's the same number you had last week!  Where did the time go?
Hey, procrastination on the Social Network, now that would make a good blog post. . .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can a Story Change a Mind?

In the aftermath of Bin Laden's death, with thoughts of war and terrorism and extremist violence on my mind, I have been wondering:  Can a Story Change a Mind?
Not all stories are intended to influence the reader's thoughts or instill a message.  Many stories are written purely to entertain.  But some stories have a message - a theme.  Sometimes the theme is the whole reason the writer sat down and put pen to paper - the story exists to explore the writer's theme or message.  But some stories are first and foremost a story and theme is something that emerges but not necessarily the sole intent of the writings.
As a writer, all the stories I write have a theme or message within the pages.  Most often I am not aware of the "theme" until after the story has been written.  As I edit and rewrite and reflect, I see that a theme emerged.  The message is there, now clear before my eyes.
For me, this is one of the great joys of writing.  I love seeing how my subconscious created the story that I didn't know was there, without me even knowing about it - a subconscious conspiracy!  I was just the transcriber for my subconscious who knew where it was going all along.
But the question I have, does the message matter?  Are readers truly affected by the theme?  Do books change minds?
I thought about what I've read and reflected on what, if any, stories had such a profound impact on me that it changed my mind.  I don't mean change a person from the far right to the far left or convert them from Islam to Christian or such other big, whole life changes.  I mean even a subtle change - a little shift in perspective.  Have any stories changed your perspective?
My thought is that there have been a lot of stories that have changed my perspective, if only a little.  We take in a lot of media and stories in our lives and there are probably subtle effects of which we aren't even aware.  But here are two that I know had a specific impact on me:

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle:  I read this book in late elementary school and I read it over and over.  I read a lot of stories as a kid, but this is THE one that I remember the most.  Why?  Because it gave me a glimpse of another world and the possibility that things are not always as they seem.  I was a kid who always felt intuitively that there was more to our world than meets the eye but to catch hold of a book that spoke of it - well, that was life-changing.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee:  This was part of the curriculum in 8th grade for me.  I grew up in an all-white school in the Midwest.  I lived with an "Archie Bunker."  I can pinpoint this book with opening my eyes to ideas about racism in a way no other book had (or has since). Perhaps it even influenced my decision to become a lawyer.  I know for certain that it was around this period that I became interested in social justice.  Harper Lee's story changed my mind.  

There are many others that I'm sure will bubble up to the surface now that I've asked the question, but these are the two most prominent ones in my mind.
Have books changed your mind?  If so, which ones?

Stories are thoughts and thoughts have great power, even the power to change a mind.  Now, more than ever, we need stories.

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