Before I do anything at all, I want to wish a HUGE congratulations to Ramez Naam for making the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for his debut science fiction novel NEXUS! So proud! So well deserved!
This past Saturday, the Florida chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Orlando Public Library teamed up to present a free half-day writers workshop featuring a panel and break-out sessions with Jessica Khoury, Jessica Brody, Amy Christine Parker, Christina Farley, Vivi Barnes, J.A. Souders and Anna Banks. I may be a bit biased, being one of the presenters myself, but it was a great day.
A few people asked about notes for my talk, and I promised to write them up for my blog, thus here they are. Some of the information here I grabbed from previous posts I’ve done, so there might be parts here that are familiar to some viewers!
The Publishing Process: From Gaining our Attention through Publication
Of course, it all starts with your manuscript, so I want to talk a bit about standing out from the crowd.
First of all, don’t take the easy way out. Don’t do what’s common or expected. Don’t do something anyone else can do. When you’re generating ideas, it’s often a good idea to throw out your first two or three thoughts. They come quickly and easily because they’re rote. You’ve seen them and heard them before. They’ve been done, many times over. Push yourself beyond those first few ideas. Challenge yourself.
Come up with something unique, whether it be your character or storyline…or better yet both. Just as you don’t want your storyline to be predictable or cookie-cutter, you don’t want to people your novel with stereotypes or cardboard characters. You should know more about your people than ever make it onto the page. If someone were to ask their favorite ice cream or how long they take in the bathroom, you should be able to answer without thought.
Don’t shy away from tension or true danger. Your reader needs to truly fear for the emotional or physical wellbeing of your character. Torture your characters/torture your reader. It sounds cruel, but it’s honest. Remember that in every scene there should be something at stake.
What often takes a novel from okay to amazing is the voice. Your voice, your point of view character, is the lens through which we see the world. Think of it this way—if you have two children and both told you about the same fight, would it sound the same? No, it would have a slant…about who was at fault, who started things, who did what to whom. Some details would make it in and others would be left out. What words would be used? Would they be uttered in anger? In a rush, tumbling over each other? What would the body language be? Whoever’s POV we’re in should be distinctive and unique and they should have an angle on things. Everyone has an angle. (Not necessarily a bad angle. Someone might give too many chances or see the best in everyone rather than the worst, but his/her personality and experiences will lead him or her to treat an event or individual in a certain way.)
Okay, so we’ve got great stories and great characters. What else? Well, great writing, of course. Your first draft is often just that…drafty. It should never be the product that goes out the door. Amy Christine Parker and I did a vlog for YA Rebels on Revisions, which I’ll post below, but here are some quick notes based on beginning mistakes I see time and again:
-Do your best to rid your manuscript of waffle words, like “just,” “only,” “seemed to”. Also, “she decided,” “he thought,” “she mused”…that sort of thing. Thought tags like this are the equivalent of said-bookisms in dialogue. (For example: “I hate you!” she shouted angrily.) Some things are understood and telling them to us is redundant. Show, don’t tell. This will make your writing much more immediate.
-Avoid passive voice. For example: Passive: “The door opened to admit her;” Active: “Benny slammed the door open at her knock, shocking her back a step…” As you can tell, the second option is much more effective.
-Go back over emotional scenes particularly. Chances are you shied away from the true depth and these need to be further explored now that the full context surrounds them.
-Make sure you have sensory and physiological details where appropriate. For example, if someone’s running for his/her life or being kissed for the first time, the body will react. Blood flow will increase or rush to certain parts of the body. Breathing will change…
-Make sure every scene is told in the right point of view, that of the participant, not the observer.
-If you’ve jigged when you should have jogged and gone down the wrong path with your novel, now is the chance to change that. You’ll hear many professional writers say that they write two or three books for every one published. That’s because of how much they throw out and start again or how much is rewritten beyond recognition. I won’t say that first-drafting is easier, but revisions are where the real work comes in! (At least for me.)
-Make sure that you’ve revised your work until you can’t stand to look at it anymore. Then put it away for a few weeks to a month and look again with fresh eyes. Readers and critique partners are invaluable in this process as well, because they don’t know what you meant to put down on the page. They only know what’s there, and they can help you discover sections that came out differently than intended or plot points that didn’t come through at all.
-Mantra: Thou shalt send out no manuscript before it’s time.
Next, I discussed the querying process, what an agent does and what a publishing house does for you. Since I’ve covered these things in previous posts, here are those links:
Other links you might find helpful that I offered in a hand-out:
YA Rebels vlog on Revisions: