Posts Tagged ‘publishing’

nexus 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:

Finding an Agent

The Role of Agents in the Modern Publishing Landcape

Querying, Part 1

Querying, Part 2

Querying, Part 3

What a Publisher Does (aka It Takes a Village)

Other links you might find helpful that I offered in a hand-out:

My blog

My author website

Knight Agency website

TKA submission guidelines

Association of Authors’ Representatives

The SFWA Writer Beware site

Preditors & Editors

Worldbuilding

Characters

Defining Moments

Suspense/Tension

YA Rebels vlog on Revisions:

Enough is enough!  There’s been a lot turmoil in the publishing industry lately.  I’m thinking particularly of the spectacularly sexist and biased remarks flying around from some in the science fiction and fantasy field (see as a reference Dave Truesdale’s absolutely unbelievable rant here) and the recent Huffington Post Article, “If J.K. Rowling Cares About Writing, She Should Stop Doing It.”  I’ve had so much to say on these matters that I’ve literally been unable to say anything, because it all wants to tumble out at once, creating a bottleneck at the source.  But here it is.  I know that I’m not saying anything new, but I have to say it: all of this—ALL OF IT—comes down to entitlement.   I’m entitled to what you have and HOW DARE YOU stand in my way.  What comes next is belittling, bullying and badmouthing others in order to tear them down so that you can climb over their backs to raise yourself up.

Well, let me tell you, it’s not going to happen.  Even if you were the next person in line for the accomplishment you think should be yours, there’s only going to be another you waiting in the wings to tear you down.  It’s craziness.

Here’s the truth: a person’s sex, sexuality or skin has NO bearing on that person’s merit.  NONE.   Of course, I’m starting here with the SFWA insanity.  I have to start somewhere.  Does the first amendment protect your right to spout off biased and bigoted rhetoric?  Just recently Adam Baldwin and Nick Searcy have proven that it does.  However, an organization  does not have to let those people speak for it or give them a forum for their words and yet there is a petition circling claiming censorship for not allowing the bias to stand.  N.K. Jemisin did a wonderful post on all of this which says everything I’d want to say more eloquently than I can put it, but I’ll quote just a little bit here: “I am all about the First Amendment. Most writers are. And if this current brave blow in defense of artistic expression had been actually about artistic expression, I might’ve been in their corner. If they’d gone to bat like this, poured out all this sturm und drang and all these Privileged Writer Tears, over the kinds of things the First Amendment was meant to protect — the voices of the minority; the rights of those who need to speak truth to power; subversive art, incisive journalism, political protest — then I would’ve signed the damn petition myself.”

Here’s a write-up about the petition from Black Gate Magazine.  Now, I was a columnist for the SFWA Bulletin—the very incarnation of it that was suspended.  Sadly, all of us were ditched, along with the editor, who I really enjoyed working with.  I agree that the magazine needed an overhaul and I do believe that the egregious columns should have been edited for content or suspended all together, since they provided a biased and outdated view of many things, not the least of which was the role of women in the industry.  Do I like the way things went down?  No.  But will I argue to be rid of any oversight?  Again, no.  A professional publication should serve its members, not alienate them.  It doesn’t mean there will never be any difference of opinions.  Get any five members of the industry on a panel and at least one is bound to be the odd man or woman out over an issue.  However, a professional publication needs to be professional.

Moving on to the Huffington Post article…  Amy Christine Parker did a wonderful vlog yesterday for YA Rebels (below) expressing so much that I would have said, but I want to add my voice here.  1- Criticizing anyone’s work without so much as reading it is bad form. 2- Suggesting that anyone leave a field so that others can get ahead…where do I even start?  When someone like J.K. Rowling (for middle grade fiction) or Stephenie Meyer (for YA) or Laurell K. Hamilton (for urban fantasy) comes along, it calls attention to the entire field.  Publishers realize that there’s an audience hungry for it and they begin looking for more.  It can actually pave the way for other writers of such fiction to come up in the industry.  Plus, BOOKS, SELLING = good for bookstores, good for the industry.  3- As Amy suggested in her vlog, writers aren’t workhorses.  We write because we have to.  We’re artists.  Ask an artist to stop creating art and you might as well ask us to stop our hearts.

Full disclosure, I loved J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  I read the whole series not because I have a son the right age (he actually read them on my recommendation), but because I really enjoyed them.  Are they perfect?  No.  What is?  But she created a world and characters that I lost myself in, and that to me is magic.  Do I like some of what she’s said in interviews since, like that she doesn’t write fantasy?  (As if a) we could swallow that and b) there’s anything wrong with fantasy.)  No, I don’t.  However, I would never suggest that she step aside and am stunned that anyone would feel she had the right to try to elbow another author off the stage.

People, if you can’t get ahead on your own merits, maybe you should look to the mote in your own eye.  ‘Nough said.

Amy’s vlog…

Hey, all, still playing crazy catch-up after the holidays, so I’m just posting quickly to give a WOOT! for the fact that we can now announce the big deal for three new Chicagoland Vampires novels by the bestselling and entirely unforgettable Chloe NeillHere’s the PW announcement.

In YA Rebel-land, Amy Christine Parker and I chose to do today’s vlog on publishing misconceptions (part 1, because there’s too much to cover in a single vid!).  Check us out.

 

Just back from rounds of meetings in New York and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s annual reception (which was amazing) and so late posting up my new links.  This week I can be found at Magical Words talking about the Role of Agents in the Modern Publishing Landscape and over on the YA Rebels vlog talking about my writing process. Wait, I can embed the vlog right here (she says, fearfully, knowing that the world may not actually be ready for her morning face).  Anyway, if you’d like an overly honest look into my writing process, you can find it right here.

 

I seriously need Joan Jetson’s stylist for just such occasions.

Finally, since this is my blog and I’ll party if I want to, I want to celebrate this fantastic new review of BAD BLOOD from A Simple Love of Reading.  How can you not adore a review that starts out with, “I loved this book”?  So thrilled!

Quick note before I introduce the amazing N.K. Jemisin: Faith Hunter was kind enough to host me over on her blog this week, so I didn’t want to miss out on sending y’all over there as well.  I’m talking about the writing life.  And now, without further ado….

When I think new and innovative in epic fantasy, I think N.K. Jemisin.  Last year with her debut novel THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, she was up for about every major award in the genre, and this year her new Dreamblood series (THE KILLING MOON and THE SHADOWED SUN) is already making lists of most anticipated reads:

Wired Magazine Summer School for Geeks: 11 New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Publishers Weekly’s Best Summer Books 2012

National Public Radio (NPR)’s fantasy summer reading list

and inspired Kirkus Reviews to a compile a Top 10 Female-Penned Fantasy novels/series

I’m so pleased to have her here giving away a signed book to one lucky commentor and sharing her knowledge of:

Five Things I Now Know About Being a Professional Writer (That I Didn’t Know Before)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, my first novel, was published in February of 2010. My fifth novel, The Shadowed Sun, just came out this month. Now, I know how it looks — two years, five books — but that’s deceptive. Anyone who knows anything about publishing understands that it’s icebergian: the part of it that’s visible to the public is miniscule compared to the stuff that led up to it. For me this whole saga actually began a couple of years before the first book’s publication, in 2008 when I sold my first novels to Orbit. Or maybe it really started a few years before that, in 2004 when I got Lucienne as an agent. Or did it start in 2000, when I first resolved to buckle down and get serious about becoming a published writer? All this leads me to the first of my Things:

1) Everything takes longer than you think.

Ten years from resolution to publication is nothing. It took longer than that, really; I’m not counting the preceding ten-plus years I spent writing “just for fun”, because I was convinced that there was no real point in my trying to get published. It just seemed too difficult. A lot of aspiring writers feel this way, I know. Some of them resort to self-publishing, not because they genuinely think it’s a good publishing model for them, but because they aren’t willing to keep at it and they don’t think they can break in any other way. Some of them can’t. But some of them could, if they put in the time and effort. Persistence is the key.

Then there’s the matter of timelines. I’m on deadline again right now, working on the first of a new fantasy trilogy. I have a year to finish each book, so I’m pacing myself, doing 1000-1500 words per day. In theory this should mean I’ll finish each novel in about four months — but in actual practice I know it’ll take much longer. For one thing, I’ve got to plan around a day job. I work in education; the month of September is to us what the month of April is to accountants. I probably won’t make my wordcount goals that month. And I’ve got periods of heavy travel and promotion to consider. Since The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun came out very recently, I’ve had a steady spate of readings and guestblogs and convention appearances and signings… so I haven’t made my wordcount goals lately, either. And sometime during the year I’ll need to take the time to read through the published versions of both books to try and catch typos before the mass markets come out. Once I’ve turned in the first book of the new series, I’ll have to plan in time for edits and second edits and copyedits and first pass edits while I’m working on the second and third books. When the first book comes out — probably while I’m still working on the third book — I’ll also have to slot in time for promotion again.

And that’s if I don’t decide to scrap what I’m working on and start over. Did that several times with each book of the Inheritance Trilogy. Sometimes I make my wordcount goals, but they’re the wrong words.

So it will probably take me close to a year to finish each book — and that’s if no major family emergencies, employment emergencies, etc., happen in the meantime. I’ll aim for four months anyway. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

2) Robots are a good idea. (Or help of some sort.)

I am not blessed with children. This is a sad thing, because according to my mother, children are darn handy for doing chores.

In lieu of children, I have invested in technology: a Roomba and a countertop dishwasher. I have also chosen to pay for certain services that most people would do themselves: drop-off wash & fold laundry and (occasional) grocery delivery. I bought the dishwasher out of my first advance check, and I deduct the laundry when I itemize my taxes, per an accountant’s advice. This is because I’m specifically investing in these services/devices as a way to make time for writing. The four hours I would otherwise spend doing it myself at the corner laundromat is time I can use to hit my daily wordcount goal, or write a guestblog post. In fact, because I’m paying for it, I find myself more motivated to get the writing done — because otherwise I’ve wasted an investment in myself.

Which leads me to my next realization:

3) Time-thieves are everywhere. And they love you.

I have relatives and friends. You probably do, too. And one of the problems I continually have with my relatives and friends is that they want to do things with me. I know, right? Terrible! How could they.

Professional writers need to have lives. Writing well depends on lived experience; none of us can be single-minded worker bees cranking away on wordcount all the time. But what I didn’t understand before I got published was how much time I would have to spend on tasks that aren’t writing. Before publication, all I had to do was write, and occasionally do some writing-related networking. After publication, I travel to conventions. I do readings. I do research. I do blog posts and guestblogs. I do interviews. I check copyedits. I write jacket copy. I read and sign contracts. I do mailings. I fill out foreign tax forms. I still do lots of networking, now in person. Oh — and I write, too.

What I also didn’t understand before publication was how hard it would be to get all this across to my friends and family. They still think all I do is write. They still think writing isn’t hard. They still don’t understand what I mean when I say that I have two jobs (I have a day job too). I’ve tried to explain and most of them just don’t get it. So I have to say “no” a lot, and I have to repeat myself a lot, and sometimes even when I don’t explain I simply have to put my foot down and let them know that my writing time is sacrosanct. As a result of all this, I’m not the most popular girl on earth… but I make my deadlines.

4) I still get rejected. Lots, in fact.

I used to be in the BRAWLers, a Boston-area writing group. They had a great tradition that I recommend to all writing groups: they celebrated rejections. At 50 rejections we went out for a beer. At 100 we had a full-on margarita-and-mojito bash. Nobody got to 150 while I was in the group, but I imagine if we had, the party might have involved strippers. Just speculating.

Rejections are part of being a writer — yeah, even for a pro. Before publication I thought that once I had some novels out, it would be easier to sell short stories — and to a degree this is true. My submissions go to the head of the slushpile at some markets. I get a lot of invitations to write for anthologies and magazines that otherwise I would never hear about. Even so, they don’t always buy the work they’ve solicited. That’s because not everything I write is good enough to publish. Of course not; this is art, and some art sucks.

So, in part because of that old BRAWLer tradition, I treat each rejection as a badge of honor — a sign that I’m continuing to improve and grow as a writer. In fact, I’ve kept every rejection letter I’ve ever gotten. My first novel rejection is framed and hanging above my writing desk. My short story rejections are in a box; I’m planning to wallpaper my bathroom with them, once I buy a house.

5) I am no longer a reader.

This one’s hard for me, because I still think of myself as a science fiction and fantasy lover who happens to write. But this is no longer true. The instant my name appeared on a book spine, my status changed; I am now part of “the establishment.”

What that means is that I need to remain aware at all times of my power in the community, relative to readers. Sometimes it’s laughable to think of myself as powerful; unless they’re mega-bestsellers, writers are pretty much at the bottom of the hierarchy in the publishing world. But the fact remains, we have more influence than any individual reader. We have — and it’s hard for me to even say this word, because it still feels kind of egotistical to think this way — fans. And ultimately, if our work gets enough attention, we have the power to change the genre itself.

So I stop myself, now, from jumping into discussions that once upon a time I would’ve eagerly joined. Reviews are a great example. I view reviews of my work as useful critique. Maybe it’s the years I’ve spent in writing groups, but whenever I see a review (good or bad), I desperately want to ask questions of the reviewer and see what I can learn that will help improve my writing. I did this a few times after my first book came out — until I realized that some reviewers and readers are genuinely creeped out when the author pops up in the comments. Even if the author doesn’t behave badly, the author’s presence inhibits and skews the whole discussion; people who would otherwise talk freely become concerned about (or intent upon) hurting the author’s feelings, and it’s just a big mess. By the same token, I also avoid reviewing other authors’ works if I don’t like them. I used to. But now I know that I might meet this author at some future convention or event. It’s hard to have a civil conversation with someone if you’ve publicly declared their work to be utter dreck, and if they remember you said so.

I also miss the power that I had as “just a reader”. Once upon a time I could rage publicly about something an author had written or a publisher had done, without consequence. Once upon a time, I could influence cover art and content merely by writing a blog post — something I can’t do now without substantial risk to my career.

I still choose to do these things sometimes — sometimes the risk is worth it — but it’s rare now. I pick my battles. And I have more power to change things through my work, so I spend the bulk of my energy on that.

So that’s it. I’ll revisit this article in a few years, I think, and share any new things I’ve learned in the time since.

___________________________

Check out N.K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology or Inheritance trilogy.  Follow her on Twitter!

Happy Presidents’ Day, everyone!  I’m over at Magical Words today exercising my right to free speech, talking ’bout reader respect.

Inspired by my status update this morning on Facebook and Twitter, I thought I’d give you another snapshot into the life of agents and editors, this one about why your work is rarely read as quickly as you like it to be.  I’ll start with some specifics from my own personal experience.

I represent forty authors.  Even if each only wrote one book a year, I’d have forty books to read and critique over the course of 52 weeks.  Many of my authors write more than one book a year, sometimes in multiple series and for more than one publisher.  So let’s say I read sixty books a year for my clients.  I also read and offer notes on their proposals and partials, sometimes several times, to get them into shape for submission.  My clients come first.  And no, I can’t always read everything in order, because if books are turned in late but are already in schedule, the editor and I may have to drop everything we’re doing in order to read instantaneously so that the author can receive notes in time to revise for their production deadlines.  So submissions will generally get pushed back to make room for these rush reads.

We fit submissions in when we can, but I have to admit that there’s a certain order here as well.  If an agent (or editor, because their process is much the same, although they generally don’t take unsolicited submissions and are reading manuscripts sent by agents instead) has a file folder of submissions, but something seems particularly hot or from a favorite author over whom other agents are likely to compete, it moves to the top of the list.

All of the above also explains why we don’t offer critiques of everything we read that we don’t represent.  To do that we’d have to take time away from authors to whom we’re committed, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  Already, agents and editors don’t actually have weekends off…or evenings…or holidays.  My Saturdays and Sundays are distinguishable from my work week only by the amount of time I spend reading versus doing office work like looking over contracts, chasing checks, liaising with my subagents over film and translation rights, actually typing up all the notes I’ve racked up on the client manuscripts read in my off hours.

So, if your work isn’t read as quickly as you’d like it to be, it’s not because we’re living it up in our ivory towers, although that would be lovely, it’s because despite the numerous absolutely brilliant people I know, none has yet managed to find a way to create more hours in the day.  If anyone manages it, please have your people call my people!  We’ll do lunch…at which I will worship at your feet.