Middles

penniesThe Muddle in the Middle

I haven’t posted in a while. I gave myself a deadline for finishing the second draft of my novel, and then life happened. Nothing serious, but my life is pretty full.  Still, I’ve been doing my best to slog through the middle of the rewrite.  I’m narrowing it down from four viewpoints to two.  I’m bringing in foreshadowing for events that I didn’t know about in the first writing.  The hardest part of doing this is getting started, it takes at least a half hour of dithering to really get into it.  If I’m not careful, I get sucked into the internet and lose the time I have.  I’ve started turning off my wi-fi before writing time.

I have developed a new behavior system with my son.  He has twenty points, which are represented by pennies in a cup.  When he has all twenty points, he has all privileges. Misbehavior means taking away points.  We emphasize adding points for any small good deed or kindness.  I should do this myself.  When I’m slogging away in the middle and it feels like I will never be able to untangle and smooth out my writing in time, I should give myself points for every effort instead of focusing on feeling bad for not doing more.

 

 

 

Blurbs and Pitches

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Word cloud made with WordItOut

In a World…

I’m taking a short break from revising (I’ve gotten through the first five chapters!) to work on my blurb.  That’s the catchy description of the book that is supposed to draw you in.  I’ve looked at quite a few examples.  Unless I make up something, I can skip the favorable reviews from journals and magazines (“Simply amazing storytelling…” The New York Times). 

What seems to be standard is two paragraphs, setting up the situation and then asking questions the reader wants answered, like “will he finally find the lost broomstick before the blight destroys the forest?” or more often “which man will she pick, the naughty rogue or the simple but sweet neighbor?”

A pitch is slightly different, it is meant for a gatekeeper like an agent or editor.  The imagined scenario is that you happen to bump into an agent in an elevator and strike up a conversation, and between the second floor and the fourteenth, she asks about your book and you come out with your pitch.  ”It’s a love story between a bat and a bird, it’s “Stellaluna” meets “Pride and Prejudice”.  This scenario seems far-fetched, perhaps a little more likely at a convention where the elevator line can take hours.  More often you are sending these pitches as part of a query letter to agents and editors.

The Book Doctors discuss pitches and their annual contest related to NaNoWriMo, and they limit a pitch to 250 words.

Here’s a start for my blurb:

Flying ships, wild magic, a land in trouble and a toy duck.  Three women and a shapeshifter accidentally save their world.

Long ago, it used to be easy for pilgrims to journey to the northern temple and get a new, adult name.  Now wild magic is flowing like lava across the land, cutting off the route.  A nameless girl hires a guard named Brynn, and they venture into the cursed dreamlands, guided by a mad sorceress and her shapeshifting companion.  They fight their way past monsters, dangers and frightening wonders to reach the temple, where they will be tested to see who they truly are.

Anything can happen in the dreamlands, and there is more at stake than the three women realize.  Their actions will not only effect the rulership of a country, but the fate of their whole world.

*** too much?  Need to keep working on this.

 

 

Revision

Rewriting for “Pantsers”

If you write by the seat of your pants instead of carefully outlining, rewriting can be difficult.  I’m revising a first draft that I merrily wrote without any restrictions.  It was wonderfully freeing, and gave me a full, rich story I might not have gotten from a tidy little outline.  However, trying to follow the plot now is like following Billy in  a “Family Circus” comic strip.

I have four main characters and alternating points of view (close third person) with all of them.  The antagonist is on another continent and doesn’t actually show up for the final confrontation.  I separate the characters and have them “scooby-dooing” through most of the book.  At one point, I even gave one character the temporary ability to fly in order to get her where I needed her to be!

I am not giving up, for I really feel that there is a good story in this mess.  It is definitely encouraging me to have at least some preplanning before starting my next project!
13126099I am reading a great book right now- Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.  It talks about the science behind good story telling.

Book Cover Design

People judge books by their covers

As a Librarian, I stare at hundreds of book covers a day, not only in our collection but in book review journals, online reviews, book stores, Goodreads and Pinterest.  I know that a great book won’t get checked out by browsers if it has an ugly cover.  A cover has to do many things, including conveying genre, target audience and tone.

An ebook cover has to do even more.  I started working on ideas for my work in progress, Name Quest.  At first I tried sketching out a scene from the book, but realized that when it was rendered down to a thumbnail, it would be hard to see clearly.  An ebook cover should be readable at thumbnail size.  Many great print book covers would become too busy or unreadable when rendered down.  I decided to convey the tone (lighthearted fantasy) with a doodle background and the three main characters’ faces.  This is my first sketch, it’s not quite right yet.  I especially want to redo the character on the right.  I’m trying to decide if the final cover should be painted, done as computer art, or kept as colored pencils.

drawing name quest

Future of writing

Hybrid writers, the writing business and my own plans

I just read an article in Writer’s Digest (2/2014) by Chuck Wendig about “hybrid publishing”.  This is where an author pursues both traditional publishing and self publishing simultaneously.  He likens it to diversifying your portfolio.  Put all the eggs in all the baskets!

I’ve concluded my experiment that I started last year, where I self-published a novel into Barnes and Noble and Amazon.  I did no promotion beyond telling my friends and family it existed and putting a link here.  I sold 15 books at Amazon and 27 books at Barnes and Noble.  The book was not my best work, it was a quirky mystery/humor book.  I could be discouraged by the low numbers, or encouraged.  I choose to be encouraged.  What can happen if I really work at promotion, quantity and quality?  If I have ten great books on all the ebook places, with promotion, I can see a real side business.  I am going to rewrite and polish a fantasy novella  (Name Quest) and self-publish it.

At the same time I will continue to keep looking for an agent for my paranormal romance, “Seeking Clarity”.  After I finish my rewrite, I will start looking for publishers and agents for my kid’s book, “Other People’s Magic.”

For my self-published work I need to have a great cover, a great description, and promotional materials.  I am doing research on covers, looking through my own bookshelf for inspiration.  A great resource I found was Joel Friedlander’s site, the Book Designer.  He does a monthly contest and talks about what makes a great cover and what just bombs (no plain white background without borders, check!).

best day ever

Creative Writing Encouraged

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I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for many years, and this year my daughter is joining in with the young writers program.  Classrooms and individuals can sign up to write a novel in a month.  They encourage creative writing in a judgement-free, entertaining way.  There are pep talks, writing prompts, trackers and forums.

I find NaNoWriMo to be helpful in emphasizing getting words on paper (or screen) and avoiding the self doubt that can block creativity.  It’s not about the finished product, it’s about the act of writing.

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Brutal Honesty about Self-Publishing

Truth About My Self-Publishing Journey

I was inspired by Hyperbole and a Half’s come-back.  She talks honestly (and humorously!) about depression.  I need to have that kind of heart to heart with you, my reader.  I mean that, there’s probably just one of you, and that’s ok.

Apparently, you can’t just slap any book into e-book format, self-publish on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and just make money.  I wasn’t trying to get rich, but I had a goal of earning $1,000.  I have not earned enough for them to send me a check yet.  My book is not erotica, does not have special instructions or have any sparkly vampires.  It’s a silly send-off of the show Murder She Wrote, examining what happens to relatives of those amateur detectives who seem to be encountering a murder every week.  No one has written a review.  I have sold 13 books on Amazon, earning me $9.10, and 12 books on Barnes and Noble, earning $9.60.  They won’t send me money until I get over $10.  My last sale was in March, when a bunch of my friends showed me support (thank you!).  I can’t rely on selling my book to friends and relatives.

I thought that if I self-published, I wouldn’t have to deal with rejection.  Ha.  It’s just different.  I have to determine how to write the rejection letter to myself.  ”Dear Jane, this is not working.  I suggest trying something else.”

My something else will be a book for Librarians.  I have specialized knowledge, and it is a niche market of known readers.  I also know who to market to.  I’ve got the start of the book and I’m trying to pull together something that is both informative and entertaining- a slightly snarky how-to of running a small library.  I’ll include things like a “Are you burned out?” quiz, book lists and coping strategies.  When I’m done I have a beta-reader in mind, a colleague of mine whose opinion I value.  I think she’ll do it.

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Moments

51HCa3RHsOL._AA160_I just finished a memoir called “Paris in Love” by Eloisa James.  It was assigned by my book group and not something I would have picked up otherwise. It relates a year of the author’s life when she took a sabbatical in Paris.

What makes it remarkable is that it is made up of little moments, often not more than a few sentences, relating something she experienced.  She not only talks about food and art, but the homeless people she encounters, her children’s school experiences, her in-law’s overweight dog and the way light shines through a window.  It inspired me to capture more moments in my life.  As I’m writing this, I’m remembering a song from “Into the Woods“.  Life is more than just moments, but they are to be gathered up and savored.  Of the moments that happened today, which ones will I remember a year from now?  Probably replacing the flooring in our TV room.  But the serious discussion I had with my daughter about what Phineas and Ferb must be like in school (their poor teachers!) should be remembered too.

Writing a journal seems like another chore, a self-indulgent one at that.  It can be more than that- it can be art and therapy and self-discovery.  Give it a try, and start with a small moment of each day.

Author Motivation

Fake Acceptance Letters

Motivation is not a one size fits all prospect.  Some people fuel themselves with anger: “I’ll show them, I’ll show them all!”  Some people respond well to people yelling at them, some do well with gentle coaxing.  Some people plod along with a mulish refusal to give up.  I do well myself by having the loving support of family and friends mixed with small successes.  These small successes are my scientific evidence I’m not just wasting my time.

Right now I have not had even small successes, and I realized that I needed an acceptance letter.  Why not just accept myself?  I know what I want to hear.  So I wrote:

Dear Jane,

We are pleased to inform you that your novel has been accepted.  We were blown away by your characters and the writing is brilliant, fast-paced and sharp.  I shared your manuscript around the office and we want to see everything you have ever written so that we can read all of that too.  You need to write faster!

I am sending you our standard rich and famous contract, author edition, for you to consider.  Later we will send a private helicopter to bring you to NYC for dinner with the editor and cover artist to discuss your book tour.

I understand that you almost gave up in your pursuit of writing because you were feeling disheartened and unappreciated.  That would have been a heartbreaking shame!  The world needs your novel.  We look forward to seeing your next project.

Sincerely,

Big Time Editor

That was fun, so I asked my friends to accept me as well, and got these gems:

Dear Mrs./Mr./It. Jane

On behalf of the Random Houze Publishimaciky Company, I would like to be the first of THOUSANDS to congratulate you on being accepted. We wholeheartedly and fully, without question, compromise or second thought, accept your work as the brilliant masterpiece that it is. We prostrate ourselves before you, and beg of you to provide us more of these fine novels upon which we may dine in delight. Please accept our apologies for not hand-delivering this letter, as our normal courier Benji is presently sick with the dog flu. Nasty illness: phlegm and mucus everywhere, not to mention fecal discharge and urinary crystals. The vet says he’ll be back to normal, or blissfully deceased, within a week. We can only hope!

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, we thank you for your submission, and will be putting you in touch with our copy editor soon, so that we may transform this brilliant work of art into a glorious first, second and thirteenth edition, post hate! Haste, rather. Post haste.

I have just one, small request, however. You see, I have a, how shall we say, penchant, for purple prose. I was wondering, if it isn’t too much to ask, if you wouldn’t mind including a small nod to Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton’s masterful execution of “Dark and Stormy Night”, or perhaps John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE’s brilliant execution of elvish and dwarvish singing in a passage or two, that I, er, rather, we, might bask in the purply goodness.

At any rate, I look forward to welcoming you in person at our new office in the Staten Island Landfill, just as soon as our variance is approved and enough gas masks can be procured to ensure the safety of our guests and prisoners. Employees. EMPLOYEES. I didn’t say prisoners.

Best Regarded Later,
Jeffery Popplebuff

Ah.  Um.  Well.  Moving on…

Dear Mrs. Jane;

It has come to our attention that a grievous error has been made. It has been our goal for the last several weeks to contact you, but due to a tragic accident involving peanut butter, a wooden yardstick and an over-zealous hamster (darn those guys in IT), the computer that contained all of your contact information was confused with another Jane that lives in Waderutalkinbout, Tennessee. She wrote a 1317 page novel on the theoretical implications of dental floss on the general shape and meaning of the universe (complete with footnote and an annotated bibliography.) Although I am loath to say it, I was forced to complete the entire story in order to explain in detail why we wouldn’t be publishing her book. It took 4 trained assassins, 2 sessions of water boarding and a very stern look from my 6th grade English teacher to complete the book. The letter I originally wrote in response to her caused my computer to short out. Instead, I had to send a form letter offering phrases like “not right at this time,” and “thank you for your submission”, when in fact I wanted to hire the assassins myself. In short, it was bad. To compound the issue, her letter was sent to you, and vise-versa. We are now in court proceedings, as she thinks that we are obligated to produce her drivel. If we can find a judge who can stay alive long enough to finish the book, I’m sure we can clear things up very quickly. However, I am delighted to say that after all of that, I was able to sit down and enjoy the thrilling tale you spun from the pure gold that is the union of your heart mind and soul. Such sweet nectar rarely crosses my desk and acted as the golden buffer between myself and a lunch of brightly colored pills and a bottle of cheap and varnish like alcohol. I now live to read your next work of brilliance! However, I do regret to say that I can not allow your book to be published. The general public is not ready, nay they cannot be allowed to sully such a fine piece of literary triumph! Please accept my most humble thanks and apology in this matter. Your words have been heard and approved. Your friend, Harding Cutthroat III

Mrs. WJane,
We deeply regret having accidentally misfiled our previous acceptances of all your submitted works to date. It seems the clerk, who has been flogged, filed them under “W” and we were unable to find them.
We believed, to our shame, that you had rejected us. We wept at staff meetings as we thought of your delightful works published by some better filed house. 
But now, our clerk has seen the error of her ways and located all your acceptances, including, we now realize, three for one book alone. It is only fair that we publish that one three times, with three separate covers, to make up for our grievous disorganization.
Please allow us to publish your stories! We promise the best artists, the creamiest white paper, the silkiest ink and the firmest of bindings if only you will take us back.
Sincerely,
Mr. My Name Stamp Has Also Been Misfiled

So, if you have not been getting any praise for your art lately, I suggest you go out and accept yourself today!

dearest author

Flash Fiction

Our guest blogger today is Melissa Mead! She has published over 24 flash stories in publications such as Drabblers, Daily Science Fiction, and The First Line.  Keep an eye out for something special from Daily Science Fiction in the near future.

We Write Short Shorts!

Well, I do, anyway. Short shorts, flash fiction, microfiction. Whatever you call it, writing short is a handy addition to any writer’s toolkit.

Not everyone agrees on the definition of flash fiction. Often, it’s under 1,000 words long. It does need to be a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. A real story, in miniature.

How do you cram a whole story into such a tiny space?

I find it easiest to write long, then cut. My first sales were to a market called The First Line. Back then, TFL had an upper limit of 600 words. I’d write a 700-1,200 word story, then cut it down, using tricks like these:

Choose a small concept. No galaxy-spanning epics. Show one moment in the life of one character. Use what your reader already knows. Ex, I love to rewrite fairy tales. The reader knows what to expect without the author having to set it up, leaving the author room to turn those expectations upside down.

Make every word count. Any adverb, adjective, or word that isn’t a noun or verb had better have a reason for being there. Nouns and verbs should earn their keep too.

Edit, edit, edit. Once you’ve finished your story, go over it and cut everything you don’t need. Sleep on it, and the next day do it again. Chop words, sentences, etc. out with an editorial axe. Then go back with a jackknife, then a scalpel.

Just for fun, here’s an example:

Beginning/setup “Look! Up in the sky!” (If you’re a certain age, you’ll be filling in what comes next.)

Middle/create expectations Joe didn’t bother looking. It was always a plane, or yet another superhero trying to save the planet’s dying fauna.

End/twist His daughter looked, though. She still believed in birds.

Have fun flashing!

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