Riding the Query-Go-Round -- one week in

Friday, April 29, 2011

10 Chiming In
It's now been one week since I sent off my first batch of queries, so I thought I'd give you a bit of an update.

Keep in mind that one week is a ridiculously short time period in publishing, and that my moronic self chose the day before Easter, which was also just prior to Passover, to query.

Having said that... things are going great.

It's difficult to keep time in perspective when it comes to querying, especially when you feel the need to check your email every hour, half-hour, quarter-hour, five minutes... :-P It makes it feel like things are taking longer than they are. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

I refuse to shoot myself in the foot with specifics, so I'll keep this vague. I've got multiple fulls floating around out there, and I've had one partial request as well. And the feedback from those reading... OMG, people if you could see my face...

The feedback I've been getting is flat out amazing. I may actually be able to write the very first non-fiction account of someone learning to fly if things keep going like this. My feet are seriously wanting to leave the ground.

Oh yeah, this requires dancing - and firefly:

Dance with me; I'll protect your identity with my failsafe image guard:

E is for...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4 Chiming In
E is for Edit -- aka hacking away at the parts of your soul bonded to your MS and setting them ablaze. Nothing's perfect the first time out. Even if your MS is clean, there are things that can be tightened or adjusted to accommodate a new sub-plot that didn't exist when you wrote chapter 1. Continuity needs to be checked (Are the hero's eyes blue in each mention? Did the villain drive off in a Vette, but climb out of a Camaro? No, a Welsh accent isn't "basically the same thing" as an English one.)

E is for Editor -- there's more than one kind. You can hire a copy editor to go through your book and tell you what's wrong with it grammatically and structurally. Some people do this prior to submission, but it's expensive and somewhat counterproductive. If it takes a professional editor for you to produce a clean MS, then what are you going to do when an agent or In-House Editor (the other kind of editor) asks for revisions? The In-House Editor will make suggestions on the book on behalf of the publishing house. Maybe there's a specific voice the house tries to maintain or an image they don't want to deviate from, or maybe your book is a bit too close in one scene to another, so they may ask you to revise it.

E is for Effort -- even when it's coming easy, there's still effort involved. The amount of conscious effort you put in will affect the final product.

E is for E-book -- you know, that "thing" destined to save/destroy writing for future generations. E-books are not new, people. They've been around for like 20 years. Kindle, nook, Sony's e-reader, et al have made them more popular, but they're not some new thing to fear. (And they're not nearly as popular outside the US as they are inside.) And even with E-books, those getting the largest market share are still the e-versions of already in print commercial novels.
(I'll say more about self-e-publishing on the letter "s", but the short version for here is -- know what you're getting into and realize the risk involved when hit submit. If you've got that down, then more power to you and I hope you sell a million.)

Which segues me into --

E is for Expectations -- whichever route you choose, commercial or self-publishing, know your odds and set your expectations accordingly. YES, you should absolutely try and beat the odds. ABSOLUTELY believe in your writing enough to think it rocks, but understand the hurdles that come with both types of publishing.

E is for Expressive, Expressions, Elation, Evil, Ending, Era, and Envy --

The human face is Expressive (Don't believe me? Watch Lie to Me and see how many expressions your face can make without your conscious notice.) There are glowers, glimmers, and grimaces, smirks, sneers, and smiles - all are specific descriptions with specific connotations. Figure out what it is you want to convey and use the best expression you can find to fit the mood.

Then there are "Expressions" of the sort that means colloquialism. They're a great way to add voice to a piece - certain things get said down south that would make a northerner's eyes spin in their sockets and vice versa. There are benign sayings in American slang that would make lovely old British ladies turn red, cover their grandchildren's ears and smack you on the head with their hand bag. (Brits don't wear fanny packs on vacation, nor does the mention of anything called "Spunk"meyer carry the connotation of a sweet treat...) Be careful. Know your audience. (This is where those lovely in-house editors come in handy, too, btw.)

Elation will ebb and flow through your writing process so often, you'll begin to wonder if you aren't suffering a chemical imbalance. The shiny new idea, the end of the novel, getting those first requests for partials and fulls - all make your endorphins soar, but you have to be cautious and not let the moments where the story hits a snag or you're sick of reading the full through to edit (AGAIN!!!) or those first two requests end in rejections crash your enthusiasm so far into the basement you're tempted to give up. Sometimes you need to walk away and do something else. No one can hold a muscle tensed forever, and that's what you're doing when you write. It's okay to slow down and relax.

Evil comes in many shapes, colors and degrees. Know which one fits your story best. If it's not geared toward a mustache -twirling Dastardly Dan, then don't force one into the story just to have someone "really" evil. Subtle evil, like a cold finger running over the base of your neck can be just as dangerous, and even more terrifying.

Endings MUST fit the rest of the story. If you have a last minute save, then every other minute should have been building toward the possibility of that save happening. New powers, new characters, sudden personality shifts so that a passive character turns into a bad ass or the bad ass turns into a coward for no reason, non-conflict in place of a battle scene -- none of these do your characters any favors and they void the trust you've built with your readers.

Consider your Era. Whether you're writing meticulous historical or a fun, anachronistic steampunk, there's a certain flavor you need to match for the writing to come off as authentic. You need to know the voice and the social mores, not just play with cool costumes and inventions. (While your feisty heroine may run around with a page boy haircut and leather pants, that doesn't mean that the high society ladies will automatically approve of their upper crust son or daughter tagging along for the adventure.)

Beware Envy; it will rot your best efforts from the inside out. So what if Author A got a major multi-book deal? You don't write their genre, so it's not comparable? Who cares if Author B landed an agent after one query in less than 24 hours? That agent doesn't rep your genre anyway? There are so many variables present in every book deal that to try and compare yours to one that's already happened is only going to make you hate yourself and your writing. Others' success means nothing in relation to you. It doesn't make their book better or worse; it just means they found the combination that worked for them

Next time, F is for: First pages, Fresh voice, and Framing...

First Page Shooter

Monday, April 25, 2011

12 Chiming In
Agents Suzie Townsend (Fine Print) and Joanna Volpe (Nancy Coffee) have a new feature on "Confessions from Suite 500", called "First Page Shooter". Basically, you send them the first 250 words of your WIP or finished MS, according to their side bar instructions (says the girl who had to resend because she screwed them up...) and they pick out entries to workshop on the blog.

The idea is to give writers an idea how agents read those all important first pages, and why they do - or don't - continue reading past them. It's an awesome feature on an awesome blog, and if you aren't already following "Confessions", you should be.

Today, Suzie put my first page up.

A confirmation form-letter goes out when they pick your page, letting you know when your page will be on the blog, and I've been nothing but nerves since I got the e-mail. I was practically dancing this morning when I read Suzie's response to my page.

Click the link if you'd like to read it, or even if you'd just like to see how First Page Shooter works and submit something yourself.

(BTW - Yes, I took my first page tabs off the top of the blog. It occurred to me that having "non-final" first pages might not be the best representation of my work.)

D is for...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

4 Chiming In
D is for Deal -- this is where you get paid, if you go the commercial route. A "deal" is negotiated by your agent (if you have one) and, in part, covers your advance. (An advance being what your publisher thinks your book is worth in the long run.) I am by no means an expert, but the basic "tiers" in deal speak are:
  • nice deal: $1 – $49,000
  • very nice deal: $50,000 – $99,000
  • good deal: $100,000 – $250,000
  • significant deal: $251,000 – $499,000
  • major deal: $500,000 and up
Regardless of where your deal falls on the scale, you don't get all the money up front; it's split over the number of books involved in the deal, and split again depending on the publisher's guidelines for acceptance of a manuscript.

D is for Dialogue -- You have to write like people talk, only better. Humans are rhythmic creatures, but it's not something most are consciously aware of. Detecting speech patterns is ingrained in our habits as a way of distinguishing friend from foe, social class, region of origin, assumptions of education, etc. You need to hear your characters in your head - and as much as people will tell you to listen to conversations to get a feel for how to do it, I don't think that's the best way. Listen to theatrical conversations instead. Pick movies, TV shows, plays, etc. by writers you love and listen for the sound more than the content. That way you're not bogged down with the sort of awkward breaks that pepper most everyday speech.

D is for Diversity -- Never mistake your mirror for a window. Not everyone looks like you; not everyone thinks like you. You are not your characters, and it's not only okay for them to look, sound or act differently from you (and each other), it's essential.

D is for Details and Description -- How silly of you to think these are the same thing. :-P
If you describe a character, you tell me his / her physical attributes. What are they wearing? What color is their hair? How do they sound? But details of character are something else all together.

Details are where you get your hints about backstory and the inner-workings that make your character tick. (Literally, if you write steampunk.) What happened to your character when he was six that made him fear water? Why won't he cross the bridge on Elm? What was his nickname in summer camp?

Descriptions tell me what he looks like; details tell me what make him who he is.

D is for Dropbox -- one instance of somehow deleting all but four pages of a four-hundred page manuscript will burn this one into your brain for eternity.

D is for Die, Die my Darling -- "Murder your darlings." I think Stephen King gets quoted on this more often than he does his novels. Most everyone has a passage of writing they love to the detriment of the story as a whole. Maybe it's a flashback or just some particularly "pretty" writing. It could be something with special meaning to you. But if it doesn't fit the flow, then you've just shot your MS with a decorative bullet. Just because it's pretty doesn't mean it isn't dangerous.

D is for Delete, Drama, Delirium, Discipline, and possibly even Dramamine --

When you edit, it's a surgical strike and the Delete key is your scalpel. Cut deep, and make sure you get rid of as much of the problem as possible so any later edits will go smoother.

Storytelling is Drama and drama is conflict. You don't have to have a problem on every page, but every page should deal with the problem, either by making it better or making it worse. (Bonus points if you can pull of both at the same time.) Drama can also be subtle. You don't have to blow things up every other chapter for the story to be compelling.

Most writers talk about getting "in this zone". What they really mean is they've achieved a state of voluntary Delirium where the real world fades to white noise and their imagination takes over their hands for a short time. Some stellar writing happens this way, but I should warn you, little things like a sense of hearing, the need for food and water, and possibly even showering can lose their immediacy in the delirium... and that's no fun for anyone. :-P

If you want to make a career out of writing, then discipline is a must. If you're a mechanic, you fix cars everyday. If you're a lawyer, you work on legal documents. If you're a writer, then you write. It doesn't have to be much, but it should be something. Treat writing like a hobby, and you'll get a hobbyist's results. Treat it like a career, and you'll get a professional's results. I'd rather take the one that pays more.

Why Dramamine, you may ask? Because the decision to be a writer can spin you in so many directions and involve so many conflicting ideas of what's right or wrong, hot or cold, in or out, and a thousand other contradictions that it's easy to end up motion sick. It's up to you to keep yourself balanced through it all - that way, when you get "the call", you won't be so dizzy you lose your lunch on whichever agent makes it.

Next time on Josin's Junction, E is for Edits, Effort, and E-books.

(btw - I've started querying as of last night. Yes, it was stupid to do so on a holiday weekend, but I forgot about Good Friday being this week. Send me some good thoughts, okay?)

C is for...

7 Chiming In
C is for Contract -- the oft-sought golden ticket/brass ring and ultimate goal for the first time writer. A contract, no matter the monetary value, is proof that someone thinks your writing is worth investing time, money, and effort.

C is for Characters -- the people who populate your world and allow you to control their every thought, action, and intent. (Though, if you've written more than say... a page... you know this is never the case. Characters, if done well, develop their own quirks and their own will and trying to make them deviate from where they want to go is harder than bending steel.) Key characters should be three dimensional, with flaws and strengths, no matter how subtle. Smaller roles can be filled by the nameless horde, but that doesn't mean they have to be cardboard cut-outs.

C is for Critique -- not fun to give or get. Getting a critique means that someone's about to poke holes in the bubble you've created around your WIP; they're about to scratch off all the gold leaf you've used to camouflage your mistakes and haul the imperfections into broad daylight. Giving a critique means walking the line between honesty and compassion. I am of the opinion that a harsh critique is more compassionate than letting someone go forward with the false assurance that their work is ready to be seen by professional eyes when it's not. (Translation: I'm a mean 'ol meanie pants.)

C is for Connect -- what you need to do with your reader. You need to craft characters that they can relate to. No matter how deplorable your character, there's usually some way to forge a connection and create sympathy with the reader. (Forge as in build, not falsify -- you do not want anything to ring false with your writing.) If you can't create sympathy, then make your character or world or writing so compelling that the reader hangs around to see what happens to the guy they now love to hate.

C is for Clarity -- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Metaphor is fine, and it should be used when appropriate, but the point behind it should be clear. If no one can understand what you're trying to say, then they'll lose interest. (Either that, or they'll label your novel literary and you'll win the Pulitzer :-P )

C is for Copyright -- if you don't know what that means, then educate yourself. In the US, you own the copyright on your work from the moment it's in a fixed form (be it printed or saved). That's not the same as registering your copyright, but you still own your words in the specific configuration you set them. "Poor Man's Copyright" (the practice of mailing yourself a printout in order to get confirmation from the Post Office of when the book was finished) is a myth. It's no more effective than being able to show your writing history and when you saved your work; it's also not enforceable. Save yourself the postage; your publisher will register copyright when the book's ready.

C is for craft, creation, crazy and compulsion -- If you're writing anything other than a hobby piece or diary entry, then you can't ignore the craft involved. This is more than just words on paper or screen - you're creating a puzzle with words as your pieces and only you know where they need to go to create the final product.

Writing is creation. You're taking a blank space and filling it with something that never existed before. If you don't, then no one will. No matter what you write or how proficient your skill level, you've changed the world as we know it by introducing something that wasn't here yesterday. It's the first ripple in the pond and you have no way of knowing how far the effect will go. No one else can do what you do because no one else knows the story you have to tell.

Writing / writers are crazy. We just are. We talk to and for people who don't exist. We believe in things we cannot see (be it our characters or that elusive contract). We toil in solitude for hours with no guarantee of a payoff at the end of our labor. We can give voices to the silent and fill their mouths with the kind of elegant speech that means people will listen whether they want to or not. Writing can be a tool, a comfort or a weapon, and the writer is the person crazy enough to believe it's all three.

Writing is a compulsion - try and stop; I dare you.

Next time on Josin's Junction -- D is for Deal, Dialogue and Diversity

B is for...

Friday, April 15, 2011

3 Chiming In
B is for Beta-reader -- a hopefully honest sort who will not only read your MS before you send it off to agents/editors/kindle, but will tell you that your main character is too-stupid-to-live and has filed papers to have her name legally changed to Mary Sue. You will love your beta and hate your beta; you will consider writing mean things to your beta and (hopefully) delete them rather than send them. You may even (secretly) name a minor character after your beta and then take pleasure in making the poor character miserable. Your beta is your first taste of editorial changes and your first reality check that what you see in your head doesn't always make it onto the page.

B is for Blog -- this is that feeling that you're screaming into the abyss of cyberspace and hoping someone pays attention. ;-P

B is for Bad reviews -- they happen. They hurt. They suck. We want people to love our books, but not everyone will. Maybe the reader doesn't like the genre or maybe the book was over-hyped to them by a friend and didn't meet their expectation. Maybe they wanted a happy ending to a sad story or a less happy ending to a romance. Even if you score the next runaway, mega-seller, someone out there will hate it. (If that happens, it's likely that thousands of someones will hate it.) They will tell others and your feelings will be hurt, your ego will be bruised, and your hackles will be raised. At this point, B is for Be Careful, lest a Bad Attitude turn into Bickering and Bad Press.

B is for Backstory -- aka, Anakin Skywalker vs. the Star Wars title crawl. No matter where your story starts, or what condition your character is when he/she is introduced, their life as known by you is no more a product of that independent moment than you just appeared on the bus fully-clothed in 2nd grade. Good stories start before "Chapter One" and continue after "The End", or at least that's how it should seem to the reader. The question is, how much of what happened off the page should actually be ON the page? Here's a hint: "Luke, I am your father." is a really important detail the audience needs to know. The entire socio-economic history and breakdown of trade negotiations for planets never to be used again? Not so much.

B is for Breathless, Bitter, Bright, Beg, and Bored -- action should leave your reader breathless; you should never betray their trust to the point you leave them bitter; bright ideas are a dime a dozen (while good execution is rarer than platinum); if you do it right they'll beg for another installment; never, never, never leave a reader bored. The only reason a reader should fall asleep over your book is because they stayed up until four in the morning to finish it.

Next time on Josin's Junction: C is for Contracts, Characters and Critique.

A is for Author

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 Chiming In
I've been a little light on posts lately, not so much because of the 10,000 word delete-a-thon with the MS edits, but more because I was waiting for an "awesome" blog topic to drop into my head. Then it came to me - blogging is like writing (Okay, blogging IS writing. Shut up or I'll kill you off in a novel in ways you can't even imagine.).

Anywho -

Blogging is like writing. Sometimes, it just takes BIC (butt-in-chair) time to get posts done, even when there's no parting clouds or heavenly choirs involved. To that end, I'm going with the ABC's - each letter will be a different aspect of the writing process or journey. So my dear blog-buddies, skip on over to Josin's Junction (not as close to Sesame Street as you'd imagine, though there is a resident grouch and purple vampires are always welcome... unless someone turns Barney, then we put the priest on speed dial.) Let's start with "The Letter A".

A is for Author -- what we all aspire to be. You are a writer the second you put words in a chain to form a story, but to be an author requires input from an outside source. Either someone buys the rights to your story and publishes it, or someone buys your Kindle novel to enjoy, or someone clicks on your FictionPress account and puts you on alert for future chapters. To be an author, you must have readers.

A is for Agent -- what most of us aspire to have some day. These lovely people know the ins and outs of the business. They know the editors and they know the market. They know how many vanilla-flavored were-dolphin (It's a real South American folktale, do not give me weird looks, or I'll write you in as the bait in a piranha attack.) novels are due to hit shelves. At times, they seem beyond reach, but we keep trying to land one. (The agent, not the were-dolphin).

A is for Anger, Apathy, Admiration, Agony, and Aspiration -- things you will feel at some point during the writing process. Sometimes, you'll feel them all at once, think you're losing your mind, but quickly realize that as an writer you're allowed to have multiple personalities and voices in your head. (Check your union card; it's on the back.)

Next time on Josin's Junction: B is for Beta-reader, Bad reviews, and Backstory...

Flash Fiction -- Flaming Moe

Friday, April 8, 2011

7 Chiming In
It's that time again. Chuck Wendig has issued his weekly flash fiction challenge (but cut the words in half this time). The title this week had to be a cocktail, and then he went and posted about a bear with a scimitar and a jetpack on meth. So, I blame him for this.

I chose the title "Flaming Moe" because there's something decidedly Simpsonesque about this whole set-up.

Like most bad ideas, it sounded good at the time. Considering "the time" was a moment when all involved were so plastered they couldn't remember their name, eye-color, or state of residence, it probably would have been best if they'd just passed out on someone's couch.

Idiot Number One (as their names were being withheld by authorities) had picked up some extra shifts at the convention center while the circus was in town, so he had access.

Idiot Number Two had a car.

Idiot Number Three had a camera. (All three had smartphones, but, being idiots, they forgot this tiny detail, and actually waited to find a camera.)

When they reached the convention center, as near as anyone can tell, Idiot Number One let the others in through a back door meant for service personnel. They snuck through the auxiliary areas into the portion of the prep-space that had been cordoned off for circus use. (As no one thought there was a danger of three idiots sneaking in to annoy several thousand combined pounds of wild animals, security was light.)

Now, at this point, they could have gotten bored, or chosen one of the smaller animals because they had no idea how the place was laid out or how long it would take to locate something more spectacular, but Idiot Number Two (whose possession of a car meant he knew how to turn knobs and push buttons) found a light switch.

Turning it on only made things worse because that was the point they discovered that not only was the room full of animals, but the circus trunks were littered about as well, and since they were already miles down the road of ill intent, they figured a few more feet along the way couldn't hurt.

While Idiot Number Three selected a target, Idiots One and Two raided the costume trunks, and in their addled stupor came to the conclusion that a Turkish scimitar went smashingly with the Human Bullet's jetpack. (It was the jetpack that did them in really, because they had to pick an animal with "arms" to fit it. Up to that point, Idiot Number Three had set his sights on the giant tortoise.)

The young grizzly they finally decided on was still half asleep when they picked the lock on his enclosure and slipped the jetpack on his back. They used a scarf to tie the scimitar to one of his paws, then stepped back so Idiot Number Three could line up a shot... but the bear just wanted to go back to sleep.

Undeterred, the three idiots, who were still trashed, decided the poor animal needed a pick me up, and never having been the kind to hoard their stash, spiked a bit of food from the treat barrel and tossed it over. Then they waited and waited and waited and...

… well, no one really knows what happened after that. The camera didn't stay upright long enough to capture more than their screaming voices.

And that's where I ran out of words :-(


Friday, April 1, 2011

9 Chiming In
Today is April 1, which means you can trust nothing you see, read or hear online (or almost anywhere else) until midnight.

As per tradition, Absolute Write has altered itself for the day, and this year's "theme" is Steampunk! YAY!

(Okay, so maybe I just wanted an excuse to upload my steampunk'd self...)

Anyway, fire up the old computational engine Photobucket and be on your guard, for today, nothing is as it seems!

*atmospheric, creepy laughter*