Friday, August 31, 2012

Fridaydream: the movie version

If (when) they make a Hollywood blockbuster or cool indie film of your book, who's going to be the star?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday wishlist

This is one of the quietest weeks of the year in publishing; when I can concentrate, I'm trying to work my way through the backlog of queries. Here are some of the categories I'm actively looking for right now:

-commercial women's fiction, or literary/commercial women's fiction (also sometimes called "book club books")

-multi-generational family sagas

-stories about female friendships (I'd especially love a book that traces a group of friends over a couple of decades)

-historical romance, especially a Regency romance series with a great sales hook

-paranormal romance, especially shapeshifters

-contemporary romance, especially a series with lots of quirky secondary characters (think Gilmore Girls)

-character-driven historical fiction

-stories with a crafty angle, especially knit/crochet, quilting, or a character who makes his or her own clothes

-likeable heroines (I'll have much, much more to say on this soon)

Any terms you'd like me to explain in a future post? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writing Advice Wednesday: turn your novel into a short story.

(I am seeing how many silly "day of the week" themes I can come up with before someone objects. Maybe you guys are not paying attention because it's August. Maybe you like the silly.) 

The fabulous Charlie Jane Anders at has an unusual suggestion on how to revise your novel: once you've finished your first draft, try rewriting the novel as a short story

Why would you want to do this? There are a few reasons. For one thing, this allows you to see more clearly what the main arc of your story is. For another, it's a great way to make sure that the things you've decided are subplots are actually subplots — and that you haven't somehow elevated a subplot to "main plot" status while keeping the main plot squished into the space of a subplot. Paring away all the subplots, more or less completely, lets you see what's left. But most of all, this is a way to convince yourself that your protagonist(s) and your story are really epic and perfect as they are — and convincing yourself is half the battle, when it comes to revision.

I'm intrigued. Anyone out there want to give this a shot and report back? I'd be glad to host a guest post on the subject.

What other revision techniques have you tried? Here are some favorites of mine:

-Go through the manuscript and highlight all the dialogue tags ("she said"). Delete as many as you can without sacrificing clarity. 

-Read it out loud, to yourself, to your pets, to your partner. To a tape recorder if you're really brave. If it sounds clunky, fix it till it doesn't sound clunky any more.

-Storyboard the entire arc of the novel, scene by scene. What's getting too much "screen time"? What's not getting enough? Does anything feel repetitive, viewed through this "lens?" 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"You never have to change anything you got up in the 
middle of the night to write." 

-Saul Bellow

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fridaydream: libraries.

I've always wanted a huge, wood-paneled library: the kind with a ladder that slides around the room and shelves that are twice my height. Not terribly practical in earthquake country, but this is fantasy territory, so the practicality is kind of irrelevant.

Some of the libraries in this slideshow would suit me just fine.

How about you? Do you dream of shelves full of leather-or-pleather-bound hardcovers with deckled edges? Are you plotting to keep your entire library on your Kindle/iPad/Nook/Kobo?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rachelle Gardner's advice on dealing with impatience

A lot of thoughtful advice here from Rachelle Gardner at Books and Such Agency, on dealing with impatience.

I talked briefly yesterday about agents being slow sometimes. Well, unfortunately, that often holds true for the entirety of the "traditional publishing" industry. Writers have a lot of options that they didn't have a few years ago, but it's important to make choices that are best for you, that will further your career-- and not just leaping on whatever opportunity comes your way because you want it now now now.

I've had a number of queries in the past year or two from people offering me the second book in a planned trilogy, where they've already self-published the first. Please do not do this. Self-publish if you wish; certainly there have been a number of terrific success stories in that arena in the past few years. But unless your self-published work is flying off the shelves, virtual or otherwise, it's going to be nearly impossible to get a publisher interested in a series that's already underway.

Maybe you tried self-publishing and it wasn't for you. Fair enough! It's a lot of work, and not everyone enjoys the self-promotional aspects of it. Maybe you didn't sell as many copies as you hoped, and would rather give traditional publishing a shot. That's fine too. But when you offer me the second book in a trilogy, I find myself with two concerns:

-the writing isn't strong enough to attract publisher interest (this is an unfair assumption, I'll grant you, but one of the things everyone loves about self-publishing is that the barriers to entry are lower.)

-the writer wanted an agent and a publisher all along, but was too impatient to jump through the industry hoops. Agents get really good at "reading the tea leaves" from a query letter; I'm trying to suss out as much information as I can about what you might be like to work with. If you thought query response times were too slow, wait till you find out how long it takes your publisher to get your book into stores. You're going to get frustrated, and then some, and you're likely to be somewhat harder to work with as a result.  (Scroll down to "Sixthly" in Neil Gaiman's commencement address here, for some more thoughts on this point.)

If you're in this exact situation, where you've self-published part of a series and would now like an agent or a traditional publisher, here's my advice: start another series. Let everybody-- agent, publisher, readers-- feel like they got in on the ground floor.

What's your strategy for dealing with impatience? How do you make the waiting easier?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eleven reasons to start your next novel.

1. You're querying agents. Congratulations! As we've talked about before, this is a distinct stage in your career, worthy of celebration. But here's the thing: agents can be slow, and this process can take forever. Years. (If you've got a horror story, share it in the comments. Don't name names, please!) I know from talking to my authors that this stage-- the waiting game-- can be incredibly painful, because it feels like your most cherished dream (and your novel! your baby!) is now in someone else's hands. Start the next book. If I love the project you queried me about, I'm going to ask you what's next, because I'm looking to build your career, not just sell one book. If you're midway through your next book when you get The Call, you'll have something great to tell me about.

2. Your novel is on submission to publishers. So now you've got an agent on your team, or maybe you've taken matters into your own hands and are submitting the novel to publishers who don't require that their submissions are agented. Again, this is a stage worthy of celebration-- but again, it can feel like everything is in someone else's hands. Take your mind of the submission process, since there's not much you can do at this point, and start another novel. Best case scenario: you've got the next one underway when your publisher wants to make the next deal; worst case scenario: the one on submission doesn't sell, but you're hard at work on a new novel so you can try again soon.

3. You've stalled out on your WIP. Opinions vary on the efficacy of multitasking. (That was maybe the worst sentence I've ever written, sorry.) Some people like to focus on one task at a time, seeing it through to completion without so much as thinking about the next task. Some people, myself among them, prefer to have a lot of different things going at once and toggle between tasks when they get bored or need a break. If you're stuck on a tough scene in your work in progress, open a new Word document, or take out a new notebook, and start playing around with something new. The break from the WIP may mean you come back to it with fresh eyes, and that tough scene might not feel so tough anymore.

4. The WIP is fine, but your new idea is noisy. Now, I don't want you doing this if you're on deadline-- if you've promised the manuscript to your publisher by a given date, please move heaven and earth to keep to that schedule. But if your schedule is a little more flexible than that, give the new idea a chance to breathe. You never know which of your manuscripts will turn out to be The One.

5. You've got writer's block. Change your usual writing spot-- take your laptop to the kitchen table instead of sitting at your usual desk. Try writing by hand if you usually type everything. Try typing if you usually write by hand. Steal a plot from Shakespeare or a fairy tale or Jane Austen. Don't worry about whether it's any good. Just start writing.

6. The novel's been accepted for publication. Congratulations! Not only have you sold the book, but your editor's told you that your revisions look great and they're sending the manuscript for copyediting and typesetting. It's pretty much out of your hands at this point. Start the next one before you get too busy promoting the book's publication and obsessing over its Amazon sales ranking.

7. You're scared to start. Start.

8. You've done six books' worth of research. If you're the research-y type, it's never going to feel like enough research. Just dive in already. I promise you can go back and look at more primary source material if you really need it along the way.

9. You're revising your WIP. One of my authors and I had a discussion last week about how the writing brain and the revising brain are two different, well, brains. I think shaking up your processes can be really good for your creativity-- for both the manuscript you're revising and the one you're just starting.

10. You've just self-published your latest. Congratulations! Time to start the next one. One of the upsides and the downsides of self-publishing is that everything moves so much faster; to build the largest possible fanbase, I think you'll find you need to write faster, too.

11. Because you'll never run out of excuses not to. 

So what's your next book going to be about?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When is it time to start your next book?

Today. Right now. What are you waiting for?

(Okay, okay. I'll go into detail on this for tomorrow's post. Meanwhile, feel free to use the comments section to lay out all your excuses for not starting your next manuscript.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday morning thought.

"Substitute 'damn" every time you're inclined to write 'very;' 
your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

-Mark Twain

Friday, August 17, 2012

Fridaydream: writer's colonies.

I'm not a writer, and this still sounds like paradise.

Have you ever been to a writer's retreat? Is there a "staycation" version? How do you create the literal and metaphorical space to do your best work?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Plot advice from Cheryl Klein

A great post here, from the very wise Cheryl Klein, about avoiding plot contrivances. In short: make sure you don't set up plot points that are too-easily resolved.

I see this a lot in the queries I receive, maybe especially in romance novels, which are of course by their nature somewhat formulaic. Done well, they're nowhere near as formulaic as non-fans tend to think, I hasten to add, but of course you need the central focus to be on a love story, and it needs to end on a happy note, either "happily ever after" or "happy for now." But then where would be your novel, without some conflict standing in the way of the happy couple?

Here's a shorthand tip: if the so-called conflict could be resolved with a single conversation, you're probably not thinking big enough.

What's the meanest thing you've ever done to your characters to stave off a happy ending?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Blog-to-book deals.

A good post yesterday on Splitsider, about the difficulties of turning your blog (or in this case, your Tumblr) into a book. 

I haven't done a ton of blog-to-book deals, partly because the field got very crowded very quickly, and partly because a blog, even a really popular one, is free, and no matter how much people love something, it's not always that easy to get them to shell out money for it. So for me to do a "blog book," it really needs to be something that makes sense as a book independently of the website on which it's ostensibly based. The real acid test: if someone picks up the book in a bookstore (yes, they still exist!), and they've never heard of the website, will the book appeal to them?

Do you spend much time thinking about "target audience" when you write? Do you find that it affects the quality of your work, or its success in the marketplace?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Five strategies to stay motivated.

Unclutterer (whose fabulous editor-in-chief is one of my clients!) had a terrific and very timely post yesterday titled Five strategies to stay motivated. I'm biased, of course, but this post is a great example of why Unclutterer remains one of my very favorite websites; there's something for everybody, and the advice is always really down-to-earth and approachable.

Motivation is especially hard, I think, if you're self-employed, as all writers are on some level. Day job or no, there isn't really anyone to tell you to work on your novel (or your book proposal, for you nonfiction types). Especially if you've got a day job, I think, it takes a lot of self-discipline to sit down and write: when you'd rather sleep an extra hour, when there's so much great TV piling up on the DVR, when cleaning the bathroom sounds like more fun, when it's August.

Go read Deb's Unclutterer post, and below I'll tell you how I'd adapt her five tips to the writing life:  

1) Make a list and a short-term plan: Set small, manageable goals for yourself. You know yourself better than anyone: if you're a planner, map out a schedule and a deadline for your current chapter of your WIP. If you're a seat-of-your-pants'er, set yourself a daily word count goal and stick to it. Making lists is not about setting yourself impossible tasks, it's about clarifying your priorities so it's easier to stick to them.

2) Think of the end result: Everybody's got big dreams for themselves, or should, but I encourage you to think not about a three-book deal with your Dream Publisher, complete with an advance that falls into "quit your job" territory, but about the innate sense of achievement in finishing your WIP and starting your next one. The Romance Writers of America, in an effort to best serve their members' evolving needs, have different tiers of membership for writers at different stages in their careers. I'll mention two:
-PAN (Published Authors Network), for authors who are published by a royalty-paying publisher, who have achieved a certain sales threshold in terms of their royalties income (it's a fairly modest one).
-PRO (which is not an acronym) is for RWA members who have completed a manuscript and have begun the process of finding an agent or a publisher, but who have not yet reached PAN status. What I love about the PRO category is that it recognizes this stage of an author's career as an accomplishment. You finished the manuscript. You're actively pursuing your goal of publication. That is a big deal and deserves recognition. PRO membership, as all the PRO members I've ever met will tell you, is a stepping stone to bigger things, one hopes, but it's wonderful to acknowledge the achievement of having made it this far.

3) Go ahead and do something else. I rarely write anything much longer than a submission letter, an email, or (sometimes) a blog post, but even if all I'm doing is putting together a page and a half of edit notes for a client, I like to let it sit for a few hours, sometimes overnight, before beginning the process of putting my thoughts to paper or keyboard. I do my best writing first thing in the morning, after I've had a cup of coffee or three, and before the minutiae of my inbox has taken over my brain. If I try to write a submission letter with no pre-planning just before lunchtime, it can take over the rest of my day. If I've planned to think about how to say something specific, often as not, when I sit down to write, the words just flow. The "fallow period" in writing is really important. Go pull the weeds in your yard, or take your kid to the park, or go for a run. Your brain is still working on the manuscript.

4) Start with the easiest thing first. Whether you're a planner or a "pantser," I give you permission to skip around in your manuscript and write the parts you already know how to write. Just don't forget to go back and do the hard ones.

5) Phone a friend. There are a couple of ways to pull this off as a writer who's struggling with motivation, I think, but they both come back to finding someone who will empathize and yet still hold you accountable. I have a number of clients who like me to create a (wholly artificial) deadline for their WIPs, because it's easier for them to make themselves sit down and write if they feel like I'm tapping my foot impatiently, waiting for it.  You could do the same thing with a critique partner, a spouse, or even just a friend who will promise to check in on a regular basis to see how the manuscript is coming along.

And here's my addition to the list, my own best strategy for staying motivated:

6) Fake it 'till you make it. Your energy level (and your love for your WIP) is naturally going to ebb and flow. Sometimes you need to force yourself through a period of resistance. Try setting a timer to see how many words you can write in 15 minutes, or tell yourself you can't get up from the computer until you've written 500 words on that scene you've been avoiding. If you can push past your mental block, usually--eventually--it'll get easier.

What are some of your strategies for keeping yourself motivated?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Stymied by the weather.

We had a heat wave here last week-- no surprise, since it's August and I live in the Northern Hemisphere-- but where I live, in Southern California, the weather is so mild 99% of the time that I have a rule that I don't complain about the weather. (I grew up here, and felt very strongly for my first eighteen years that there was nothing more boring to talk about than weather. What weather??)  But the flip side of that super-mild climate-- and I promise I'm not complaining!-- is that I've lost all immunity to shifts in temperature. I spent much of last week trying to get through the lowest-common-denominator version of my to-do list: the emails that couldn't wait, the phonecalls I'd scheduled.

If I'm sitting on a full manuscript of yours, and there are a lot of you in this category right now, I'm sorry! I'll get back to you about it soon!

I spent a long time last week pondering a thoughtful post from Agent Kristin about whether there might be better "seasons" for querying agents. If you're in the midst of the agent query process, I urge you to give her post a look.

I can't say for sure whether I have quite as strong a "season" for queries as Kristin does (see above re: my hometown's relative lack of weather!), but I have always felt that the best queries seem to arrive in waves. I go a few weeks sometimes where nothing catches my eye, and then all of a sudden I'll get three or four or five great projects within a 36-hour period. I've always thought there was just something in the air at certain moments, that all the best projects are magically sent out at the same time, but maybe it's not you, it's me.

How about you? Do you find you're more productive at certain times of year, or times of day? Can you put your finger on why? Any tips for making August feel more like October? Literal or metaphorical, I don't care. Go nuts.

Friday, August 10, 2012

RIP, David Rakoff

The brilliant and underappreciated David Rakoff died yesterday. I really think he'll be remembered as one of the greatest essayists of a generation. Go pick up some of his work, if you haven't read him before; Don't Get Too Comfortable is my personal favorite.

Here's a video of him speaking in 2011 about why writing never gets easier. (Language NSFW.)

Link via Slate.