Monthly Archives: January 2011

Why do I do it?

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Writing can be quite a chore. You have to do it regularly to improve your skills. Often you have to write, re-write and then re-write another 3 or 4 times until you like what you’ve got. The words don’t always come easy so you play tug of war with your brain to get your story done. You pass on plans with friends, stay up late, skip watching your TV shows, just so you can write. I’ve become a temporary hermit to write, especially when Nanowrimo comes around.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re not a writer, you may be asking why do I do it. My reasoning is two fold.

Firstly, it’s definitely a bit of selfishness on my part. I get this story flying around in my head and I want to get it out. If I don’t, it just bounces around in there and parts of it comes up at inopportune times. It’s not a good thing if you space out during real life conversations because your main character pops up in a shower scene in your head.

I have to admit, when I first write, I am *never* thinking of the reader. There’s no “Hmm I wonder if the reader is going to like this character. I wonder if they’ll be annoyed if I kill Billy off. I wonder if they think this guy is hot.”  It really is all about me: what I find exciting, what I find sexy or funny or touching. I’m not thinking about whether the book will sell. I’m not thinking about if it’s an overplayed theme. I just want to get it out of my head and have it make sense.

The second part comes after the rough draft is complete. That’s when the pleasing aspect of writing kicks in. I want people to like my stories. I want them to be enjoyable and talked about among friends. I want them to be an escape.

Growing up I always had a couple of close friends, but I was very shy. I didn’t do well in new situations or with groups of people I didn’t know/weren’t close to. I wasn’t really the type to run out and make new friends or participate in sports. Books were my escape. They took me to magical places, the characters became my friends and they didn’t judge or make fun. I made up numerous situations in my head where the characters and I would hang out and solve mysteries (Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys combo books were like Crack to me) or battle the bad guys (I’m looking at you Dragonlance Chronicles. Raistlin, I would have made you like me!). Looking back I’m kind of surprised I never tried my hand at writing fan fiction, but I think they were too much my own personal little fantasies. Even now, at 33 years old, I admit to, occasionally, going to bed with scenes of me helping Katniss and Peeta get out of the arena or consoling Simon when it’s obvious Clary doesn’t feel the same towards him, in my head. They’re my friends dammit! I can help them in my dreams, right?  Those kinds of thoughts would probably dwindle if I had a boyfriend, but that’s a totally different tangent we won’t get into right now.

I want people who read my stories to have those same experiences. To be able to use them as a means of temporary escape. To be friends with the characters and actually CARE about what happens to them.

I had a beta reader recently exclaim that she “loved loved loved” my story. To hear that it was so enjoyable for her makes all those late nights, skipped plans and re-writes worth it.  I don’t need my stuff to be best sellers or turned into movies. I just need them to be liked, enjoyed and shared. That’s why I write. One part selfishness. One part pleasing.

Delve into Twitter

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Although I discussed Twitter earlier in the post about building your platform, I decided there was so much more to it that it deserved a whole post of its own.

First let’s talking about how to Twitter. There’s the Twitter page itself, but if you really want to have some control over how you Tweet and what you follow, I’d suggest looking into some of the clients.  There’s Tweetdeck, which is a program you download and put on your desktop and then there’s Hootsuite which is internet based which means you can access it from any computer with internet access. I tried them both but preferred Hootsuite, especially since it offers  functions that allow you to better track your tweets. If you use their URL shortening options, you can then track the people who click on your links. I love that! Tweetdeck may have added that kind of option, but when I check it out over a year ago, it wasn’t available.  With both clients you can set up columns to follow certain hashtag or people you have on a specific list, which is super helpful. I have a column set up for all my people in the writing industry and another for the #amwriting hashtag. It really helps me keep up with what’s going on in the industry.

Speaking of hash tags, maybe you’re wondering what those are all about. The # is a hash and what comes after it is the tag. People can make their own or follow ones they see others using. They can be used to search for specific topics. Let’s say you’re a fan of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  You’ve heard they’re making a movie and want to see what people on Twitter are saying about it. You can search for Tweets with a #hungergames hash tag.  I find using and following certain hash tags has helped me make new friends and gain more followers. Definitely look into them and don’t be afraid to use them or make your own!

Since we’re talking hash tags, there’s another good use for them. They involve Twitter chats. I’ve followed and participated in several that are writing/publishing related. While you can follow by making a column for the hash tag, I’ve found it MUCH easier to use TweetChat. The super handy thing about TweetChat is it will automatically add the hash tag to the end of your Tweet and it counts it into your character count so you don’t have to worry that you’ve typed out this whole response and then don’t have room for the tag.

I understand you want to use Twitter to build your platform and get your name out there, but don’t blindly follow people just because they follow you first. It’s OK to be a bit picky about who you respond to, especially with the amount of spambots out there. Just because I mention the word honey in a Tweet doesn’t mean I want to be followed by/return the follow of a spambot for some honey corporation. Chances are, I meant it as a term of endearment and not the condiment (honey is a condiment, no?) anyway. So take the time and check out their Twitter feed and see if they’re the kind of person you would be interested in learning more about/reading their Tweets.

Finally let’s talk a little about lists.  There’s an option where you can put your followers into lists that you make. I find this function very helpful, especially when I start chatting with someone and I can’t remember where I know them from! I have lists for friends from certain websites, a list for authors and publishing resources, a list for fellow #amwriting folks. As my fan base grows, it’s very helpful to organize them. I highly recommend it.

Twitter is a really fantastic resource. Take some time to dig in and find out all you can  do with it. 140 characters has brought new life to social networking. Make sure you’re in on it!

Here are just a few of the hash tags you, as writers, might be interested in following/using:

  • #amwriting
  • #writegoal
  • #writers_life
  • #writingparty
  • #writers
  • #writing
  • #writetip
  • #wip
  • #writermoms
  • #novelists
  • #author
  • #editing
  • #fictionfriday (Short stories posted to blogs and websites on Fridays)
  • #fridayflash (Flash fiction posted to blogs and websites on Fridays)
  • #writeromance (Romance writing)
  • #scifiwrite (Science fiction writing)
  • #kidlit (Children’s literature)
  • #yalit (Young adult literature)
  • #mglit (Middle grade literature)
  • #scbwi (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)
  • #rwa (Romance Writers of America)
  • #sfwa (Science Fiction Writers)
  • #askagent
(thanks to suite 101 for the list!)

Here are some of the chat hash tags:

  • #kidlitchat (Writing and reading for children)
  • #yalitchat (Young adult literature)
  • #scifilitchat (Science fiction writers and readers)
  • #writechat
  • #storychat
  • #scriptcraft (Script writers and readers)
  • #pblitchat (Devoted to writers and readers of picture books.)
  • #thrillerchat (Readers and writers of thrillers)
  • #memoirchat (Learn about memoir writing here)

publetariat.com  has a list of when some of these chats take place. I’m not sure how up to date it is, but if you find yourself online at those times, look for the chats! Some of them, like #askagent just seem to pop up randomly so keep an eye out!

Ahh the joys of editing

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I’ve been noticing, between the Amazon contest buzz and people finishing up their Nano-novels (Power of the Stars, I have not forgotten you!!) that everyone seems to be in editing mode.

Before I editing my first novel, The Other Side, I found myself totally clueless as to how to go about it. It seemed like such a daunting task when there were over 75k words to go through.  Do I use a red pen? Do I retype the entire thing? Do I start at the beginning and go right through or pick certain scenes to work on? I tried asking around to see how others handled it, but I couldn’t find too much information.  Finally I dug my feet in and just started at the beginning, figuring I’d figure it out as I went. And I did, but I decided I’d share some of my own techniques in case there are others out there who are in the same position I was in.

First thing to do, for me, is to finish the novel. I do very little editing during the writing process. I think that is a reflection of Nanowrimo mentality: Get the words out and don’t look back. Edit later!  I might do some typo correcting as I’m reading before I start writing again, but nothing major.

Once I finish writing, I print the manuscript in it’s entirety and put it in a binder. Then I get it out of the house as fast as I can. I have a couple of friends who are willing to suffer through reading an unedited piece of work. I don’t ask them to make spelling or syntax corrections. Their main focus is to make sure the story makes sense. Are there plot holes? Did I leave any major questions unanswered? Does it flow in a way that makes sense? Are the characters likable? Things of that nature. It’s been a huge help. When you’re writing a long manuscript and you’re not the type to outline, it’s easy to forget you mentioned something a couple of chapters ago.

If you don’t have someone to read for you, or you won’t let anyone look at a piece of unpolished work, then do yourself a favor and hide your manuscript away for a couple of weeks after you finish.  That was one piece of advice I had heard from almost everyone. You need to distance yourself from your story a bit before hacking it to bits to make it better.

After it comes back from the reading, I will look over their notes (if they happened to write them up for me rather than giving me verbal feedback) and then I will re-read the story and make my own notes.This stage is a good place to put to use another important piece of advice I had seen. Reading aloud. You may feel silly, but it can help you check that your dialog seems natural and that the flow is good.  If you’re daring enough, print a second copy and ask a friend to run the dialog with you.

I have gone the red pen route in the past, but I find it didn’t really help me. Also, I am NOT a fan of re-writing the entire manuscript. I’m a fast typist and known for making stupid typos. I don’t just mean spelling errors either. I often type form for from and things of that nature that spelling and grammar checks don’t normally pick up on. Re-typing the whole thing would only lead to more corrections for me in the long run.

When it comes to actually making corrections, I head towards Word.  The more recent versions of the program have a tracking option that I adore. You turn it on and as you remove and change things, it takes the original words and puts them in red and strikes them out. The I copy and paste, by paragraph, into a new document. Even if you cut and paste your red marks, they won’t show up in the new document. When I’m done, I have a nice clean new version of my work.

Finally, I’ll  give the edited version to someone to read. Again they look to see if I’m missing anything and if they catch any typos or grammatical errors, they’ll highlight them for me.

It’s a long process and I know many who have done multiple re-writes. I have yet to change whole scenes, be it cutting or adding, but I don’t doubt it’s in my future. I constantly remind myself that the books on best seller lists are nowhere near the first copy of the story.  To be able to write a story is an amazing feat, but it really comes to life and takes wings in the re-write process, so don’t skimp on it people! Make your work the best it can be!

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

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EDIT: I’m putting this at the top because it’s important and you don’t necessarily have to read my drivel after. All your material: pitch, excerpt and manuscript have to be submitted at the same time! This means you have very little time to get it together people! You can edit your submission until the Feb 6th date or till they get 5,000 applicants in each category, whichever comes first, but I would suggest having everything as prepared as it can be before submitting.  I don’t know how I missed this, but it seems there’s a whole walk through video on how to enter, so here goes!  Submission walkthrough

Time has flown and the opening of the contest is SO close! It was suggested to me, by the lovely Emlyn Chand that perhaps I should discuss the contest a little for those who don’t know about it.

The contest is hosted yearly by Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s open to 10,000 applicants. 5,000 in general fiction and the other 5,000 for young adult fiction.  There are five rounds for you to get through, and I am assured that is NO easy task. The prize? Each winner gets a publishing contract with Penguin AND  that includes a $15,000 advance. Not too shabby folks.

The first round is the 300 word pitch (well, no more than 300 words. It can be shorter). This part of the contest opens on at 12:01 am EST on January 24th. That’s next Monday folks.  If you’re going to be a part of the contest this year, you have a week to get your act together and  have a pitch ready to go. I can tell you I will be staying up late Sunday night to ensure that my application is accepted. It’s first come, first serve and I have no idea how quickly that 5,000 applicants in my area, young adult, fills up (although, FYI,  it will be open for submissions until Feb. 6th). I can sacrifice a little sleep for the furthering of my work. I’m sure you can as well.  To help you along, there is a pitch thread on Amazon where you can post your work and others will help you tighten it up or tell you if it sucks. Although to be fair, I have seen nothing but polite responses over there, so even if your pitch is horrid, I am sure they will be kind and merely give you suggestions on how to fix it, rather than tell you to set your computer on fire and forget about writing forever.

So, let’s say you make it past the pitch portion of the contest. You’ll be 1 in 1,000 for your category and you better have your 3,000 – 5,000 word excerpt ready to go. While you may think more words will be better for your cause, make sure you’re not cutting off in mid-paragraph or sentence. It’s best to find a place where it feels good to stop; a cliffhanger, the end of a scene, etc. 3,000 words is still a lot to show how well you write. Don’t be greedy.

Only 250 excepts in each category will be chosen to move onto the next round. That’s a whole heck of a lot of people to cut, so make sure you read over that excerpt  and have others critique it as well. If you’ve make it to the next round, I hope your story is finished.

In the quarterfinal round is when you send in your manuscript. They have guidelines for how it’s to be formatted, so be sure to follow them! No one wants to get disqualified for something silly like using a 10 point font. Your manuscripts will be read by Publishers Weekly reviewers and only the top 50 in each category move on. See how tight this is getting now?

If you’re lucky enough to make it into the semifinals, Penguin USA editors get to be the ones to read through your manuscript.  They look at the info from previous rounds and they will choose three authors in each category. That’s right, just three people. Teeeeeeen thousand down to three.

Should you be one of those three, not only will I be super envious, but you’ll get your manuscript read by tons of Amazon customers who are the ones to ultimately pick the two grand winners with their votes.

It’s a long process starting in January and finally ending mid-June when the grand winners are announced. That’s half a year! Should I keep moving through the rounds I’m sure the anticipation will leave me fidgety and possibly with an ulcer…but it will be worth it in the end whether I get published or just get back important feedback on my work.

I wish everyone entering the best of luck and if you don’t make it far, don’t fret! Take the critiques to heart and work on improving your writing. Remember you’re going up against 4,999 other people and there is always next year.

Here are some of important links for the contest. Be sure to read the rules carefully!

Sign up!
Sign up for updates on Createspace
Amazon’s how to enter

Writing a Pitch/Query aka Holy crap this is hard!

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As the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest draws ever closer, I am panicking about not being ready.  My excerpt is ready. My manuscript is ready (although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to re-read again). So where’s the problem? It’s that pesky, yet oh so important, first element that is needed to move me through the rounds: The Pitch.

A pitch is what’s used to catch the agent’s or, later a reader’s, attention. It needs to be short, have voice and show what your story is about, rather than telling. Should be cake for a writer, no? NO! You’d think, being that I’m the one who wrote the story in the first place, that it would be easy for me to tell you what it’s about. I know what goes on. I know the conflicts that arise and how they’re solved. So why is it sooooo hard for me to put it into this pitch?! Could it be because I’m condensing 70k+ words into under 300? Could it be that I want people to know what it’s about without giving too much away? Could it be that I’m just not as good a writer as I thought? More likely that it’s just a skill in itself that needs to be practiced and polished just as my novel was.

The pitch and/or the query seems to be a struggle for many authors, published or not, so don’t let it get to you. Expect that you will need to write it, re-write it, put it away and re-write it again. Search for sites online where you can post them for critiques (I highly suggest  Query Shark, just be sure to read the posting guidelines and the archive!). Let your beta readers have a look before and after reading.  They can let you know if it catches their attention and after they read your manuscript, they can tell you if they think your pitch was true to your work.  Like any other piece of writing, expect it to get torn apart. Expect the rejections and take helpful criticisms to heart before your next re-write.

I don’t know that it will ever get easy, but researching, practicing and polishing should make it less like torture and more like paving the road to opportunity.