Monday, November 30, 2009
(All together now...awww!!)
Photo by psycho-pics
Recently, I've learned some cool tricks to get to know your characters. Since I've spent the last two weeks pre-writing, I tried a few of them out.
Tracy Madison (author of A Taste of Magic, A Stroke of Magic, and coming soon, A Breath of Magic) gave me the tip to write a letter to yourself from your main character. (Does this make sense? Basically, it would be Dear Jill, Blah blah blah... Sincerely, Main Character.) I did this and really got a sense of what drives my characters and how they see themselves. Very illuminating.
A book I'm reading by Alicia Rasley called The Story Within recommends free writing in your main character's point of view. This would be very helpful when you're in the middle of the book and you're not certain what the character will do next. It would also be beneficial in the pre-writing stage to better flesh out your characters.
Head over to Northern Writer to read about Paul Greci's Riff Writing. I loved the concept and will definitely be trying it soon.
The next idea has been written about on several blogs, so I can't give credit to the originator. Interview your characters. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm storing it away for future use.
Do you have a cool trick to get to know your characters? I want to hear about it!
Join me on Wednesday when we'll kick off our December topic: One-Minute Vacations!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Photo by aidanmorgan
As an unpublished author, I think it's easy to get a rosy, unrealistic picture of what published life is like. We think, "if I just get published, everything will fall into place."
When you're unpublished, you can take as long as you want to write your book. You can work on it here or there or not at all. If it takes five years to complete, that's okay. However, when you get published, you might get a contract for more than one book. Wonderful!
Except...what if it took you two years to write book one, and your contract states you have one year to turn in book two?
No problem. I'll be motivated since I have a deadline.
Sounds good, but will you? Really? You'll be dealing with another set of deadlines at the same time: revisions of book one. You also might be scrambling to get a website published. And nothing in your life will have changed. Most people can't afford to quit their day job when they publish a book. Most stay-at-home mothers still have the same amount of responsibilities (and the same amount of children, maybe even more!).
I'm not writing this to scare anyone; in fact some of my friends are going through this very process now and handling it beautifully. I am not going through this, but I pretend I am to stay motivated. I'm weird like that.
I'd like to offer a few practical tips to set and meet deadlines. For all you writers of single title books in any genre, aim to complete your novel in one year. This includes revisions. For all of you writers of shorter books, like category novels, aim for a minimum of two books a year.
Editors often give authors a year to complete a single title book. Some publishers give less time. If you get in the practice of finishing a book in a year now, it will probably get easier to complete a book in a shorter period as you progress.
Category books are another animal. Since these are published monthly, editors are always hungry for more books from authors they trust. Get in the habit of finishing two books a year, and you might be surprised to learn you can squeeze out three--or more.
In order to complete books on a deadline, you're going to have to get out a calendar and plan.
Do you know how many words you can write in a day? A week? A month?
Don't guess. Keep a daily log and track your progress. Estimate how long it will take you to write the first draft. Mark your calendar with your target first draft completion date. Then estimate how long it will take you to revise. If you revise as you go, skip the first draft estimate and go straight to when you think you'll finish the book.
Get out your calculator. If you're writing a 95,000 word book, write the word count you should be at for each month. Example: if you start the book in January and estimate it will take six months, you'll need to write 15,900 words a month. Mark 15.9K at the end of January, 31.8K at the end of February, and so on until the end of May reads 95K. You can follow the same process with revising.
Do you write every weekday? Weekends only? Three days a week? If you need to complete 15.9K words a month and you write every weekday, you should have roughly twenty days of writing. Divide the 15.9K into 20 to get 795 words a day. If you only write on weekends, you'll only have around eight days a month. You'll need to write 1988 words each of these days to stay on track.
I can't wait until each and every one of us have deadlines from our editors. Won't that be amazing? In the meantime, challenge yourself to meet your own deadlines.
Have a very happy Thanksgiving!! I will not be posting on Friday this week. For all you shopping this Black Friday--be safe and get some great deals! For everyone else, enjoy your weekend!
Monday, November 23, 2009
Are you finished learning when you get published?
Photo by valerianasolaris
With each book I write, I hone my craft. I learn new insights into the process, too. And I have to be vigilant about my pet problems. I believe getting published isn't a reason to get cocky. We should always be learning, always be challenging ourselves to produce the best possible book. I know my favorite authors do, and that's one of the reasons they are so successful.
However, there's more to learn than just craft. Newly published authors suddenly find themselves in a new world. Contracts, rights, title changes--all can send an already emotional writer over the edge.
Don't get too hung up on your book title or your book cover. You probably won't have much control over either. Editors change the title to make it the most marketable it can be. Accept that you aren't the only author dealing with this; trust your editor, and move on. Jody Hedlund wrote a terrific post about this last week, How Publishers Choose a Book Title.
I recommend reading about contracts now. You can get a book out of the library or go to agents' blogs. Check their blog archives or do a search of their blog for posts about contracts and rights. Also, if you know published authors, ask them questions.
If you have an opportunity to go to a conference, try to attend a workshop that focuses on the business side of writing. I mentioned this summer how terrific Stephanie Bond's class was. She made contracts, rights, and taxes make sense.
Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss another aspect of career preparation: deadlines.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Photo by ajawin
Here are several questions to ask yourself before you submit. This is not the definitive list, but it covers the basics.
1. Is my manuscript formatted correctly? Most agents and editors expect to see it double-spaced, with one-inch margins, and in a twelve-point font such as Courier or Times New Roman. They also expect the header to include the title of your manuscript and your last name. Page numbers should be either in the header or the footer. Be sure to give each new chapter its own page.
2. Is my query personalized? Address the query to a real person. You can find the names of editors and agents through their websites or in a publication such as Writer's Market.
3. Does my query include contact information? Include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and your blog's URL and website's URL if you have either.
4. Am I submitting this correctly? You may have to print and send your query, or you may have to e-mail the query, depending on the agent's or editor's guidelines.
If you are sending the query through the mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for them to reply to you.
If you are e-mailing your query, include your name and intent in the subject line and do not send the query as an attachment. The subject might look something like Jill Kemerer: Query, or, if they've requested something, Jill Kemerer: Requested Partial and Synopsis.
Don't give them any reason to reject you before they've even read your query. Tess Hilmo recently posted about how agents and editors need a recognizable name in order to open an e-mail file. Avoid using a vague e-mail address.
5. Have I included everything? When you're submitting a query, usually the query letter is all you need. However, when someone requests a partial or a full, there are other important items to include.
I prefer to include a brief cover letter, which is a shorter version of the query. It contains the title of the book, the word count, the genre, and a brief blurb. All of my contact information is in the cover letter. Then, I include a synopsis, a cover page for the manuscript, and the requested chapters. The cover page is the title of the book, the word count, and my contact information.
Again, depending on who is requesting, I may have to send a printed out copy of all of this, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, or I may have to e-mail it. If e-mailing, find out the person's policy--whether they want it in an attachment or not.
What do you think? Have I forgotten anything? I'm sure I have! Please let me know your tips on the nitty-gritty of preparing a submission.
Have a fantastic weekend!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Photo by ajawin (Thank you, ajawin, for the use of your beautiful photos this week!)
On Monday, we talked about the basic preparations writers take when preparing to submit their work. If you've finished your book, polished it until it shines, researched agents and editors, studied their submission guidelines, and written your synopsis and query, you're ready to send that baby out.
You are...aren't you?
When I started seriously pursuing publication, I'd read many articles about how competitive the publishing business was, but it didn't really register. After all, no editor or agent had read my work. New authors' books hit store shelves all the time. Maybe my first one wouldn't sell, but surely the editor would see my potential?
Oh, those were the days. I'm still chuckling at that one.
Yeah, it didn't work out like that. I earned my college degree in science--not arts. Did I ever stop to think about that? Of course not! So I polished my book as much as my meager skills allowed, wrote a query, sent it off, and the publisher requested a partial. This was it!
Although the publisher's website clearly stated it would be six to twelve weeks before I would hear from them, I stalked the mailbox every day. A giddy expectation arose every time the postal truck chugged by.
Twelve weeks later... I opened the mailbox and it came--a form rejection. Huh? No problem. They'll love the next book.
Three books later... An entire twelve months passed between my submission of book number three and the day I received the lovely rejection on it. And the letter was lovely; I still get happy chills thinking about it. But in the meantime, a spirit of humility had spread through me. I realized my writing wasn't at a publishable level--far from it.
Why am I telling you all this? Certainly not to discourage you. I learned priceless lessons by submitting my work. Each rejection told me something, and my more recent rejections, while painful, were especially enlightening. If it's a form rejection, it might just mean it's not the right book for them, or it could mean your craft needs developing. I realized pretty quickly that my craft needed work!
Some of you are going to submit your work, and you are going to have a very short journey to publication. Some of you are going to submit and will have many rejections before an editor will take a chance on you.
Here's part two of preparing to submit:
Are you psychologically prepared to get rejected? If you get a rejection, will it destroy your confidence? Cause you to quit writing?
But... Don't think you only have one shot at impressing an agent or an editor. That's not the case. They want talented writers, whether you submitted a less than stellar manuscript three years ago or not. In some ways, you're building a relationship with agents and editors while you're unpublished. If you continue to query each new project, they will recognize your name, so be professional. If you get rejected, don't bad-mouth the agent or editor in any form of media. Accept their decision and move on.
For all you writers who are seasoned at submitting, do you think it's important to consider the possibility of getting rejected before you submit? How do you handle rejections?
Join me on Friday when we'll discuss the nitty-gritty details of preparing to submit.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Photo by ajawin
How do you know if you're ready to submit your work? Here are a few basic tips I've learned on my journey.
1. Complete the book. Editors and agents expect unpublished fiction authors to have a finished book before they submit. That does not mean they want to see the writer's entire book, but if they like your query and request either a partial or the full, you should have your book 100% complete.
Also, do your best to fit your word count into their requirements. Young adult books have different word counts than category romance. Single title mysteries have different word counts than single title fantasies. An agent may not request your 125,000 word romantic suspense, whereas the same agent might jump on your 125,000 word fantasy novel.
2. First drafts are just that--drafts. Get a great self-editing book, read blogs, and find every editing tip you can find. Then apply the knowledge to your book. Go over your manuscript until it shines.
When I started writing, I barely edited due to two big problems: arrogance and ignorance. The books I wrote weren't garbage, but they certainly weren't at a publishable level either. Only after I began studying the writing craft, asking for feedback from fellow writers, and entering a few contests, did I gain enough perspective to produce a good book.
3. Know the market. It's never to early to start researching agents and publishers appropriate for your writing. Create a list of possible targets and add to the list whenever you come across new possibilities.
As you get closer to submitting, check their websites to find their submission process. Many agents want e-mail queries; others only want snail mail queries. Some have a policy that no answer means they aren't interested, while others state a range of when you can expect to hear from them.
4. Prepare a synopsis and query letter. There are tons of great blogs that break down how to write them. Do some research. When I found Camy Tang's blog, The Story Sensei, I devoured her tips. The Seekers blog gives great advice too. You can find samples of a synopsis and query letter at eHarlequin.com.
Your query letter should not be more than one page. A good length for a synopsis is two page, double-spaced. I often write two versions: a two-page, double-spaced and a four-page, double-spaced synopsis. You may need a much longer synopsis or a chapter outline, but that depends on who you're submitting to.
These are the most basic steps of preparing to submit your work.
On a side note: a warm welcome to all the new followers!
Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss part two of preparing to submit.
Friday, November 13, 2009
In my opinion, revising is when you keep the basic concept of the book but tweak and polish it to be the best it can be. Rewriting, on the other hand, is performed when your book has a fatal flaw and needs a major overhaul. When you're finished with it, it is not the same book as you originally wrote.
Photo by rebeauty
How do you know if your book needs to be revised or rewritten?
This is where feedback comes in. Maybe you've entered your book in a contest and the judges point out a big issue. Your critique group/partner might highlight a monumental problem. A round of rejections from agents and editors could also give insight.
I recently rewrote a book of mine. The catalyst came from an editor I submitted to. If you have a dream editor/publishing house, and the editor rejects your book and gives you a reason why, pay attention. Do you have to rewrite any of your projects? Of course not! But if you want to get published with a certain publisher and they give you a reason why they are rejecting your book, it's important for you to take this advice for either your future or current project.
Jill's Preparations for Rewriting
1. Gauge my commitment level to the manuscript. I love some of the books I write more than others, and if I'm not excited about the book, I'd be better off setting it aside and writing a new one.
2. Brainstorm possible changes to make the book marketable based on the comments I've been given.
3. Go back to the pre-writing phase and create a scene list based on the new direction of the book.
In my case, the book I rewrote is vastly different from my original version. It turned into a better, more marketable book. I love it, but I also love the old version. In many ways, they are two separate books, and in the end, that's why I found the experience to be rewarding.
Have you ever rewritten a book? If yes, would you do it again? Was the experience positive and informative or was it painful and annoying?
Have you ever gotten feedback you instantly understood to be true, but you weren't certain how to apply it to your current manuscript?
Revision Checklist Alert!
On a side note, many of you expressed interest in seeing my revision checklist. I've included it in a .pdf file, which you can open here: Revision Checklist. It will also be linked at the side for future reference. Feel free to print it out.
A brief explanation of the checklist:
It's broken down into five main parts.
1. I read the draft from beginning to end without making changes. While I'm reading, I jot notes in the file using the comment feature in Microsoft Word.
2. I evaluate each chapter. Many times, I only have problems in one or two areas in each chapter, so although there's a lot in this section, it doesn't take me long to get through.
3. Next is technical issues--mainly word choices, sentence structure, and grammar.
4. The book is very polished at this point, so I feel comfortable having my critique group read through it. As they return chapters, I evaluate their comments and make necessary changes.
5. I read the entire manuscript out loud.
That's it. My revision method. It's time-consuming and a lot of work, but it meets my needs. I love my final drafts!
Have a fantastic weekend!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
For some of you, yes. For me? No.
Photo by uggboy
Unless you revise and polish your work as you're writing your first draft, you are now faced with the next portion of the writing process. Revising.
I know we talk about "plotters" and "pantsters" but does the same concept apply to revising? Do pantsters wing revisions? Do plotters have detailed methods for revisions? Do you wonder about this too?
My revising method has evolved and continues to with each book I write. Unlike my pre-writing preparations, which work beautifully for me, my revising preparations leave doubt. Will they be effective? Will I miss something important? Will the book be the best it can be when I'm finished?
I don't have the answer to that yet. I am a plotter by nature, and I rely on checklists for revising.
Jill's Preparations for Revising
1. Set the first draft aside for at least two weeks, preferably longer. Do not think about the book. Work on something new.
2. When it is time to revise, make a new copy, saving the file as a second draft. (I will have three or four drafts total when the book is complete.)
3. Print a copy of my revisions checklist. It's basically a how-to guide I've compiled so I don't miss anything.
4. Remind myself that revising takes time. By systematically attacking each item on my list, I will eventually finish.
If you're new to revising, I recommend keeping a copy of each draft you revise. If you delete a scene in your second draft and then realize it was terrific and needs to be in the book, you can easily copy and paste it back in. In this day and age of practically unlimited computer file storage, it simply doesn't make sense to delete files until the project is as done as done can be.
Do you write the first draft then revise when it's complete? Or do you revise as you go? And for all of you plotters and pantsters out there, do you wing it or do you have a plan of action?
Join me on Friday when we'll discuss preparations for rewriting a book.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I've recently recieved two blog awards and I want to share them. One of the things I love about blogging is that when I get new followers, I find new blogs. If you're a follower and I haven't stopped by your blog, please leave your blog's URL in the comments and I will remedy that!
Steph, at Steph in the City, bestowed the Best Blog Award to my blog. Thank you Steph! If you haven't checked out her site, go over for an eclectic mix of thought provoking posts. And let's all give a round of applause for Steph; she recently landed an agent! Congratulations!
(If you are a recipient, please do not feel obligated to pass on any award I share. My sincere hope in presenting these awards is to spotlight terrific blogs, not to put added pressure on anyone.)
I'm giving the Best Blog Award to:
Romance Writers on the Journey Keli Gwyn interviews unpublished and published authors on this blog, and she is such a giving, talented woman. Her interviews are always unique.
All in a Day's Thought Wendy's blog asks tough questions, gives thoughtful insight, and has the most beautiful pictures.
Cindy R. Wilson Cindy's posts on Wednesdays, "Excerpt or Action," always whet my appetite for more.
Terri Tiffany Inspirational Writer Terri's posts are honest yet hopeful. Her optimism truly inspires.
Author, Jody Hedlund Jody's blog was the first I ever followed. This year has been a whirlwind for her. She landed an agent and a three book deal with Bethany House. Her posts over the past months offer an insider's look at a new author's publishing process. Fascinating!
Photo by fdecomite
Moving on... Maria, at Life Lessons, gave me the Inspirational Blog Award. Thank you Maria! Maria writes comforting, devotional posts that always leave me feeling rested and hopeful. If you haven't been to her site, hop on over.
I'm passing this award on to the following:
In Truer Ink Niki Turner writes with candor about issues many of us struggle with, and she manages to refresh my spirits with each post.
Regina Rhythm Regina offers savvy advice on writing and Internet-related promotion. I enjoy her smart posts.
Whole Latte Life Stopping by Joanne's blog is like wrapping up in a soft throw and curling up on the couch. It's restful. Try it.
Something She Wrote Janna's blog is another gem. She has a melodious, smart, mellow way of writing that I'm drawn to. Her blog never lets me down.
Through My Eyes I never know what I'm going to get when I stop by Tabitha Bird's blog. A poem, a terrific picture, or a fascinating snippet of her life--all leave me with a warm heart.
Thanks again for the awards, and if any of these blogs are new to you, go on--try them out!
Monday, November 9, 2009
Photo by uggboy
Beth from This Mommy's Life: "Finish the drill!"
Wendy from All in a Day's Thought: "I break for nothing."
Tess from Tess Hilmo: "You are good. You can be great. I think you will be."
Erica from On the Write Path: "One bite at a time--but make it a big bite."
Em from Em-Musing: "I want it all!"
Brittany from A Penny for My Thoughts: "Prepare for the impossible because those are the dreams God brings to fruition."
Danyelle from Myth-Takes: "Keep breathing. Laugh at the mountains I'm facing and get those feet moving."
Regina from Regina Rythym: "Do what you love. Do it in excellence."
I love those mottos. Strong, inspiring, and words I can live by. Thanks for sharing them!
You also shared your goals, and I was blown away by the commitment and excitement you all poured into the comments. I've compiled the highlights from your comments. These are the goals you will complete before December 31, 2009.
- finish rewriting and editing current manuscript
- finish writing first draft
- put together Christmas card before the holiday :) (Love this one!)
- finish work in progress by end of November
- complete NaNo
- polish current manuscript and send to agent
- begin new children's book, write three poems, and take on three new clients (Go! You can do it!)
- write 85K by end of year (Woo-hoo!!)
- get through edits without dissolving into tears (I know THAT feeling!)
And my favorite:
- Enjoy each and every day!
Your excitement is contagious. If your energy flags as the holidays snowball in, don't despair and don't give up. Anytime you need a "go get 'em tiger" boost or if you want to share an awesome achievement, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We don't have to reach our goals alone!
Join me on Wednesday when we'll discuss ways to prepare for the revision stage.
Friday, November 6, 2009
We're all different, but the idea for my next book is usually circling my brain while I'm writing. My brain stirs and cooks the idea for me so when I finish the current book, I'm anxious to start piecing together the next. Then, I might spend a week plotting and filling in character charts and such.
When all of my pre-writing charts are filled, I take a day to write my synopsis. Yes, it takes a day, sometimes longer. It won't be the polished version, but I like to compare my original synopsis with the final copy, and I've found that writing one in the pre-writing phase keeps me on track. I also write a quick query letter. Nothing earth-shattering, just a solid back cover blurb within the query.
I still am not ready to write, however. The next step in my process is to get out a calendar and estimate how long the book will take me to write. It's important for me to check the calendar, because every time I write a book, a vacation pops up, or I've forgotten about the week of volunteer duties I signed up for, or some other major excitement occurs. It's important to plan around these things.
Once I have a target finish date, I'm ready. And then, joy of joys, I'm in first-draft-land, my favorite writing phase!
How do you prepare to write a first draft?
Have a terrific weekend!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
That's so not me! I can actually picture myself banging my forehead against the keyboard or bursting open a leftover bag of Halloween candy like a pinata over my open mouth. To say I'm a plotter is putting it mildly.
I'm not going to bore you with all of the details of my pre-writing process, but I am going to share my favorite pre-writing method, and I hope you'll share yours too.
What's the number one tool I rely on to get ready to write a first draft?
The scene list.
Sounds scary, doesn't it? A bit intimidating, no?
At first, it is, but by the time I begin my scene list, I already know the main parts of the plot. I'm just connecting them with scenes. My scene list evolves as I find better ways to utilize it.
I type all of the scenes into an Excel spreadsheet. There are seven columns:
1. Scene Number
2. Point of View (POV)
4. What do they want?
5. Why can't they have it?
6. Plot points
1. Scene Number--Since I usually write more than one scene per chapter, I number my scenes.
2. POV--I ask myself which character has the most to lose in this scene? This also helps me keep a good ratio of hero/heroine POV scenes. I can tell at a glance if one is overtaking the book. And yeah, I'll admit that I color code the names. The heroine is pink, and the hero is blue. Go figure!
3. Setting--I keep it simple. The place, day, time, and who is in it. Example: Pat's apt. (Fri. night, L, P) This tells me Lindsey and Patrick are at his apartment Friday night.
4. What do they want?--Since each scene should have a goal and disaster, it's important to decide ahead of time what the scene goal is. It's easier for me to think in terms of character's desires, so I reworded it from "scene goal" to "what do they want?" It could be as simple as the hero wants to get the heroine out of his apartment. (This scene would be told from the hero's POV, since he's the one with the goal.)
5. Why can't they have it?--This is the disaster portion of the scene goal/disaster. If the hero wants the heroine out of his apartment, this is why he can't get her out. It could be that she refuses to leave, or starts crying about her dead grandmother, or whatever reason works for your plot.
6. Plot Points--This is where you jot in where the scene fits into the book. I fill in the major plot points first: Hook, Catalyst (to leave ordinary world), Doorway #1 (they decide to leave ordinary world), Mid-point (false high or false low), All is Lost (Black Moment), Doorway #2 (solution to all is lost), and Finale. Then I go in and label the between scenes with what needs to be achieved in each.
7. Chapter--I type the chapter and scene number for that chapter. 14:2 signifies chapter fourteen, scene 2. I keep the amount of scenes in each chapter, three and under. So if it's a major plot point scene, the chapter may only have one.
That's it. My absolute most useful pre-writing tool.
Okay, time to pony up. What's your favorite pre-writing tool?
Join me on Friday, when we discuss mental preparation for writing a first draft.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Photo by jamiedfw
Some years are better than others. This summer, I realized I would have to drop one book I planned to write due to time constraints. Other than that, I'm on track to meet all of my 2009 writing goals. What a great feeling!
Last month, I started getting cagey. My goals were slipping away. I didn't know how I'd meet them by the end of the year. I decided I needed a motto. Maybe even a theme song. Hey, it worked for Rocky, right? What is my motto, you ask?
I believe if I'm going to dream big, I have to do big things. To kick off my new motto, I wrote triple and quadruple my daily word count every day last week to finish my first draft. I'm not going to do this all the time--my head still hurts thinking about it!--but I needed a jump start, a break from my routine.
For all of you participating in NaNo this month--I salute and applaud you! You can do it! Just think how terrific you're going to feel when December first rolls around and you have 50,000 words written? Imagine!
What goals would you love to accomplish by December 31? Do you need a motto to help you achieve them? I want to hear about it!
Join me all month as we discuss preparation: to write a first draft, to revise, to submit our work, and preparation for our writing career. We have two months left of 2009--let's make them count!