Saturday, May 16, 2015

Your Own Style Sheet

Scott D. Parker

Last week at press time, I mentioned that I had met with my editor and received her markups for my current manuscript. Well, this week, I made the changes.

Whew! There were a LOT of them. But that’s okay. It’s expected, even. Any writer who thinks they can write a draft that needs no editing, well, I’d like to meet’em. I want them to tell me their secret.

When I made the changes for WADING INTO WAR, I picked up a few things I consistently did throughout the manuscript. I put them on a list and, when I’ve read other manuscripts since then, I refer to that list and identify things I can preemptively change before the editor sees it.

Now, I have even more. Boy do I. When I see a particular edit she is repeatedly marking, I’ll flip to my cover page and make a global note. Sometimes, it’s for a character name. “You said ‘Joe’ on one but you wrote ‘Joseph’ elsewhere. Be consistent.” Or “You refer to every other character by a last name except the two heroes. Why did you name this bad guy by his first name?”

See what I mean? Good stuff. Stuff I often miss since I’m deep into the story.

Then there’s the grammar. I can string words into sentences and paragraphs pretty decently but there are seem quirks I need to address. One: I don’t need to use the word ‘that’ so frequently. Over and over again, I’ve seen ‘that’ slashed by red ink. Eek. Two, and this one I do way too often. It needs an example.

“No, I didn’t,” he said, taking out his notebook. “What for?”

“No, I didn’t.” He took out his notebook. “What for?”

You see how the revision punches up the prose. The original isn’t wrong and might be good to throw in every now and then for a change of pace. But, holy cow, was I *only* doing to original style all over the place. I’m almost to the end of the book (chapter 25 out of 27) and I’ve knocked off almost 500 words from the original word count just tightening things up.

Boy, is it great to have an editor.

Anyway, do y’all use edits and comments from editors and/or critique groups and create your own style sheet for common mistakes you make?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are You Authorpanuring Yourself Enough?

By Steve Weddle

So folks are the internet out there are working to help authors --

I mean, I like the idea of helping. I really do. I don't know what an "AUTHORPRENEUR" is, but it sounds cool. Maybe it's an author who does nails and hairstyling during writer's block.

AUTHORPRENEUR. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? 

According to the article about being an AUTHORPRENEUR, you need an email list for a few reasons. Honestly, I don't know how I've gotten by without an email list myself. I get up each morning before sunrise, brew some coffee, open the moleskine, and write. (Proof is here,)

A pen, a notebook, and a novelty mug of coffee. I have one from the Big Lebowski. I have one of banned books. I have one from a real car dealership that exists in the county I'm writing pretend stories about. I have so many mugs. I've gone to so much trouble with the thinking and the writing and the buying 100-year-old high school yearbooks and rare government pamphlets and all sorts of stuff. You'd think I'd have enough sense to have exported my friends and family into a database I can use. 

The experts, and the AUTHORPRENEUR in particular, say I need to have an email list so that I can reach my "target audience." 

Not only will I have readers who are "anxious" for my next book, but I have a "pool" of people waiting to beta-read my next book. So, with this list, I have a group of people I can send my book to so that they'll read it and tell me what they think of it? Don't I already know these people? Don't I email with them anyway? I need people who are kind of interested in what I do, but not so interested that I chat with them regularly? Isn't that called "family"? I don't know. 

Do people use beta-readers? Do they hyphenate themselves? I guess the idea is that you would spam, er, launch an email campaign asking your prospective consumers if they'd be interested in serving as your focus group? Then what happens? A couple dozen people email you back -- or complete a Survey Monkey form -- telling you the strengths and flaws of your book? That does not sound like something I would enjoy.

Keep in mind that the internet has, at my latest Googling, just over 1,837,119 posts about how to market yourself as an author. Which is good news if you enjoy reading posts about how to market yourself as an author. Oh, my bad. I meant to say, "as an Author." Or AUTHORPRENEUR.

According to one of the posts -- which I am certain is sincere and meant to be helpful somehow -- the key to being a successful AUTHORPRENEUR is "building relationships." That makes sense to me. In my favorite short story, "Hills Like White Elephants," the relationship between the man and the woman is key. What does he want? What does she want? Where's the conflict between them? Excellent. 

Oh, wait. There was more to the post.

Building a relationship with your readers, where they can respond to you and communicate with you as an author, is advertising you can't buy.

Oh, sweet lord. I can't unread that sentence. A relationship with readers is great advertising? What in the name of Frank friggin Norris does that even mean? 

Let me tell you who these people are. Ugh. I've been trying to be generous here. But that sentence. I just can't go on like this. Look, these are the people who talk to you at parties until they realize that someone on the other side of the room can better help their career. Then they flitter off to that person. These are the people who post sticky notes on their MacBookPros telling them the proper ratios of marketing tweets to personal tweets. (They say 1:10. I say they're dopes.)

A relationship with your readers isn't advertising. Are these the people who say the penultimate chapter in this book satisfies the reader for THIS book, but the last chapter makes them hungry for the next one? I can't keep up with the helpful formulas on being a writer.

Yes, building involves marketing. I have business cards with my book cover on it, so that when people ask about my book, I can hand them a card. I think taking the card helps them feel as if they've done something, some transaction with me, so that they don't have to ever buy the book or read it. I don't know. I should probably do a better job networking through my LinkedIn page if I want to be a real AUTHORPRENEUR. After all, I want to build that relationship with readers, don't I?

Are your readers your customers? I don't know. I'm not writing for my customers. I'm writing to make this paragraph sing. I'm writing to tie these threads together. I'm writing because I'm kinda interested to see what the heck happens with these people in this cabin.

According to the people who read "the experts" in the field, "the experts" estimate that "readers need to be exposed to your product up to seven times" before they consider completing a "transaction."

If you're attempting to complete a transaction by exposing your audience to your product over and over, then you're at the wrong damn blog, pal.

I've subscribed to many author newsletters, I don't always read them. I read some of them, but I don't always have time. I'm interested in seeing where my favorite authors are signing or hearing about upcoming projects. I like "keeping up with" the authors I enjoy reading, as well as the authors I personally know and like. That's cool. But I've never, ever bought a book because an author emailed me a newsletter.

Think about the last book you bought, the last novel you enjoyed. Did you complete the transaction because of marketing tweets and email newsletters?

I'm no stranger to spreading myself around the internet from MySpace to Reverb Nation. And maybe I could do a better job marketing my writing via newsletters and cleverly using the hashbrown symbol on Twitter. If you're on the internet off and on all day and you're reading posts at Medium about seven things you need to do to be a better Author, and all seven are how to sell your book, well, I don't know, I think you could get lost in that.

My guess is that people like to feel as if they're in control. What have you done today as an Author? I sent out an email thing to people. I updated my website. I had an author photo taken. I gave a reading. I joined a Twitter promotion hashbrown thing to expand my reach. Yeah, that feels like doing stuff. I've done that stuff. Those are things you can write down in your calendar. That's great. Those things are comforting because they feel like accomplishments. They feel active.

Writing is hard. You get 20,000 words into a novel and realize only the last 1,000 are useful. You get done with your 100,000-word story and it dawns on you that you should combine two of the characters. That's you and your story. That's tough. You can write all day for three weeks and then, on Day 22, notice a gaping plot hole you'll never fix. There's no real checklist for writing a good book. Each book is a damn snowflake, ain't it? You can write three novels that are huge successes and sit down to write the fourth and feel as if you've forgotten how to be a writer.

But you know what? If I've read and enjoyed your book, then you're a writer. I have a relationship with your book. I've put it on my shelf. I've gotten you to sign it. I've bought copies of your book for friends. You worked your tail off on the book, and it shows. Your book is great and, honestly, you're pretty awesome. Because you know how to write a damn book, you know? Heck, I might kick back with your book this weekend and read parts of it again. Especially that chapter where he's having the dream about the bird with the broken wing. Damn, that's beautiful.

If you're an AUTHORPRENEUR, then I saw the eblast (the subject line, at least) that you sent out about the Twitter campaign you're holding next Tuesday. Good luck with it. Hope you're able to move some product.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Word About Paid Manuscript Consultations

By Holly West

Next month (June 6 & 7), Sisters in Crime Los Angeles (SinCLA) and the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America are co-hosting the California Crime Writers Conference. I attended for the first time in 2009, back when I'd just begun writing the book that would eventually become MISTRESS OF FORTUNE.

God, I remember feeling so shy and awkward at that conference. It took every bit of confidence I had to strike up a conversation. At the agents cocktail reception I slunk off to a corner to call my husband, just to tell him I wanted desperately to go hide out in my hotel room. He told me to stick it out, and I did, but the first chance I had I hauled ass upstairs.

Since then, I've become more involved in the conference planning and this year one of my jobs is Manuscript Consultation Coordinator. As part of the conference, attendees who want some face-to-face time with an agent or an acquiring editor pay an additional $50 to submit five pages of their work-in-progress for a 20-minute consultation.

With regard to the "paid" aspect of these consultations, each professional is donating their time to the conference to do them--they're not getting paid directly themselves (though in some cases, conference organizers will pay for their travel). Once there, the professionals appear on panels and attend a cocktail reception for the benefit of all of the attendees.

In past years, we had a mix of consultants--some were well-established published authors in addition to a selection of agents and editors. This year, the consultations will only be done by agents and editors, which in my opinion is a pretty big deal. Getting an introduction to and feedback from a publishing professional is a good opportunity, especially if your manuscript is complete and polished and you're already querying.

By the way, I always like to trot this tidbit out: I was the critique coordinator for this conference in 2011, where I met my now good friend, Matt Coyle. I paired him with an agent who ended up signing him. His debut novel, YESTERDAY'S ECHO, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel at Bouchercon in 2014.

Of course, Matt is the exception, not the rule. As I organize the critiques this year, I'm impressed with the quality of the submissions, but I also know from my own query experience that it's important to manage one's expectations. A manuscript consultation is just that--a consultation. It is not a guarantee of anything beyond that.

I also have some helpful hints for anyone who is either querying agents/and or editors or getting gearing up for their own manuscript critiques or pitch sessions at other conferences:

1) Follow directions. It's so simple, and yet there's always a few who don't do it.

2) Keep your pitch brief, but be prepared to tell your consultant what your book is about. Try to be as concise as possible.

3) If you've got a crazy email address, consider updating it to something more professional. I know this sounds nit-picky, but it's kind of important if you're querying.

4) Take the time to do a bit of research about the person(s) you're dealing with. What type of projects they've taken on in the past, what they're looking for now. The Internet puts most of this information at your fingertips.

5) Understand that if an agent asks for a partial or even a full manuscript, it might take time for them to read it. They might, in fact, never get around to reading it. (God, I hate to sound so pessimistic--I really don't mean to be)!

6) Understand that even if one agent/editor isn't interested in taking on your project, it doesn't mean it doesn't have merit. It's just not the right project for them--remember, they can love a manuscript dearly but not have a place to sell it. Rejection hurts, sure, but you can't take it personally.

So, with all of that said, you might be wondering how I personally feel about paid manuscript consultations and/or pitch sessions. In 2009, the same year I attended my first CCW Conference, I also attended the Crimebake Conference in the Boston area. I paid for a manuscript critique of my then unfinished novel and Hank Philippi Ryan was my consultant. Overall, she was very helpful and ultimately gave me some confidence to go forward with my writing. At that time, I wasn't ready to query--I don't think I even had a finished first draft.

Ultimately, my opinion is this: if your manuscript is complete and polished and you're ready to query, a paid consultation such as the ones offered at the California Crime Writers Conference might be a good idea. If you don't have a completed manuscript, you're better off saving your money. Keep writing, keep polishing. Because if that agent or editor says "I love this, send me the full manuscript," you're gonna feel kind of shitty if you've only got fifty pages written. Six months later, when you've finished your book, said agent might not be interested any longer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How Not To Write: Part Two: Dialogue

By Jay Stringer

In Part One I took a swing at Three-Act Structure. Not to say nobody should use it, but rather, to say that it's not the only option. Go with as many -or as few- Acts as your character needs. I think that's important advice. Actually important. Like, run for your lives, guys, I've said something that I think works, and it wasn't a fart joke.

This week isn't so solid. I'm talking more about personal opinion here, not giving out advice. These are my views, and this is how I do it, but I'm not recommending anybody else should or would need to do the same.

Because this week, I'm talking about dialogue.

One of the few bits of writing advice I ever give with a straight face is 'whatever works.' Get your head down, get on with it, and go with whatever it takes to get you to the end of the draft. That could go double for dialogue. Every writer has their own views on how people should talk, how the sentences should be structured, whether grammar should be correct, whether to let people talk in vernacular....the list goes on.

The one approach I try to stick to? Is to not have one approach.

Let's take a look at TV and film. It's often an easier reference point, because you can dip into a scene on a DVD, or remember a great quote, and they're easier to call to mind that a chapter in a novel. Writers like Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin get a lot of acclaim (which brings with it a lot of criticism, too.) I can't sit here and tell you they suck. Whedon's made two of the biggest films of all fuckin' time. I've been a big fan of much of his work, and will no doubt very much enjoy his future film or television projects. I've also been a fan of Sorkin -though that's a bit more of a historical thing, now. His stageplays are great, Sports Night was an unrecognised masterpiece, I enjoy the first two seasons of West Wing and, hell, I'm one of the few who has a torch burning for Studio 60. If you bring  The Newsroom anywhere near me, I'll have an allergic reaction.

I re-watched all of West Wing on a binge recently, and the dialogue formula becomes clear. And when you're watching a Joss Whedon film or television show, you're always aware of who has written it. And, far beyond structure (since both writers do a lot of structural work, but are also willing to break the rules and mess around) the stamp that identifies them in dialogue. As I sat watching Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and all of the characters took it in turns to crack one liners, I wasn't thinking, man, these characters are so funny, I was thinking, Joss sure does like his jokes. And I'm fairly confident that many of us could sit and write a script based around the West Wing characters and ape the dialogue style. We could make an even stronger charge against Tarantino where, to my view, the only film in which all the characters aren't simply talking with Tarantino's voice is Jackie Brown, where he got to piggy back on Elmore Leonard dialogue.

Clearly, this works for a hell of a lot of people. A lot of viewers -and in novels a lot of readers- are drawn to that authorial voice. They like the familiar tics. They slip the recognised patterns of dialogue on, like comfortable clothes, and sink into the world.

But I realised a few books ago that's not what I want for my work. I'm constantly striving to get my characters to sound like real people talking, and to do that -to my mind- I can't have one recognised voice, because people talk differently. Some talk in long run-on sentences, some talk in fragments, some talk in clear, straight lines. Some characters will talk for hours without ever saying the one thing that's on their mind, some will simply come right out and get to the point.

That created some interesting challenges while I was writing the Miller books, because it was all first-person narration. I couldn't go too far into giving everyone a separate way of talking, because the story was being relayed to us through one character, and his own voice would have edited all the other characters. But in Ways To Die In Glasgow (coughcomingsooncough) I got to play with different voices, and...well that's a blog for another time.

I've been finding it more difficult to write books set in the midlands lately, and I've realised it's the voice. I haven't lived there for almost 9 years now, and so when I write the dialogue it's more and more of me, and less and less of the midlands. Whereas, if I try and write a story set in Glasgow, the voices flow more easily. I talk to these guys. I live with them. Drink with them. Argue with them.

So, that's all personal opinion. Do I have anything practical to say today? Sure, but people are probably going to disagree with me, so the usual pinch-of-salt should be taken;

The one piece of advice I've heard most often, when it comes to dialogue, is to read the work out loud. The theory goes that the more you read it out, the more you can make sure it flows like real dialogue, and the more you can make it sound like something people would actually say.

And that's true, but it comes with a danger. The more you read the dialogue out loud, the result is the words start to sound like something you would say. In working to ensure that the words can flow from a mouth, and fly off a tongue, you really ensure that it flows from your mouth, and can fly off your tongue. And the danger there is that all of the voices become yours.

I do it for some characters, but not all. Sometimes I'll cast an actor in a certain supporting role, and have their voice in my head, and test the dialogue out with them that way. On a few rare occasions, I've asked someone else to read some of the dialogue out, and seen if it flies off their tongue.

Reading dialogue out loud is a good and important trick, but -as with just about everything else in our writing toolbox- be aware of it's limitations, and keep your ear trained for your own voice as well as the characters, so that you can spot the difference.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Judging a Book By the Cover

by Kristi Belcamino

Until I received a book deal I had sort of always assumed that authors had some—or a lot—of say in their book covers.

So when my lovely and talented editor sent me the cover to my first book and asked if I liked it, I was torn. My agent said this was an opportunity to give my input and if I didn't like it, to let the editor know.

I didn't like it.

Here it is:

I'm not a big fan of covers with a full face on them. I like to imagine what the characters look like, not be told what they are supposed to look like. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised that my editor saw Gabriella Giovanni much the same way I did. But I still didn't want to tell everybody else that she should look like the model on the cover.

And I was a little unhappy with the rip across the middle. I wasn't sure what it was or what it was supposed to be - stuffing coming out of something? Waves crashing onto the shore? (The book is set in San Francisco.)

At the same time, I was a brand new author. I wanted to defer to my editor and the art department at HarperCollins. They had been doing this a lot longer than me. I had to trust them that they would know what sells book.

So, with mixed feelings I told my editor I didn't like having a person's face on the cover and didn't know what the ripped line thingie was. (Turns out it indicates ripped paper, since my reporter character works for a newspaper.)

Well, the cover remained exactly the same.

Some people loved it. Some people hated it.

I asked other authors with amazing book deals if they had any say in their covers. Ninety-nine percent of them said "nope."

This was such a revelation to me. I didn't know that authors had no say in something as crucial as a book cover!

Moving along to book two:

Now, this cover I hated. I was a little more confident in myself at this point and said I didn't like it. I didn't like the look on her face and thought she looked funny and unattractive.

Well, the cover remained exactly the same.

(P.S. A writer friend of mine told me it looked like the woman was smelling bad sushi, so I've dubbed this cover Smelling Bad Sushi Cover.)

Moving along to book three:

MY DREAM-COME-TRUE COVER. I love it so much. It is wonderful!

It was so good, it actually convinced a reviewer who had HATED my first two book covers to pick up my books and read them. Here is BOLO Books talking about that a little.

So, it took three books but I finally have a cover I'm thrilled about.

Now, I can only hope that book four will be as amazing and I'm also crossing my fingers hoping that the first two books might be re-packaged to match the third one.

Authors -- have you had any say in your covers?
Readers -- have you not read a book because of it's cover?