Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Writing Garbage Is Fine, Publishing It Is Not

When do we find our best ideas? When we aren't working on the thing that is giving us fits.

I am sure you all know just what I am talking about here. For some of you, the best ideas show up in the middle of the night when you are sleeping. For me, when I am stuck on something, I head to the kitchen to cook, or I start working on chores around the house. For writers, it might simply be time to dump the manuscript you are working on and start on something new and completely different. In those moments of relaxation and stress-free writing, you may stumble across the answer you were working on with the first story.

But here is the twist that so many authors. Because that other project just flowed so nicely when you were writing it, and, because you were really enjoying that stress-free writing, DOES NOT MEAN that story needs to be published. In reality that project is most likely lacks what it takes to be publishable. Now, this does not mean it can't be published, but don't plan on it.

The simple reason that this second manuscript "feels" so good to work with is because you weren't trying to make it good. You were simply playing around and having fun. The other story was a struggle because you had to work with it, to make the story good. In other words, writing is tough and you have to work hard at it to make it good.

I think of this as those "rebound relationships." You just got out of a relationship that might have been going well and then had a harsh break up. You are an emotional wreck and your friends tell you to just get out there and have fun. Then you meet someone and suddenly you think EVERYTHING is better. But, does this mean "this one" is the keeper. Probably not. Things are just great because you aren't working to make the relationship good.

Lady Antebellum's BARTENDER is really saying what that second manuscript is doing for you. Here's what they say:

What I'm really needing now
Is a double shot of Crown
Chase that disco ball around
Till I don't remember
Go until they cut me off
Wanna get a little lost
In the noise
In the lights
Hey bartender pour 'em hot tonight
Till the party and music and the truth collide
Bring it till his memory fades away
Hey bartender

Tonight I'll let a stranger pull me on the floor
Spin me round and let 'em buy a couple more
But before it goes too far I'll let him down easy
Cause tonight is all about
Dancing with my girls to the DJ
Put that song on replay

But, as the song says, you need to tell that other story that you are going "to let [it] down easy"..."before it gets too far."

Now, just like everything else in publishing, there are no fixed rules. Maybe that second story does work out, but right now, don't plan on it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Missing Deadlines Can Hurt Your Career

We all know what deadlines are. These are those pesky little X's we put on our calendar telling us when projects "have to be done." In the publishing world, those little X's are more than a date when your story is finished. Those are dates that many other people are counting on you to meet because they need to start their work. Missing those deadlines might seem small on the surface, but these events will lead to losing a coveted writing contract later on.

The problem I believe many authors have stems from where they started with their writing. When most authors started, they did this as a hobby. Writing was something you did for fun. It was really easy to say, "By next month, I will have my book finished." When you showed up at the writer group you were part of, without it, there were no consequences. Life got in the way and there is always time to finish it by the next meeting.

But, when authors move into a professional writing career, they need to understand that those deadlines impact a lot of other people. Consider...

  • Your editors put you on a planning calendar for the whole year. This means that other authors are working around your schedule as well.
  • Your editors have blocked out time to read your work amid their busy schedules. 
  • Your editors have blocked out time to read your edits in between the reads for their other authors. 
  • Art departments need time to prep those book covers
  • Copy editors need to have time to look over your entire project.
  • The IT people need to have time to prepare your book for printing.
  • The book stores need to know the date the book is being released so they can get the product online and in the database for your readers.
  • etc.
This is just a basic list, but I think you get the idea.

Now, I do know that most editors are pretty flexible. Authors are always told that if there is a problem with getting something finished, give the editors plenty of notice. They can work with you. They know that life gets in the way. However, if this is always happening, it becomes pretty clear to the editors that this might be a problem and they will start to take notice. They will begin to think that maybe this person might not be the person the editors need for that next special assignment or even the contract.

I get that deadlines are tough. I get that the real world does get in the way every now and then. So if we know this, then start to factor in time knowing that these events might occur. If you get the book in early, then it might be there to fill in the holes when some other author out there misses his or her deadline.

Now who looks good??

Monday, July 25, 2016

What Is Your Novel's Thesis?

Although for most writers, hearing the word THESIS conjures up images of academic writing and research papers, this same concept extends to writing fiction Whether or not you are a plotter or a pantster, knowing where you are going to and why you are taking that journey is really the key to success in your story.

Let's start first with some basics of thesis writing. According to a basic definition of the concept of thesis, it is a "statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved." But we really want to take this a step further. According to Marcie Sims, a colleague of mine. in her textbook, THE WRITE STUFF, she notes that a thesis statement "establishes a narrowed scope of your topic, provides at least one controlling idea or analytical purpose."

But you still might be questioning why a writer would put a thesis statement into his or her essay. You will note that in no way am I saying you would actually put a thesis statement in the essay. You should, however, know why you are writing the story and what you want the readers to leave with when they finish your novel. Marcie goes on to note that even in narrative writing, you would have a purpose to your story. In fact, the definition of narration in her book is a story that provides insight or truth gained from the experience.

Too often, writers just simply write, but without that controlling purpose or goal, the story ends up being pretty flat. This is very apparent when editors and agents discuss a prospective novel or read a submission from a new author. When the author just tells us the plot of the story and we are left with this question of "So what?" that is generally a story without a purpose.

Taking this a step further, we can see that having a thesis in your mind, both before you write the story and as you write it, will actually tie all of the events in your book together. It will give each scene your write and each passage of dialogue you have a meaning. The elements in your story should have some sort of meaning that advances the reader closer to that ultimate insight you want them at when they finish the book.

If we look at Jean Love-Cush's novel ENDANGERED we can see how the author has done just this. For those of you who are not familiar with this book, it is clearly one that needs to be read during these tough times here in the United States. Let me give you the "blurb" about the book from Amazon:

An innocent black teenager is accused of murder in this provocative and compassionate thriller that skillfully probes issues of race, class, crime, and injustice and offers a searing portrait of modern America.
From the time her son, Malik, could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him, “raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say,” if the police ever stopped him. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae’s terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik have escaped jail if he’d run?
Unable to see her son or pay for his defense, Janae, a cafeteria worker, reluctantly allows Roger Whitford, a white human rights attorney, to represent Malik. With the help of an ambitious private attorney named Calvin Moore, Roger is determined to challenge the entire criminal justice system and expose its inherent racism—racism that threatens the very existence of America’s young black men.
Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics that burns to the very core of Janae herself. As she battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of her community.
This author knows exactly the message she wants the readers to leave with. She wants those readers to leave questioning their own beliefs but to also be motivated to become socially and politically aware of the things going on around them. For this reason, each and every scene in the book paints a picture of this unfortunate circumstance and then has a moment to allow the reader some introspection. She does not come right out and "preach" to the reader, or say things such as, "This is what you should believe," but through the narrative, this is implied.
Knowing that thesis will also add to your marketing of the book when you are trying to show the uniqueness of the story. What is it that makes this book stand out? Why do we want to read it? Without that purpose and that thesis, you will struggle to come up with anything other than a generic writing trope such as "this is a coming of age story" or "this is a story about lost love found again."
So, what is your thesis? Do you have one? If so, does everything in your story link to that thesis? If not, this may be the reason why your story is going no where fast!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Selling Your Voice

I am finding myself spending a lot of time lately talking about submissions and pitches. Maybe it is that time of the year, or maybe my brain just happens to be heading that direction. Regardless of the reason, I want to spend some time today to talk about the concept of voice. More importantly, how do you do convey your personal voice in your submissions to editor and agents?

As I noted yesterday, for most authors, when they pitch stories to editors and agents, whether it is in a live pitch or a submission, the focus tends to be very informational and mostly plot oriented. While part of this is true, and, it is important to focus on the facts and to keep it objective. However, it is still important to find a way to demonstrate what makes your voice unique. This is where so many authors mess up.

As we all know, every author has a unique voice. This is what you will end up "branding" as your voice to the publishers and certainly your readers. When someone picks up your book, they want to know what they are getting. At Greyhaus Literary Agency, when authors pick up a Lauri Robinson historical, they want the strong authentic feel of the west. When they pick up an Ann Lethbridge historical, they want the depth of history as well as unique characterizations. A Helen Lacey novel will always have characters involved with plots containing unexpected turns. A Bronwyn Scott novel will have the sensuality to make your toes curl.

When you think about all of your projects you have written, look for the trend in the voice. What seems to be a binding voice that appears in all. You will note, I am not saying things such as theme or plot. Along the same lines, we are not using terms such as "sweet romance." This tells us nothing. We are looking for that voice which your readers will be known for.

At this point, some of you may be worried. "But Scott, you said think of all of your projects? I only have one!" That's right! Your voice develops over time. As you are thinking about submitting that first novel, you should be well on the way writing your next one and have several others planned out. This should be enough for you to see that voice developing.

I should also say that you can't necessarily create a voice. Your voice is unique to you. Trying to be something you aren't will be difficult. For example, the odds of a Bronwyn Scott writing inspirational romances are highly unlikely. It is simply not her voice.

So, as you write your query letter or think about your pitch, what can you say about your writing. You can certainly say things such as "In my stories, I strive to bring a [insert description] feel to my stories." or "Writers can expect X when they pick up one of my stories."

Now, go out and play around with this today!