Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where Should You Go with your NaNo?: Discount Critique Offer


How many of you did National Novel Writing Month this year? If you made a good attempt, whether or not you got 50,000 words, I applaud you. It takes a lot of dedication to even attempt writing a novel in a month, especially a month that starts off the holiday season.

One of the big criticisms of NaNoWriMo is that people whip out a novel and then (shudder) actually submit it to publishers. If you are following this blog, I know you know better. You know you need to edit. Probably a lot.

But sometimes the very idea of editing seems overwhelming. How do you take this big mess and turn it into something worth reading? Which direction should you go? Should you target it a bit older.... or maybe younger? Play up the mystery elements or the fantasy or the romance? Cut out some subplots to make this more focused, or expand it into a trilogy? How do you develop your strengths and overcome your weaknesses?

Have I got a deal for you! My normal rate for editorial services is $1.50 per page. In honor of NaNoWriMo, I will critique your novel for just $1 per manuscript page (about $160 if you actually hit the 50,000-word mark).

What’s the catch? Don’t expect a lot of comments on the manuscript itself. Chances are you need to do major content editing, so I’m not going to waste time discussing your word choices. However, you will get a 4 to 6 page editorial letter discussing plot, characters, setting, theme, style/voice, and marketability. As part of style/voice, I’ll point out where you might need to work on techniques such as showing rather than telling, balance of action/dialogue/description, pacing, and so forth. The goal of this critique is to give you guidance, to make the editorial process easier.

And what if you didn’t do NaNoWriMo? If you need direction on a manuscript, you can still take advantage of this offer. It’s available on a first-come first-served basis, until January 15 or until my schedule fills up. $50 minimum.

This is a chance to get a professional review of your work at a bargain-basement rate. Satisfied clients have said:

“Thank you so much for an amazing critique.  The good part is that I totally understand your comments. I totally appreciate your professional comments and quick turn-around.” Charlotte, TX

“I love all of your suggestions … You are an excellent editor and critique service. I shall highly recommend you.” Molly, NM

“I am extremely happy that I had you critique the story. You are thorough and took the time to analyze it so well. I know your critique will definitely help me with future writing.” – Alexandra, NM

You can see more recommendations and contact me through my website “For Writers” page.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What Is Voice—And How Do I Get It?


Spend much time around editors and writers, and you’ll hear a lot about voice. It may be the number one thing editors want to see in a manuscript. But what exactly is voice?

I’ve attended several talks on voice, and mainly the speakers read examples from novels with voice. Or rather, they read examples from novels with poetic voices. Does that mean we all need to be more poetic as writers? And if so, how? Hearing examples doesn’t necessarily translate to understanding how you can improve your own voice.

Let’s start with two basic truths:

All writing has voice. It may be a slow, boring voice, or a clunky, confusing voice, or a straightforward, fast-paced voice, or a beautiful, poetic voice. “Voice” does not have to mean the beautiful poetic language most often found in “literary” novels (even though those are most often used as examples of strong voice).

Different readers like different voices. Few people would like the boring or confusing voices mentioned above, but many people prefer a straightforward, fast-paced voice, many others like a beautiful, poetic voice, and some readers enjoy both.

Personally, I tend to enjoy straightforward, fast-paced novels, with a bit of beautiful description here and there. I don’t like novels where the voice seems to dominate the story and the plot takes second place. That’s my personal taste as a reader, and so that’s what I strive for as a writer. I would say my voice is simple, lively, and brisk, and that’s true whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, for children or for adults. My characters have their own individual voices, depending on their gender, age, background, and personality, but my voice ties all my writing together.

Sometimes I have critique clients ask me if I can help them with their voice. My answer: I can’t help you have a great voice, but I can teach you how to avoid having a bad voice. It’s a matter of learning specific techniques, such as:

being specific with your language,
choosing strong, vivid nouns and verbs,
avoiding the overuse of adverbs and adjectives,
showing rather than telling,
using all five senses,
mastering point of view,
varying your pacing appropriately,
And knowing when to break the rules.

For the rest of the year, I’ll be going into these techniques in more detail, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Penguin Gets into Self-Publishing

I haven't posted for a while on self-publishing, because frankly I ran out of things to say. But I thought this was an interesting bit of news. Digital Book World blog had an announcement today about Penguin’s Book Country Launches Self-Publishing Service.

A quote: "Penguin’s online genre fiction community, Book Country, has launched a self-publishing service, signaling the intention of big publishers to develop additional revenue streams in the face of a changing book-publishing landscape, even if it means letting authors bypass the traditional publishing process."

That's right, a traditional publisher is figuring out how to get a piece of the self-publishing pie. I haven't looked into details, but it looks like they are simply offering a service to adapt your manuscript to print on demand and e-book formats, without editorial or other services. Presumably one does not get the Penguin name and logo on the spine.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing Book Country Fail, where he noted that the company seems to be offering the same services you can get elsewhere, for more money. An excerpt: "If you want to use Book Country to workshop your book and get critiques, that's great. I've heard good things about it. But I would NOT recommend paying them to format your manuscripts."

It will be interesting to see if other publishers start dabbling like this, and if so, to what extent. Right now there doesn't seem to be any good reason to self publish through a traditional publisher, unless they are providing publishing services such as editorial and proofreading at a competitive rate, or you get the respect associated with their name (which I can't imagine they'd provide to self publishers, without thoroughly vetting the manuscripts first).

Some authors may hope to catch the eye of an editor and get a traditional deal, but my guess is the team doing self-publishing services will be completely separate from a publisher's editorial staff. I expect there is room for traditional publishers in the world of self-publishing, but I'm not sure they've found the right set up yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Conflicts Aren’t all About the Punches, by Janice Hardy

I didn't get my usual Friday blog post scheduled this week, but I just read this blog post on Stop That Fighting! Conflicts Aren’t all About the Punches by The Other Side of the Story so I thought I'd direct you over there if you need some plotting advice. Janice is one of the best bloggers I know for sharing specific, detailed essays on the craft of writing. She contributed an essay on "Tips on Plotting Your Novel" for Advanced Plotting. If you don't already follow her blog, check it out this week. I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tips for Revising Short Stories, with Chris Kelworth

I have another guest today, Chris Kelworth, talking about short stories. He’s relatively new at writing stories for publication, but he’s learned a few things that can help when it comes to revision. And I think his advice applies whether you’re writing short stories, novels, picture books or anything else. Take it away, Chris:

There’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to revise a speculative genre short story. I’m certainly no expert, it’s not like I’ve been published yet, but I’ve been working on it for nearly a year now, so hopefully I’ve learned something that’s worth sharing.

First, of course, there’s a lot of value in getting critiques of your first draft, to give you some sort of feedback and perspective on what’s good and what needs work. You can get this from friends, (if they know how to be good readers and critiquers,) from local writers at a writer’s circle meeting, from people online that you’ve never met before, or some combination of the above.

The best critiques for a first draft, I’ve found, are the ones that don’t get bogged down too much in the ‘micro-writing’ – the small and sometimes more superficial elements of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice. You need to get feedback on the bigger picture - what the story is about, the plot, the characters, and the voice. What is the story trying to say, and how well does it say that?

As an aside, critiquing short stories from other writers is a good way to get a better sense of what will work in your own rewrites. I recommend looking at the Critters workshop – it’s a good place to get some decent feedback on your stories, and a great opportunity to critique other writers.

I had the opportunity to go to Lawrence, Kansas this summer, and participate in a two-week Short Science Fiction writers’ workshop held by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, along with seven other student writers and several established authors. The biggest thing I learned in Kansas was that the core of my story, what I really wanted or needed to talk about, might be something that I had to dig a little to get to. Again, this was something that critiquing the other writer’s stories helped me with; I got some practice in identifying the core of their stories by coming at them without preconceptions, (or not many preconceptions, hopefully,) and was able to apply that skill to my own stories.

Once I’ve gone over the critiques and thought about what the core of the story is, often my next step will be a total rewrite, picking a different take on the opening scene that will fit what I know I’m trying to write. Then I write to that, and to the core and the ending that I have in mind, not trying to edit the old draft until it works but build up something new. But if I get to a point when I’m writing the second draft where I think ‘Okay, this is a point where I can take this bit from the first draft and tweak it, and that’ll be great’, then I do that; usually taking shorter moments and beats as opposed to entire scenes, but whatever works.

A few other valuable lessons that I learned at the Kansas workshop:

* Every scene, and every beat within those scenes, needs to support the core of the story, the big thing that you want to say.
* Be very careful about how much information you dump on the reader and when.
* The main character needs to be proactive and overcome the central problem himself, not have it solved for him by an external agency.

Revising can be hard work, so don’t be afraid to put some effort into it – and don’t get too bummed if you need to put a project aside for a while because you can’t figure out what you need to do with it yet.

Having a supportive community of writers to encourage you on to your goals can be a great help, no matter what goals you’re working towards, from revising short stories to finishing your novel first draft. At Stringing Words forum, we’re looking for new members who want to share their goals and will support and nag us on ours. Drop by for a visit today!

Chris Kelworth lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and works in Burlington as a computer software developer under an assumed name. He writes science fiction and fantasy, stories and novels, and dabbles in the mysterious art of screenwriting. To find out more, visit http://kelworthfiles.wordpress.com/.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting to Know Me

This week, I’m part of the Getting-to-Know-You Blogfest, a project from The Romantic Suspense group (#43) in Rachael Harrie’s Platform  Building Campaign. After signing up with this blog, I realized I should have signed up with my Kris Bock blog, since that’s my romantic suspense persona. But I couldn’t figure out how to remove the original link, so I decided I’d better do both!

If you are more interested in my Kris Bock persona, you can see my romantic suspense author answers on my website blog.

Now writing as children’s book writer/writing teacher/journalist Chris Eboch, here are my answers to these questions:

1. Name two authors who inspire you.

How do you choose just two? But as I pondered this question, my friend Molly Blaisdell came to mind. She’s worked so hard for so many years, finding some success with work for hire while working on novel after novel without yet selling one. Her perseverance is an inspiration. Sign up for her Seize the Day blog if you need a weekly dose of positive attitude. I could name a dozen other writing friends who inspire me with their hard work, perseverance, and generosity.

2. How did you start writing in your genre?

I originally thought I wanted to write magazine nonfiction for grown-ups, but it turns out my journalism training is good for writing middle grade novels as well, since they need tight writing and relatively simple language. I wrote my first kid’s book, The Well of Sacrifice, for fun while looking for magazine jobs. It sold and is still used in schools when kids study the Maya. If I hadn’t sold that book, I might’ve gone in another direction, but that convinced me to keep writing for children.


3. You've landed a meeting with your dream agent. Write a one paragraph pitch to sell your novel to him/her. (No more than four sentences)


For The Eyes of Pharaoh, a middle grade mystery set in Egypt in 1177 BC:

When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police.


4. Sabotage or accident- which would put your female lead through and why?

Some of each, including some “accidents” caused by the character’s own bad judgment. My characters often get themselves in trouble by meddling where they’re not wanted. But then, you can’t just let the bad guys win without a fight!

5. Plotter or Pantser? Who are you?

My earlier books were more seat-of-the-pants, but as I’ve learned more about how to construct a novel, I’ve found that brainstorming extensively and outlining in advance saves me time and heartache. But I’ve also used my Plot Arc Exercise to analyze completed drafts and find out where they need work. You can download the Plot Arc Exercise from my Kris Bock website, if you’d like to see how it works, or follow the links under “novel revision” in the list to the right.

Visit more authors from the blogfest through the links here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Set Your Goals, Step By Step

I’ve been talking about setting career goals. I started by describing my career. Then I quoted some other successful authors. Now it’s your turn.

Exercise: Goal Setting

What is my primary writing goal?

What are my secondary writing goals?

How can these goals work together? Do they contradict each other at all? Do they interfere with other career, family or personal goals?

What steps do I need to take? Do I need to work on specific craft techniques, time management, market research, or submissions?

Which steps come first? How can I schedule the steps to reach my goals?

A regular review of your personal goals can keep you on track, or help you recognize when it’s time to change. Once you identify your priorities, you can take steps to get there. If money is the priority, you might focus on work for hire and market research. If your ideal is winning major literary awards, maybe you need to take more classes to work on your craft. The journey may still be a long one, but you take the first step by identifying where you want to go.

Janet S. Fox says, “When I started writing for children I had one goal: to get published!” She found a critique group to help her on that path. “My critique partners and I shared the goal of publishing—but we also shared the goals of improving our craft, of learning about the nuances of the publishing industry, of understanding structure, character, and voice. We pushed each other, and attended conferences together.” They are all now published.

Large-scale, general goals need to be broken into specific small steps. Sydney Salter, author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters and the award-winning Swoon at Your Own Risk (both HM Harcourt) says, “When I decided that I really wanted to make writing a professional career, not just a hobby, I bought an engagement calendar to use just for my writing. Each day I recorded what I had done to work on my writing career, whether it was revising a magazine article, researching a novel, writing 1,500 words, or reading a Newbery winning novel over the weekend. I also recorded goals at the beginning of each month to keep myself on track—things like write 12,000 words, submit teen story to Children’s Writer contest, read three MT Anderson books. This technique kept me focused on my goals and allowed me to have some small successes, such as published magazine stories and contest wins, while I worked toward book publication.”

Each step on the path not only brings you closer to your destination, it also builds valuable skills for when you arrive. Salter says, “When I found an interested agent, I was grateful for the discipline that I’d learned through years of treating my writing seriously. My editor also appreciates my work ethic.”

Writers may benefit from reviewing their goals yearly, or even more often. You may also want to review goals whenever you feel bored or frustrated, as instinct may be telling you that you’re on the wrong path.

It’s good to have big goals, even fantasies, but break them down into shorter-term goals, and lists the steps you need to take to get there. To be a rich and famous writer would be nice. But you may need to start by taking writing classes to build your storytelling skills. Then there’s the discipline of writing on a regular schedule, finding helpful critiques, editing, market research, networking... all the steps along the way. You can’t jump ahead to the end, but you can keep moving along the path.

Make your goals as specific as possible. For example, “Make money from writing” is a vague goal. Will you be happy with $10 from an online poem just so you can say you’ve been paid? Do you want to make a profit so you can claim writing as a business on your tax forms? Contribute a certain amount to the family income? Quit your day job?

You may also need to break down goals into short-term and long-term. Making enough money to quit your day job may be a five-year or 10-year goal. You can then set short-term goals to help you get there.

Goal setting should involve the entire career, from time management to craft to market research and submissions to publicity for published works.

You may not achieve every goal you set. You can’t win a Newbery medal just because you want to, or even because you work really hard. But you can focus on writing books of the style and quality that win Newberys. That puts you on the right path. Perhaps that path will lead to the realization of your dream. At least you’ll be heading in the right direction, and can enjoy the journey.

Tip: If your goals include polishing a manuscript and becoming a better writer, consider getting professional feedback! See my critique rates and recommendations in the right-hand column, or e-mail me through my website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Novella or not to Novella? with Jessica Aspen


I haven’t talked a lot about different length/formats on this blog, so I’m inviting a couple of guests to discuss their experiences. Today Jessica Aspen is here to talk about the novella form. One thing I found interesting – a novella can actually be longer than a middle grade novel! But if you’re used to writing 80,000 to 120,000 words for an adult genre novel, I guess a mere 40,000 words is short. And her advice about keeping a story moving is good for any length.

Here’s Jessica:

Writing a novella is something I never thought I would do. Why? Too short. And besides, I’ve never been a big short story fan. Oh I’ve read a few, and I love certain authors, but truly my heart lies with longer stories and complex plots. So why did I choose to write novellas and how did they snag my heart?

During the process of submitting and polishing and resubmitting my first manuscript, I hit a point where I was in-between projects. At the same time I saw a novella contest. This seemed like something I could try, and if it didn’t pan out, I would have a good start on a full length novel. Seemed like a win-win situation. So I took the plunge.

I knew next to nothing about writing short. The last time I’d actually finished a short story was in high school? College? I couldn’t even remember. But I knew that in order to make a romance bloom in less than 40,000 words the  story arc would need to be strong and have few sub-plots.

In fact, novellas really shouldn’t have any sub-plots. At all. You can’t afford it in forty thousand words or less. At thirty-four thousand words Little Red Riding Wolf is stretching close to novel territory, believe it or not. So how to make a novella strong with few words and no sub-plots?

The key is to have strong characters and to set it up fast. The first chapter needs to show your hero, heroine, and initial conflicts and goals. More than any other fiction writing you want to jack up the tension with each page. No one wants a story that drags, but when you only have a short amount of pages, you need to pack in details like you cram extra sardines into a can. Keep your plot brief and your writing tight. But don’t leave out the details. That’s what makes your story yours and makes the readers demand more.

In challenging myself to write short, I found a secret. Writing short improved my writing. It forced me to hone my writing skills and acquire new ones in order to deliver a story that pops. Try something short and you'll find out for yourself how writing novellas can become more than a way to jump into the publishing business. They can become a labor of the heart.

 Jessica Aspen writes paranormal romance near the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Her books are full of elves, were-wolves and sexy men who walk on the dark side of the knife. Jessica loves dark chocolate, walking her dog, hiking and is obsessed with her new laptop. Jessica is also obsessed with writing and learning about writing. Her debut paranormal romance novella Little Red Riding Wolf is due to be released February 18th, 2012 from Passion in Print Press. Please visit Jessica at http://jessicaaspen.com where she blogs about writing, paranormal romance and anything that strikes her fancy.