Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pitching your story face to face with editors

It's a great opportunity when you can pitch right to an editor, possibly even a decision-maker, and submit your manuscript, query or sample chapters in person. It's also frightening because the wrong approach may ruin your chances. No pressure lol! Really though, you only get a few minutes to get your message across, so you want to make the most of it!

Coming up is the BYU Publishing Fair in Provo, Utah, that I and another WiDo editor are going to attend, to meet authors and take manuscripts. Thinking ahead, and remembering a couple other times when we met with authors seeking publication, I thought I'd summarize a few tips.

1. Smile, make eye contact and don't cower. We're just people, too, and probably as scared of you as you are of us.

2. Prepare a pitch, or what I like to call a "me in 30 seconds" for your story. Time it at home and practice until it's smooth and polished. Make every word count and don't repeat yourself.

3. Start by telling the genre, and whether your story is character-driven or plot-driven. Word count is helpful, too. If plot-driven, give a quick plot summary. If character-driven, tell us what makes these characters remarkable. DO NOT spend twenty minutes giving every minutae of your ms.

4. You can also do a "me in 30 seconds" for yourself. Mention if you're previously published, won contests, have a masters degree in creative writing. Anything that makes you stand out from the crowd or that shows experience in the writing business. Mention that you're a heart surgeon, a retired police detective, you raised eight boys--something that suggests you might have a story in you.

5. Please don't ever say "This is my first novel." Instead say, "I've been writing since I was ten. I'm an English major from the University of Chicago. Published in my college literary magazine." Always say what makes you look polished and professional, not a like a beginner who just finished NaNoWriMo and is turning in the results.

6. If the publishing fair or event has no limits on submissions, go ahead and turn in chapter samples of your completed manuscripts. These are preferable to query letters. You being there is your query, so you want to take full advantage of the opportunity and hand the editors something more than a query or plot summary. Like the first three chapters or even a full ms.

These types of events can be intimidating, but also helpful and instructive. Even if you don't end up with a publishing contract, it makes you more polished and effective for the next time!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two cozy mysteries and just too many words

I love the cozy mystery genre, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books being my all time favorite and what I judge all the others by. (too bad for them, very few measure up, I'm still waiting for another cozy mystery series to satisfy my Miss Marple craving)

So I picked up a new possibliity at the library the other day, Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson, the latest in a long series about a caterer (yes, food!) who solves mysteries. This author apparently has been on the bestseller list with her cozy caterer mysteries, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's okay, the first few chapters are intriguing, very tight with an appealing narrator voice, but then it's like the editor took a vacation. Here's a sample of what I'm talking about (keep in mind, this character, Jack, is her godfather who appears in her stories regularly and is not a suspect at all):

"As we stepped into the gray-walled foyer that still showed the rectangular outlines of the previous owner's pictures, it was clear Jack hadn't made much progress. He'd gutted the first floor, so that instead of having a parlor, dining room, and who-knew-what-all victorian-type rooms, he now had a big, open space. In the far-left corner, he'd put state-of-the-art appliances into what was going to be an open-plan kitchen....but he still had no cabinets or counter tops. My feet gritted across the hardwood floors that Jack had uncovered when he'd torn up the old green-and-brown shag carpeting. As far as I knew, Jack had not made a move to refinish the floors, or even to call someone to get an estimate to have them done."

"'Thanks for coming over.'" He was trying to sound cheerful, but his voice was as forlorn as the long, high-ceilinged room that, he'd told me, would eventually double as both living and dining room."

Now, dear readers, please be honest. How many of you made it to the end of those two paragraphs? (The second one I deliberately shortened because I felt sorry for all of you having to read two such paragraphs.)

A long, dull, meaningless description of a house that doesn't enter into the plot. It's simply the main character walking into her godfather's house and describing it-- with a vast array of hypenated words, numerous run-on sentences and boring phrases. Too many words. Period.

On the other hand, here's a sample from the master of the genre, Agatha Christie, in A Caribbean Mystery:

"Outside the hotel grounds, in one of a row of shanty cabins beside a creek, the girl Victoria Johnson rolled over and sat up in bed. The St. Honore girl was a magnificent creature with a torso of black marble such as a sculptor would have enjoyed. She ran her fingers through her dark, tightly curling hair. With her foot she nudged her sleeping companion in the ribs."

"'Wake up, man.'"

Ahhh, what a breath of fresh air this is, especially after reading the first example! Aren't you already intrigued?

Fewer words means greater intensity. Multiplying words waters down your writing. These two examples say it all (but I'll still add my two bits, since it is my blog lol!): Make every word count! Don't keep the fluff, the stuff that does not contribute to plot or character development. In the first book, the author had given enough information previous to this paragraph to show that Jack lived in an unfinished home needing remodeling, and he wasn't in a hurry to get it done. This would have been sufficient without going on and on about it. Respect your readers and don't hammer them over the head with too many words.

When I'm reading a new author and find myself skipping paragraphs at a time, because the words are dull and don't matter, I'm done. I don't finish the book. It may be harsh, but my time is too valuable. I've got other books to read, a lot to do, I won't waste my time.

With Fatally Flaky, I am continuing on, at least for now, because there's enough good in there to outweigh the boring paragraphs. I want it to be good. I want to find books I love, and new authors I can follow indefinitely. I'm an author, but I'm also a reader, and I'm looking for fantastic books! Well-written, well-crafted and edited, with words that count and that thrill me and keep me reading long into the night, when I should have turned off the light and gone to sleep. That's what I'm looking for. Aren't you?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Need Agent-- yes or no?

I know nothing about the agenting process since I got published quite by accident through a small, start-up press.

Agents scare me. It's the gatekeeper before an editor will even talk to you. Gatekeepers scare me-- they're meant to keep people away, not welcome them in. (Okay, a lot of stuff scares me, but that's another story.)

However, it is possible to get published without an agent. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Small, regional or niche presses will often accept nonagented submissions. I know, I researched enough of them. Course you have to do your homework. You've got to "meet their needs," "fit their niche," and all that. You have to be able to take rejection....argh!! But that goes without saying. If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. (I'm glad blogging wasn't around when I was first trying to get published, or I would've just done this and forgotten about submitting, thus avoiding rejection.)

Remember Marty's dad in Back to the Future? He wrote sci fi stories and when Marty told him they were good enough to get published, he cringed and said, "I don't think I could take that kind of rejection." That's why I always avoided agents-- because I couldn't take that kind of rejection. I used to check publisher guidelines and only submit to those with "nonagented submissions okay." I didn't want to get turned down by an agent before I even made it to the editor-- way too much rejection for my fragile psyche!

Now that I'm older, and published, my skin is a bit tougher. I'm not afraid of publishers anymore, or editors, or bookstore owners. I got the best compliment last week from a bookseller, who said that reading Uncut Diamonds was like talking to someone over the back fence. I like that, because it's how I intended the novel to be, shows she gets it. I wanted it to be like someone dropping in on this family and being part of their lives for a time. ANYHOO, so I'm no longer afraid of any of them because I've gotten to know them and to understand they're just people doing a job. And yes, the compliments do help!

Except for agents. I'm still afraid of them. Who are you most afraid of in the publishing industry? Agents, editors, publishing CEOs, booksellers, readers, reviewers? Or is fear not even part of your vocabulary?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fantasy Pen Names

If you're like most authors, you always wanted to do this and so you made up cool writer names for yourself. Patti Pinecone (nature writer) or Taralee Ann Ford (romance writer) or Kathleen Joneston (literary genius).

If you could name yourself, what would it be? What would be the ideal author pen name? I mean, think of JK Rowling. Would Harry Potter have sounded as good written by Joann Rowling? Truman Persons was Capote's real name. Truman was thinking ahead when as a young man he chose to take on his step-father's last name.

I'm not a fan of the maiden name combo. I like the first and last. Period. The 3 name combo just sounds too la-de-da. I'm jealous of Southern author Carson McCullers. What a cool name. Why couldn't I have a tag like that? Her parents give her an awesomely interesting first name, then she marries Mr. McCullers. Bingo-- an ideal author name.

My real name was Karen Jones. Awful, awful pen name, thought I, too plain and boring. I kept trying to change it and come up with more clever, creative versions (see above paragraph). My married name turned out to be not much better, Karen Gowen. When you say it out loud, there's not much of a ring to it, so I ended up with the maiden name combo of Karen Jones Gowen. It's okay, but does it measure up to all those made-up pen names written over my school notebooks? Not really. Still, it is my name so I may as well go with it, right?

Okay, I've admitted it. I'm not crazy about my author name, but there it is. It's my name and I'm sticking to it.

How about you? What kinds of gymnastics did you go through to settle on your current author name? Do you like it, love it, hate it, plan on changing it? Or maybe people don't think too much about this, and I'm a freak who overthinks everything.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What tickles your writing bone?

Most writers I know also love to read. Reading, along with a few other sedentary activities, tickles my writing bone, and then I have to shut out the world and go work on my wip.

Here's my list of most motivational writing tools:

1. Reading a poorly-written book. I can do better than that, I say, let me at it!

2. Reading a well-written book. It teaches me by example and I want to have a go.

3. Reading the biography or memoir of an author. I want to be just like them.

4. Movies about authors, books and writing. Just seeing a writer in action makes me want to write!

5. Pretty much any Woody Allen movie, because the dialogue is so stimulating.

I wish I could say taking a long walk in the woods, or running 20 minutes on the treadmill, or cleaning house inspired me. That would help my fitness level.

What is it that most inspires your writing? Do you have a list of your own?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blogging vs. Writing

I find blogging addictive. Anyone else have that problem? You get online to check your email, check your favorite blog, respond to comments, maybe write a new post, and before you know it, it's been THREE HOURS!!!

This week I started my new schedule. Turn on computer early, check emails and blogs, then move to my wip. Write two hours. Period. Rest of day, whatever. Who cares as long as I get my two hours of real writing in.

But I've run into a problem with switching gears from writing on blogs to writing creatively. They seem to use different brain cells or something. Especially when the blogging goes on too long, then I switch over to my novel and huh??? I can't focus on the words, I don't remember what it's about, I keep thinking of switching back to the internet and checking blogs. But I can't, I can't.

Blogging doesn't get you a finished novel, I remind myself. Working on your chapters is what gets you a finished novel.

I'm here now, writing this post, because I DID put in my two hours on my chapters. I am feeling GOOD!! So I'm rewarding myself by writing just a simple little blog post. Now, computer off, go do my normal Saturday stuff, and peace, out! See you on Monday!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chapter by Chapter, until it's done

Have you ever felt paralyzed by the overwhelming task of organizing the novel into something readable? When there's just so much to do and you're not even sure you can pull it off? After three weeks of feeling utterly cowed by the 30,000 not very good words I've got so far on my computer (wip), I decided to quit looking at the big picture and just take it one chapter at a time.

Aha! Now I can deal! The first chapter really isn't too bad, in fact after revisions, it's now the first two chapters. Time to move on to the next one. Maybe halfway through this mess, I'll have a vision of what it might be.

Funny thing, this is how I handle most things in life. When I'm feeling stressed, I forget about the big picture and focus on the little things. Like a friend of mine used to say, "When you don't know what else to do, sweep the floor."

Applying that to writing: "When you don't know what else to do, go back to the first chapter and make it as good as you possibly can." Then on to the second, etc. until before long there's a fresh, new and improved draft.

How do you move on when you're feeling overwhelmed by the work? When there's so much to do that you're paralyzed, and not even sure you capable of it? I mean, quitting isn't an option, is it?

Disclaimer: If you feel an overwhelming desire to comment on this post, it is due to me implementing the little tricks I learned from Tamara's blog, on how to brainwash people into making more comments. Hehehe, bwa ha ha (my evil genius laugh).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Misery of Writing by Stephen King

No, it's not his new title, it's not even a real book. But it could be. Have you read Misery by Stephen King? It came out in the 80's, I saw the movie and loved it but for some reason never read the book until yesterday. Although I am a huge fan of his writing, I get a bit tired of the genre. Horror stories aren't my thing, neither is the religious zealot spawns psychotic killer, a recurring theme in his books since Carrie. But still, I've read many of his books just to get my fix of his incredible writing. A master storyteller with all the skills that go along with that, this guy has never gotten the acclaim he deserves for his literary accomplishments. He's too often been seen as the bestselling hack writer, and he is so, so much more than that!

If you want a trip, read King's On Writing, followed up by Misery. Basically everything he says about writing in his nonfiction, staid, autobiographical and controlled book (excellent btw) is also said in his horror, thriller, nightmarish tale of the psychotic Annie Wilkes and her captive writer Paul Sheldon. The symbolism in Misery was hilariously clear to me. Maybe because I'm really deep into writing, editing and struggling with a new wip, but I kept seeing analogies everywhere.

The writer with two broken legs forced to keep on writing. He's trying to get away. Ooops, time to chop off a foot. He complains about his tools at hand. Time to lose a thumb, then see how hard it is! He can't leave the house, can't party, can't avoid the work of writing--and guess what? This turns out to be his masterpiece.

It's all there in Misery. The writer's life in glorious, horrible Stephen King excess and gore:

The love/hate, dependent relationship between the author and editor.
The tendency to "cheat" in storytelling-- why it's wrong and how to fix it.
The idea of "can he?" when plotting checked against the "did he?".
The role that drugs and alcohol will often play in the writer's life.
The concept of writing for the public as opposed to writing for oneself.
The idea of "the hole in the paper," when a writer experiences that place of storytelling where he can get lost and time loses all meaning.
The "gotta" moments when all else gets put on hold and the words can't come fast enough--I gotta finish this! (and that's me reading a Stephen King novel. I gotta finish!)

The copy I read last night came from the library. I gotta buy one for myself! And I gotta buy On Writing! They'll go side by side on the shelf next to my other motivational writing books. And really, I think Misery is the one that's the most motivational.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Cover Controversy

Two posts in one day, this has to be a record for me. But after reading Behler Blog about glossy book covers, and then the original blog written by the bookstore owner, I cannot resist posting about this topic.

Apparently, shoppers at bookstores are bypassing the glossy covers of trade paperbacks in favor of matte covers, because the glossy covers look suspiciously like POD or self-published books. And the matte says "traditional publisher." So the bookstore owner/blogger is asking publishers to please not print their trade paperbacks in glossy covers any longer as it makes them harder to sell.

There are so many things wrong with this that I barely know where to begin. First, very few POD offerings ever make it to the bookstores. They are sold through publisher websites and online stores like Amazon and B& Same with self-published books that are printed digitally or offset.

So why all of a sudden are bookstore customers feeling threatened by the possibility of accidentally purchasing what they apparently believe to be an inferior product? Could it be because there are too many inferior books being published overall? The books could be inferior due to any number of reasons (poor editing, sloppy design, amateurish writing), and then when a reader buys one, maybe they assume it came from a self-publisher. Just a thought.

And here's another strange thing about this whole concept. Don't most people pick up a book and read the back cover summary, maybe the first paragraph or two, and thumb through it a bit before deciding to purchase? Who buys a book based on whether or not the cover is matte or glossy? Why not read a few pages first?

But the absolute worst bit about this bookstore owner's request--"Please, publishers, don't print your titles glossy anymore!"-- is the idiocy of the whole idea. Has the entire industry degenerated now into quality = book cover format?

What ever happened to plain ol' good writing? The great story? Appealing, identifiable characters? Of course, a cover is crucial for visual appeal. But come on, People! Glossy vs. matte? Glossy is simply more practical and durable, doesn't scratch, tear or show wear like the matte covers. And if people want a book, then cover, price or publisher won't matter--they will buy the book. If they don't want it, any excuse will do--price, artwork, glossy cover, author name--you name it.

The decision to purchase a book is subjective. So to suggest to publishers that they need to avoid the glossy covers for better sales is simply ridiculous. You might as well say, lower the price for better sales. Only print books by Dan Brown and Stephen King for better sales. Publish YA fantasy and vampire stories for better sales.

This whole issue seems like one more sign of the final gasps of the dying bookstore, and this particular bookseller is grasping at her last straw as she watches yet another customer walk out without a purchase. Amazon is doing better than ever, and it is crowded with self-published and POD titles. It hasn't seemed to hurt them at all.

I hope no publishers will take this seriously. How to get better sales? Publish better books.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Learning from the best

Just finished reading Capote by Gerald Clarke and here's a writerly quote that struck me to the core:

"He endlessly deliberated over such basics as structure and order; he could spend hours examining a single paragraph, like a diamond-cutter deciding how to transform a rough an homely stone into a glittering jewel; and, with some exceptions, he constantly and compulsively revised what he had already written. 'If only I were a writer that could write, not just rewrite,' he lamented to Donald Windham. When he made a mistake, as he did in the ending of The Grass Harp, it was an error in judgment, not a casual slip caused by sloppiness or inattention."

Does anyone write like this anymore? Maybe Matthew Pearl (Dante Club, The Poe Shadow). I could see that kind of care in his writing. But then his plot left much to be desired, at least in The Poe Shadow. I plan on reading his others before I say anything more.

Or are we all in such a hurry to finish, to send it off to the publisher, to get through those edits, to be done with it, and to focus on plotting and suspense (gotta write a bestseller!) rather than the skill of the writing itself?

Friday, January 8, 2010

E-publishing Done Right!

Victoria Wescott wrote a fabulous book called Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians. which she published electronically. I met Victoria on Marsha Moore’s blog and wanted to do an interview because I was fascinated by the publishing process she used and wanted to know more about how that worked. I have read part of her Survival Guide; but I had to stop before I packed my bags and rushed off to teach in London. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the book, by the ease in reading and the fine editing. Basically an excellent job, well done, Victoria! Now, if you don’t mind, a few questions....

Did you submit this manuscript to any publishers before going electronic?

No, I didn’t. I thought that the market would be too small, since it’s specifically for teachers who want to work in London, England, plus I wanted it to be available immediately. I was keen to just get the material out there to help all those teachers trying to do their research into teaching in London.

What was the process involved once you chose this format?

It’s a fairly simple process with the right help. It’s a long story, so I will try to keep it short.I am fortunate in that I have a sister who is a professional screenwriter and a cousin who is a designer, so we joined forces and did the project together. We each had one week.I wrote the book in 7 days, which was surprisingly not that tough. I just sat down and wrote everything I know about teaching in London, from 3 years of teaching there myself as well as recruiting teachers.

My sister edited the book in 7 days, and made it into something people would want to read, and finally my cousin designed the ebook and made it the professional file it is today.

The last stage is probably the hardest and the most expensive if you want your ebook to look and feel professional. My cousin also designed the website and had a colleague of hers launch it online. The ebook was up within a few weeks.

You must be happy with the finished product, it looks great. Are you happy with how the company has treated you and your book?

I should have clarified – I didn’t go through a company, but did it all on my own and with the family. So, there was no company involved at all. It’s really just a matter of deciding if you want to write an ebook, edit it, publish as a PDF file and then launch a website on your own, or hire designers & editors. And with my sister and cousin and I, how could I not be happy? I wish we had more sales, as we split the profit amongst the 3 of us, but I also know I should do more with marketing. Time, time, where is the time?

They say an author has to spend more time in marketing than in writing the book itself, and in your case that would definitely be true. Seven days from start to finish, that's amazing!

Isn’t it routine to pay an editor and designer for their work rather than split royalties with them? Why did you do it this way?

Yes – it’s a bit unusual to split the royalties between the editor and the designer. The other way would have been to pay each of them for their services, which would have been costly no doubt. So, this way, the money we earn is split amongst us as we earn it.

Did you research other forms of self-publishing? Why did you choose electronic?

I did. I looked into publishing with Lulu, which is a site where you can submit your ebook and people can purchase it as an electronic file or as a paperback, or even a hardcover. It looked good, but I decided to test it out as a customer to see how their books look & feel and how long they take to arrive.

Smart move, Victoria. How did that go?

It arrived about 2 months later, and that just didn’t sit well with me. My customers need the information much faster than that. The look was okay, but not great. Also, teachers who are looking for this information are across the country, and often abroad already. So I needed a way where they could get the book quickly, and I doubted whether a publisher would pick it up as quickly as I wanted. So, electronic made the most sense.

I know that self-publishing can run into thousands of dollars. Is e-publishing a cheaper way to go?Why is it that so many self-publishers don't seem to understand this? If you're going to take the trouble to write a book, you better spend the time to get it edited and designed to measure up to the professionals. And that's what your book does.

I also read Joe Vitale’s Ebook “How to Write and Publish an Ebook in as Little as 7 Days” ( which became the inspiration for our own 7 day project. I recommend this book to anyone who is really starting out, but I will say that it needs some serious editing! It’s repetitive, and design-wise, I personally think it’s a nightmare to look at. Otherwise, the information provided is very useful.

Your demographic is a fairly small niche, but I would think any teacher, even one in the US, would be interested in this. What kind of marketing and promotion have you done?

Not nearly enough! I write two blogs about teaching & moving to the UK, and I think most people find the book that way. I also do presentations at universities for new teachers across Canada, and would like to push this more in the States. I pay about $15/month for the website to be up, and had some disks made with the PDF file, so that cost about $50 plus the cost of printing the labels (pennies really).

What about rights? For instance, you sent me a pdf. file of your book and I immediately thought of two teachers in the US who might be interested in looking at it. Would it be cheating for me to email it to them? My guess is yes, so I won’t do it, but what’s to keep people from unauthorized “sharing?”

Yes – this is an issue, and one that might make me seem a bit na├»ve. I know people might give it to others, and have to admit that I have also done this with other ebooks I have purchased.

I think the number of people who will pay for the ebook will outnumber those that get it from a friend. Also, since I own Classroom Canada, a teaching agency that sends teachers to work in London, I get teachers who apply after reading the ebook. By doing their research they are better quality candidates, so in the end my company profits.

Joe Vitale pushes affiliate marketing in his ebook, which means that he profits from the links that readers click on in the ebook. I didn’t really do this, but could have and would make money by whoever reads it, regardless of whether they paid for it or not. That seems a bit “salesy” to me, who am I to judge?

E-publishing is in its infancy stages right now. Do you think it’s better for an author and/or publisher to wait until it’s more widespread, or to get in now while it is new?

Good question. I think it really depends on what you are writing and who your market is. If it’s a niche market like mine, and you doubt that a publisher would pick it up because of that, then yes. Go for it.

But if your market is larger, I would advise going with a traditional publisher. Publishers have a vast array of skills and networks that you simply won’t have. Also, I’d like to see more publishers of ebooks out there for niche markets like mine. If I didn’t have my sister to edit and my cousin to design it, I’m not sure my ebook would be the success that it is today. A publisher could have really helped in the process, particularly with marketing & sales.

What advice would you give to anyone who might be considering this format for their manuscript?

Edit, edit, edit! Make your ebook a professional product that you would pay money for. Also, giving a free chapter is a great way to encourage readers to purchase your ebook if they’re not sure.

I also 100% guarantee my ebook, and am pleased to say that no one has ever asked for their money back. I would suggest you offer this as well, and don’t worry that people will all ask for refunds. If they do, you should look at what you’re offering & rethink your ideas.

What are you writing now? Do you have plans to publish again electronically?

Technically, I am writing the American edition of the Guide to Teaching in London, but to be honest it’s not a top priority as I’m in my busy season for just recruiting teachers to London with Classroom Canada. I will publish it electronically again I’m sure.

I also just submitted the first one to a publisher. After all this time, I thought I might try my luck and see if an education-specific publisher wants to offer it in paperback form. It’s worth a shot right? I was inspired by Marsha Moore and thought I should just get over my own personal fears of rejection and at least give a publisher a chance to decide for themselves.

Of course! Fear of rejection has kept many a writer from publication. How can interested followers get in touch with you, or order your book?

Here are my websites and blogs:

Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians ebook –
You can download a free chapter here:
Classroom Canada and Classroom America –
Classroom Canada Blog –
Canadians & Americans in the UK –

Thank you for all this great information, Victoria! It really helped me understand e-publishing a lot better. I appreciate your willingness to share your expertise, and good luck with your book.

Thanks so much for this interview! It was fun to do, and I hope it helps others out there understand the process more. Feel free to leave me questions or comments here and I’ll try to pop by and answer them.

Wonderful! I'll leave this post up for awhile to give everyone plenty of time to ask Victoria questions.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coming Up--an interview with an e-publisher

I am so excited about this! Victoria Wescott, a Canadian author, e-published her book A Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians. She did it in seven days. Okay, all you authors out there waiting six months to get a rejection note, or a year to get an acceptance letter, then 18 months in editing, and 6 months in typesetting and printing....SEVEN DAYS!!

And lest you think quality suffers with speed, Victoria along with her editor and designer did a fabulous job! I read much of it, and looked it over carefully. It is very clean, sharp and impressive imho. Extremely well-done.

Victoria and I are putting together an interview about her book and her e-publishing experience, which I will be posting soon. (tomorrow?) I was planning to do it Friday or Saturday, when I read about Nicola Morgan's huge blog party on Sunday. Well, that should be perfect! I can post the interview with Victoria and leave it up all weekend.

I don't know about you, but I am really intrigued with the whole concept of e-publishing. Whether it's the wave of the future or not, it's still a part of the publishing experience that writers should understand better. I'll get this up tomorrow and leave it through Sunday for Nicola's blog party--plenty of time for anyone to ask Victoria questions. And hopefully some broad exposure for her new book. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Nicest Rejection Letters

I've had my share of rejections, and each one is imprinted on my mind forever. Especially the nice ones. One editor critiqued my story and asked me to submit something else, a longer work. Which I never did since they wanted books and back then I only had time for stories.

Through years of writing and getting rejected, the helpful rejections are what kept me going. When I sent Uncut Diamonds out (under a different title back then), an editor sent suggestions on how to improve it. When I rewrote and wanted to resubmit to that publisher, I was bummed to find they were out of business. I actually figured I had a shot there. Another rejection letter suggested it would be a difficult sell because LDS women like to read novels set in either modern times or historical eras, and the 1970's was neither. Whether I agreed with that or not, I appreciated her time and trouble in writing me a personal letter.

When I finished Farm Girl, I sent it off to the University of Nebraska Press. They said it was too short for them, but listed several regional Nebraska magazines to try, who might be interested in publishing it as a series. I didn't follow that route since I couldn't let go of my vision of Farm Girl as a book. I didn't want it published in a magazine as a series of articles or stories. But still, what a promising rejection letter! And it came after just two weeks, which really impressed me. It's the worst to wait six months and then get a stupid form rejection.

I used to get those as a matter of course. Then one day came a glimmer of hope-- a form rejection postcard with these words written in blue ink: "Nice work, try again." I saved that one for a long, long time--my first rejection that was more than a form letter.

You can tell you're getting closer to publication when the rejections get more promising. When they contain a kernel of something more than "It's not right for us." When you get one of those, keep going. It means you're getting closer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Becoming a Writer

I am currently reading the biography of Truman Capote, Capote by Gerald Clarke. Along with interesting details, like an inside look at the post-WW II publishing industry, and disturbing details like how widespread homosexuality was even back then, is the story of how Truman Capote developed as a writer. Like many authors, he knew what he wanted at a young age and he stayed focused on that despite his unhappy childhood and adolescence, his problems at school, and his physical handicaps. (He was barely 5', had a high voice, and looked like a child even in his twenties. A beautiful child, but to be taken seriously when you are 22 and look 10?) Capote filled notebooks with his writing. He was never seen without one of his notebooks.

In his book On Writing , Stephen King shares his story of becoming a writer. As a teenager, he churned out short stories and sent them off to his favorite magazines. He collected rejection slips in his attic room, tacking them up to the ceiling near his bed. His first novel Carrie became a bestseller in the 1970's, and he has been writing ever since. Because he loves it and it's what he does. Referring to authors who only publish one or two books in their lifetime, he states: "If God gives you something to do, then why the hell aren't you doing it?" (Or something like that...this is pretty close to how I remember the quote, and I have since taken the book back to the library so I can't look it up, sorry.)

I'll bet most of us writers have similar stories. It's our early career dream, we have collected a lot of rejection slips, we do it for love not money, and we all have obstacles to overcome along the way. The obstacles (I call them excuses when they keep me from writing) are countless. They don't matter. They are real, but they don't count as reasons to not write. As my mother in law used to say, "Excuses are like armpits. Everybody has them, and they all stink."

Even if you can't work on that novel you've been planning for years, you can still write. Take a notebook with you everywhere. Write daily in a journal. Write letters. Blog. Whatever form your writing takes, you must write something to practice your craft. It's an essential part of becoming a writer. Anything worth doing takes effort, practice, work and due diligence. Why should writing be any different?

My obstacles/excuses were many. When I was a child I wrote stories that always ended with the main character waking up and realizing it was all a dream. I hated that but didn't know how else to resolve the conflict. I stopped writing stories and wrote letters and diaries instead. And I read every book in my small town library.

In college, I took creative writing classes so I could learn "how to write." A college professor said I was brilliant. So I knew I had some talent. (Either that or he had a crush on me, I was never sure which.) But when I tried writing outside of class assignments, I realized I had no life experience, nothing to write about. That was my excuse. I needed to live and get experience before I could do any more with it. I gave up the fiction attempts and went back to the journal and letter writing. Back to reading every book in the world.

I set out on my life-- marriage and children. Lots of children. My life experience began to add up. I tried writing again, and sold a few stories to The Friend. (Only one got published that I know of, the rest must be in a file cabinet somewhere.) I took a mail order course on writing and loved it. It taught me more than any of my college writing classes had. By then I had eight kids. Lots of excuses. Lots of life experience, not much writing. Except in journals. Stacks and stacks of journals and notebooks. It's a family joke about "mom's journals." I used to buy those nicely bound, elegant journals, but that got expensive when I went through one every two or three months. I decided to punch paper that's good on one side and fill fat, three- ring binders. I write on the blank pages. One of those lasts me about 6 months.

During those busy decades of home and family when I wrote very little for publication, I still wrote. I was a secretive, reclusive writer. Three hours a day in the 3-ring binders, an essential part of becoming a writer. No one knew the intensity and depth of my obsession. No one knew my dream. When Farm Girl was published, friends were amazed-- "I didn't know you wrote" was the common refrain.

Whatever you do, however you do it--your writing counts. Just so the thoughts get put into words. Publication can come later, when you have practiced your craft well enough and long enough that people will actually pay to read something you wrote. And those of you with publishing contracts know how great that feels!