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Publishing & Technology

April 22nd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 40 Comments

The Persistent Cultural Need for Publishersbrt-headshot

 

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

 

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about how the ongoing expansion of independent (or self-) publishing is driving the need for publishers, now more than ever.

Last year I had the good fortune to attend a talk given by Smashword’s founder Mark Coker at Portland State University. I say “good fortune” not because I found the argument he presented to be anything short of a self-serving apologist’s attack on traditional publishing and the culture of gate-keeping that discouraged Mr. Coker (by his own acknowledgement) and many millions of other aspiring authors in their attempts to gain the industry’s seal of approval. I say “good fortune” because his presentation infuriated me to such a point that I was forced to stay with many of the uneasy thoughts I’d attempted to hold at bay for some time regarding the rebranding of self-publishing as “independent publishing” by those who would profit from the aspirations of the aforementioned millions. The general gist of his talk, I’m paraphrasing Mr. Coker here, is that it has been the publishers who have been holding writers back for all these years, trampling the aspirations of millions of deserving authors in the name of abstractions such as a manuscript’s marketability and the potential for a return on the investment it would take to bring any manuscript to publication.

Don’t misunderstand me. The democratization of publishing has some inherent good in it. As it levels the playing field for authors from groups that have been egregiously underrepresented in traditional publishing, it is a good thing. As it provides writers whose work doesn’t fit established, “salable” molds (the novella author, the poet, and, increasingly, the writer of short fiction) with a potential additional way to bring their work to market, it is a very good thing. That said, the expansion of self-publishing has removed many of the filters between audience and writer and I would argue that this has negative effects on the quality of writing in general, the practice of reading throughout our society, and the foundation of our culture as a whole. Setting aside the obvious benefits of professional editing and design, as they can be purchased by the independent author (though they rarely seem to be), it strikes me that there are a couple of glaring cultural issues with the rise in self-publishing:

First, if digital bookselling and distribution continues to take up more and more overall market share in the industry, while simultaneously providing the nigh-singular commercial avenue for independent authors to distribute their work, the prospect that any author will be read seems less and less likely as all but the best-selling titles get pushed farther and farther into the digital background.

Second, without some of the gatekeeping functions of the traditional publishing apparatus in place the general overall quality of our cultural production of text seems to be in jeopardy. If we level the playing field completely and then load it with everyone who wants to participate, regardless of their skill or potential, how are we to identify the writers that deserve our attention?

As we get further and further away from the traditional publishing, distribution, bookselling model we will need imprints and publishers that we can trust to deliver books worth purchasing, worth reading.

Publishing & Technology

April 8th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Narrative-Based Mobile Games: Inconceivable?

brt-headshotBrian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology, we’ll be using the recent ios release of Gameblend Studio’s The Princess Bride: The Official Game as a jumping off point to discuss the adaptation of books and stories for mobile games.

Earlier this year the industry newsletter newser.com reported on the release of the $20 flash-animated game and its merits as an entertainment. Let me pause here to say that I have not downloaded the game. I do not have any interest in it beyond its value as another example of the blurring of the boundaries between story and game through the integration of narrative elements from an existing work of fiction into new and emerging technologies.

From my perspective, the adapting of written works to new technological modes of delivery is primarily interesting as it represents a potential revenue stream for those of us that make a living from the written word. But how much of that $20 price tag for the game will eventually end up in the William Goldman’s pocket? I am not privy to the details of Goldman’s initial publishing contract for the book, nor of any renegotiations of that contract in light of technological developments since 1987. But, if I had to wager, I would probably put my money on his royalty for the mobile game being somewhere between nothing and negligible.

While the potential for developing written works for mobile games may hold some promise as a side stream of income for writers already working in more traditional story modes, it remains to be seen if authors may ever be able to rely on it as a significant portion of their living. The practice is still infrequent and the potential of any monetary value to rights holders is far from decided. That said, if I were representing a work of fiction (or to some extent, non-fiction) that had potential for being adapted for new transmedia productions across multiple digital channels, I would make absolutely sure that any deal brokered provided for the protection of my author’s rights.

How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 2, The Art of Denouement

April 1st, 2015 | The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my series on writing great endings. This week, I’ll be talking about a misunderstood but vital part of any story, the denouement.

The Google dictionary definition of “denouement” is “the final part of a narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.” “Denouement” is one of those literary words that most of us learned somewhere in high school or college English classes and then filed away along with “synecdoche” and “antithesis” to be trotted out when we need to sound smart, but whereas you could probably write a pretty great novel without being able to identify the areas where you used antithesis, it’s REALLY hard to end a book well without having more than a dictionary understanding of the functions of a denouement.

Think of the denouement as “the beginning of the end.” If you’re plotting the arc of a story or plot, the denouement appears right after the climax and generally encompasses everything else taking place between the climax and the end of the story. Let’s start by looking at the jobs a denouement needs to do:

  • Resolve the events of the climax. If the climax occurs when Slim pulls Sue off the railroad tracks seconds before the train thunders by, we don’t have to see every second of what happens next, but we would eventually like to know how they made it back to town after Slim’s horse ran off, how Salty Sam was finally apprehended, and whether or not Slim’s sidekick died of his rattlesnake bite. The actual top-of-the-tension moment is when Sue and Slim declare their love seconds before they might be smushed by the train, but these other events were all pieces of the climactic scene and the scenes leading directly up to it, and the reader wants to know how they turned out, even if it’s in a paragraph of narrative at the beginning of the next chapter rather than in five more scenes showing the aftermath/resolution of each. (And actually, it’s usually better to resolve the events of the climax more quickly than not, but we’ll talk more about anticlimactic endings next week.)
  • Solve mysteries/answer unanswered questions. Think about the end of an Agatha Christie novel, when Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple are explaining how they figured out the identity of the killer. They go through each of the clues/mysteries involved in the crime and helpfully point out which were red herrings, which could be explained by the hitherto unsuspected romantic sub-plot, and which actually point to the killer. While most novels won’t end with a nice tidy monologue listing mysteries and their solutions, these answers all still need to find their way into the denouement, otherwise the reader feels gypped and the author comes across as either flaky or untrustworthy.
  • Wrap up your subplots/follow through on your promises. Is there anything more frustrating than getting to know some fun minor character or glimpsing an interesting subplot and then never hearing from them again? It’s like the old rule about the rifle– if you tell the reader there’s a rifle hanging on the wall in chapter 1, somebody better fire it by the end of the book (there are various versions of this quote having to do with both novel-writing and playwriting, and it has been attributed to Chekov, thought not 100% confirmed). Don’t spend words to bring in minor characters’ conflicts or spend the whole book talking about the upcoming town carnival without giving the reader some resolution for those conflicts, or letting them experience a bit of the carnival before the book is over, even if it’s just a mention in passing or a single scene at the end of the book.

  • Establish your main characters’ immediate future. The extent to which you need to do this varies widely depending on the genre you’re writing, but no book should end with the main character being dangled off a cliff by his ankles. In a romance, the reader wants to know that a relationship finally has staying power (we’ve probably seen them break up at least twice over the course of the novel, after all, so we’re a little skeptical). We don’t need to find out an exact wedding date or how many kids they’re going to have, but a proposal or a reference to whose family they’re going to spend Christmas with or a longtime commitment-phobe giving her boyfriend a key to her apartment gives us some closure and assures us that it really will be “happily ever after.” In a thriller, the reader wants to know whether the main character changed his mind about leaving the CIA or what the lawyer is going to do now that she’s been fired from her elite law firm for standing up for the little guy. Again, we don’t need to follow the main character’s every move for the next five years, but some clue about the direction their life is taking, or even just assurance that the main character is happy even if her future is a bit unsettled is important to the reader’s sense of whether or not a complete story has been told. In books in a series telling a larger story, we still need to get to a somewhat “safe” stopping point for the main characters and have reached resolution for some of the story arcs, even if there is unresolved tension and continuing danger, e.g., the end of The Hunger Games, after Katniss has survived the games but realizes that there is more trouble and danger coming for her family and her district.

So there you have some of the major roles of the denouement. Authors who skimp on resolution at the end of their books risk alienating readers who feel cheated out of the full story, especially if the author dangled “bait” in the form of subplots, mysteries, and upcoming events throughout the book.

Now, as I cautioned several times in today’s post, one of the biggest dangers in writing your denouement is that your narrative can start to drag as you dump all kinds of info and resolution at the end of the book, so before you go too far down the Miss-Marple-monologue path, make sure you come back next week when I talk about how to make strong choices in your denouement that allow the energy of the narrative to remain intact while satisfying the reader’s need for resolution.

What else do you expect a denouement to provide? Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered questions or dropped plot threads after finishing a book? I’d love to hear your examples. Thanks for reading!

How to Ruin a Book at the Last Minute: Part 1, The Importance of Endings

March 25th, 2015 | Books, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’m starting a new series today, one that will last until I run out of things to say on the topic or until I get bored, whichever comes first. I’ve received several ending-related questions over the past few weeks as well as been disappointed by the endings of several otherwise-good submissions I’ve read lately, so I thought we’d spend a few weeks talking about how to end a novel as effectively as you began it.

There are a whole lot of resources out there to help you craft a dynamite beginning of a novel– plenty of “first five chapters” workshops, lots of conversation on the importance of a great opening sentence, a bunch of opinions on how soon in a book the action needs to kick off– but not as much attention paid to how to END a novel well. It makes sense; the beginning is what makes someone decide whether or not to keep reading, and therefore gets most of the responsibility for selling a book to an agent, editor, or reader, but too often, all this emphasis on the beginning of a novel leads to some neglected or rough endings by comparison, and endings are what make someone decide whether or not to look for another book from that author. If you’ve managed to entice a reader into picking up your book and making it all the way through, you want them to stick around longer than just that one book. This week, we’ll talk about how the end of a story and the end of a book are (or should be) connected, as well as preview some of the topics we’ll address over the next few weeks.

“When is a book done?” “When is a story over?” These questions came in separately, and while they’re asking about two different things, the answers are related. A complete story has been told when the major conflict has come to a head (climax) and the events of the plot and sub-plot have been resolved in the aftermath of the climax (denouement). A book is done (or should be done) when the story has been told. The majority of problems I have with endings can be traced to a failure on the part of the author to either A) finish the story satisfactorily before ending the book, or B) end the book when the story is over.

Let’s look at problem A first– failure to finish the story to the reader’s satisfaction. Obviously, “reader satisfaction” is a subjective quality, and you can always find a reader who will want more details or more resolution than whatever you’ve given them, but for the most part, readers expect that the major conflict will be resolved (or at least ONE major conflict will be resolved or brought to a stopping point, in the case of individual books in a series), loose ends related to subplots or secondary characters will be tied up, and some lingering questions will at least be addressed, if not answered. When an author loses track of a subplot, or introduces a secondary character and a problem or scenario and then never brings it up again, the reader is left feeling cheated, and justifiably so.

That’s not to say that everything has to be sewn up tidily at the end of a book– unanswered questions, relationships in limbo, and continuing conflict are all parts of life and therefore are legitimate choices for inclusion in fiction, but there has to be some kind of resolution (a “story” is defined at its most basic, after all, as having a beginning, middle and end), and  the reader does have to be left with the sense that the author is still in control of his universe and is fully aware of the lack of resolution rather than feeling like the author has been stringing them along and dumped them in the middle of nowhere without a map, or worse still, that the author has forgotten about the plot holes, unsolved mysteries, and unfinished subplots. The former feels like a con on the part of the author, and the latter like bad craftsmanship.

Problem B is less frustrating, but almost more damaging to the reader’s perception of your book. Psychology 101 teaches that people’s memory/impressions are tied most strongly to primacy and recency– in other words, the things that stick with us the most from a study session or a conversation or a movie or a book are the first things we see or hear, and the last, or most recent, things we see or hear. There could be a lot of good stuff in the middle, and we might enjoy it while we’re reading/watching/studying, but that middle content just doesn’t stick with us like first and last impressions. Need proof? Think about someone you see on a regular basis, such as a coworker or a teacher or a pastor. You can probably recall the first time you saw or met that person, or at least one of your earliest interactions with them– where it took place, maybe who else was around, perhaps even some aspects of their appearance, such as a different hair color or cut– and you can probably recall what your last conversation/interaction with them was about and where it took place, or even what they were wearing the last time you saw them, but you probably can’t pin down a whole lot of specific outfits or conversations or sermon topics from the time between when you first and last saw or heard them. If you’ve ever had a falling-out with a friend, you know that your perception of that person is colored by your most recent interaction– even if you had five great years of friendship with them, if it ended badly, with an ugly confrontation or hurt feelings, that’s going to be how you remember that person.

What this means for authors is that, even if a reader loved the beginning of your book enough to keep reading, and even if you do a great job of building tension and they really enjoy reading the middle, that enthusiasm will be tempered with apathy if the ending leaves them cold– you want them to remember feeling excitement and satisfaction at the end of the book, not just pleasant interest, so you want to end the book while the reader is still basking in the emotional high of the climax rather than giving them time to come back down to neutral, emotionally, while you drag out the book for four more chapters. This causes the reader’s last impression of your book to be more tame or more forgettable than it could have been had the book ended at a point closer to the emotional high point.

I’ll be talking more about how to avoid anticlimax while still satisfying the reader’s need for resolution after the climax in the coming weeks. Next week, I’ll be talking more about denouement and how to give readers the resolution they expect without letting the momentum of your story peter out. If you have any ending-related questions or issues you’d like me to address in this series, let me know in the comments! As always, thanks for reading. 

 

Using your Writing Group to Promote Literacy (a guest blog)

March 13th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I never have trouble getting up before my alarm rings on a Saturday morning. For one, I’m looking forward to my weekly blog, SATURDAISIES, to go live. And second, it’s time to get together with my writing group, The Flying M-Inklings.

Let’s do confessions, shall we?

If I ever walked into our beloved coffee shop, The Flying M, and some oblivious and under-formed new guy was sitting at our M-Inkling table, I would probably commit a crime.Writing Group

(I’m not proud of it.)

But I’m kinda like the guy who walks into church on a Sunday morning to find that someone is sitting in his pew? Some oblivious and under-informed new guy and his wife – with four or five rugrats in tow? And the guy whose pew has been hijacked has to get his heart right with the Lord again because instead of being gracious and welcoming this new family into the church, all he really wants to do is clock him with a candle holder?

I would need a Divine intervention to stop me before somebody had to call the po-po… just sayin’.

Brilliance happens around our table. It’s where we M-Inklings make our plans and dream our dreams. It’s where we laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It’s where we write. I have christened that table, and it is ours. There’s no metaphor there – when we sneaked in a bottle of champagne to celebrate our one-year anniversary together, I popped the lid off of that sucker and the bubbly cascaded all over the table, the chairs, the floor, my lap… marking that sacred place. Ever since then, the Flying M-Inklings have made it a point to leave our mark wherever we go.

(There’s your metaphor.)

Your writing group should leave a mark on this planet. If your group has not considered how to promote literacy in your community and get your name out there, here are some suggestions.Flying M

 

  • First and foremost, THINK BIG! Ideas become things. Synergy fuels your collective creativity. The possibilities are endless, so go fearlessly into your world and invest in people. The rewards are phenomenal – you win as a writer in tandem with the other members of your group, and your community benefits as well. You will change lives – that’s not hyperbole – that’s a fact.

 

  • Build an online presence. You know your group needs a website, right? Don’t even pray about this – it’s a no-brainer. If you have caught the M-Inkling vision of becoming greater than the sum of your parts and your group becomes an entity all its own, then all your efforts deserve an online presence. On our website, we all post excerpts of our writing along with any and all of our events, but we also provide writing tips for writers everywhere. We share our experiences as we journey toward being published and the strategies we’ve used to market our products and self-promote and how we continually hone this craft we love so much. We don’t do everything right, and we’re glad to share those stories too. Learn from our mistakes. Be inspired by our struggles and our victories. Take what you can from us and give us helpful hints as well. We’d love to partner with other writing groups and build stronger networks. And we are pretty darn friendly.

 

  • Use your writing group to promote literacy. Four out of our seven have worked in the education industry, and three of us still do. Obviously, we are going to have opportunities to serve in this arena.

Nic is very involved with the Scholastic Writing/Art Contest. This is an amazing organization who gives young writers the opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, provides college scholarships. The first thing Nic had the M-Inklings do is stuff envelopes at his house to promote the event. Then we spent one of our Saturdays jurying students’ submissions for the state of Idaho. We were so encouraged by these young writers. Their work was amazing, and we were blown away by their talent. See how happy we are? Working together to help young writers would put a smile on your face too!

 

Katie is organizing a mobile book drive this summer called, The Lunch Bunch Book Club. She has partnered with the Oasis Summer Feeding Program, an organization that feeds children from low-income families in the summer months. The M-Inklings are collecting books right now for children ages 3 – 11, and we will be loaded up her son’s Ford F-150 (unless we can get a truck or RV dealer here in town to partner with us, which I’ll bet we could) and take this mobile library out to these neighborhood children.

 

Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to connect with people in your area. Right now Colby is currently mentoring a young writer for his senior project. Additionally, both he and Shannon are also looking into coming to the school where Nic and Daisy work to talk to our students about blogging and writing careers. Volunteer to work with agencies who share a common vision to promote reading and writing. Always be ready to jump in and make that difference everyone says they want to make. Do it.

 

  • Become known in the community.

 

We were pretty thrilled last November to host a write-in at the Flying M for NaNoWriMo. As it turns out, Colby knows a gal who was part of the NaNo effort here in the Treasure Valley, and she put the word out for us. Every Saturday of November from 7:30 – 11:00, we met with writers in our area at the Flying M Coffee Shop and wrote our little hearts out. (Incidentally, Colby hit his 50,000-word goal while AT the M on our very last Saturday – which we celebrated! I’ve only ever hit my 50,000 words the first time I participated in NaNo and write fewer and fewer words every year. I don’t want to talk about it.)

 

Very soon, the new Nampa Public Library is opening, and that is BIG NEWS for us! The M-Inklings will be seeking out ways we can help promote literacy among their clientele. We’ve talked about the possibility of providing students of all ages with free writing help with their schoolwork in exchange for free space for our writing workshops for people in the community who are toying with the idea of writing books or magazine articles or starting blogs. Our hope is that those in the latter group will pay for our expertise and help us offset all the vacations we like to take together. (When The Flying M-Inklings start handling money, I’ll have to check back in and let you know how that goes. But this is in our near future, so in the meantime, if your writing group has any advice for us on the subject of sharing group money, we’d like to hear it!)

 

Finally, we are in talks now with our beloved coffee shop to sponsor our very first Flying Mic Writers’ Night where we M-Inklings as well as other writers from the community read their work and slam down some poetry. Daisy will sell a few books. Brandon and Katie will promote the books that they’re working on. Shannon and Colby will promote their blogs. We’re hoping Cody can come down and make an appearance. And we’re pretty much going to make Nic emcee the whole event. (He’s only now finding this out as he reads this with you…)

 

These are only a few options of a myriad of possibilities. If your writing group is out in your community like we are, then we definitely want to hear from you. We want ideas! We are curious to know what kind of events you are sponsoring. Where are you in this process? Does your group make money? How do you handle all that? What are your ideas about the ultimate writing group? The M-Inklings will be checking in here on Chip’s blog, and we’ll write you back and answer any questions you may have. As you can see, we have some questions for you!Daisy

 

Talk soon!

Daisy Rain

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Daisy Rain Martin is Editor in Chief for RAIN Magazine. She is also the author of Juxtaposed: Finding Sanctuary on the Outside and If It’s Happened to You, which can both be found on her website. Look for Hopegivers: Hope is Here in 2015.

Join the Rainy Dais Community and Friend Daisy on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. The incredibly talented creator of the Flying M-Inklings logo is Geoff Siler @ www.geoffsiler.com

The Pros and Cons of Prologues

March 11th, 2015 | The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

brick green no smile b:wThis week’s post is one I always think about writing after attending a writer’s conference, the reason being that, for every three manuscripts I’m handed at a conference, two of them (on average) begin with a prologue. Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with starting your book with a prologue, but over the past few years, there seems to have been an increase in authors treating a prologue like a required element of a novel. It’s not.  The problem with this trend is that, in many cases, these prologues are either boring, unnecessary, or straight-up misnamed, so that, right off the bat, I’m distracted or distanced from the story rather than drawn in the way I want to be by the first page of a manuscript. This doesn’t mean beginning with a prologue is always a bad idea, just that you should be sure you understand the function of a prologue and whether your story is best-served by one.

What is a prologue? A prologue is an introductory part of the story (meaning, it’s fictional– not to be confused with a forward or an introduction, which are written from the point of view of a real person such as an author, as opposed to a character or the narrator) that, for whatever reason, doesn’t “match” the rest of the story. Examples include a piece of the story told from a different perspective, such as when the prologue is told from the point of view of the murder victim while the rest of the story is told from the point of view of the murderer, or taking place in a different time period, such as when the prologue shows a scene which takes place during the Civil War while the rest of the story takes place in 1978. A prologue along these lines is used when an author wants to make sure the reader has a certain piece of information or sees the beginning events of the story through a specific lens. So, sure, there are times when a prologue is completely appropriate, even necessary, but there are more when it’s not. Here are a few of them:

  • When it’s an info-dump. There’s a difference between necessary backstory or an important scene/event from the past and an entire chapter of background information on your main character. I’d say about half of the prologues I see fall into this category. It makes sense– the backstory of your main character is often some of the first writing you do as you’re getting to know your characters and where they’re coming from, so it’s fine for a birth-to-present account of your main character’s life to be the first thing that ends up on the page, but it’s not where the story starts. It’s not the first thing you want people reading (which works out real well, since it’s also not the first thing people want to read). All that development is important for you to know, but your reader doesn’t need to know it all right at the beginning (and sometimes, they never need to know it). Let that information inform your writing, but don’t expect the reader to wade through it all to get to the story of what’s happening to your main character now. Note: this is especially applicable to fantasy novels– I need to be drawn immediately into the story and connect with the characters, and a “prologue” that’s really just a detailed history of your world’s politics and flora and fauna and warring unicorn herds doesn’t do that. Sow the information we NEED artfully throughout the novel, and get us involved and caring about the main characters in the present moment as soon as possible, keeping in mind that this doesn’t usually happen in a prologue.
  • When it’s unnecessary. Every character has defining moments in their past, every story is informed by past events, and sometimes, showing the reader one of these moments or events is an effective way to establish the stakes or set a certain tone– if the reader knows from the prologue that the main character watched his sister drown when he was seven, they’re immediately going to understand what’s at stake when he gets assigned to investigate a child’s drowning death. There’s a lot to be said, however, for letting some suspense build about why a character is so afraid of a particular circumstance or why she has such a problem with commitment– not every break-up or parents’ divorce or traumatic experience in a character’s past needs to be shown in a prologue, and I see a lot of manuscripts starting out with an unremarkable or non-compelling scene from the past; your story is often better served by starting with the events of your unique story rather than a scene that feels familiar. If a prologue doesn’t drastically affect the way the reader experiences the story, why include it?
  • When it’s mislabeled. Finally, I’ve seen plenty of manuscripts  in which the author seemed to think “prologue” is just what you’re supposed to call the first chapter– truly, “prologues” which are no different in tone or timeline or perspective from the rest of the manuscript are not prologues! Labeling them such doesn’t make your book fancier or more complex, it makes your reader confused about why content that’s part of the story proper has been labeled prologue.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against a prologue that immediately draws me into the story by giving me vital information or sets the tone in an importent way, but it shouldn’t be used as a lazy substitute  for sowing backstory artfully throughout a book or thrown in just because you think you need one. Bring your reader into the book at the moment your story starts and get him to connect with your characters as soon as possible (and make sure the first pages an agent or editor read are representative of your writing skill– prologues sometimes don’t reflect the voice/technique of the rest of the manuscript). If the best way to do that is with a prologue, write a great one, and if your prologue gets in the way of that, get rid of it and good riddance!

The Makings of a Successful Writing Group (a guest blog)

March 6th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

When I decided to start a writing group, I didn’t just slap something up on social media or tack a flyer on the bulletin board of a book store or coffee shop to solicit writers. I privately recruited people whose writing I had already read and respected – people I liked. After I secured my top picks, I put the idea out on Facebook WITH some conditions. I listed the genres that need not apply, apologized in advance for not welcoming them with open arms, and wished them well. For fear of offending anyone, I won’t list those genres here. Let’s just say that I am prone to flashbacks from having to endure the readings of exhaustingly plodding poems about leaves or some convoluted mash-up of intergalactic contention between angels and space aliens that left me twitchy by the end. I have no poker face. I just don’t relish having to slap on an encouraging smile as I ride out lengthy descriptions of serial-killer-high-school-science-teachers slashing body parts in some haunted shack off the I-70 in Eastern Utah. There’s a reason I don’t read that stuff. If I’m being honest, the only book I’ve ever read by horror master Stephen King is his book on writing which is called… and this is brilliant… On Writing. It’s a page-turner! And it didn’t make me pee down the side of my leg. In any case, regardless of your genre of choice, get into a group that is able to support you the best.Stephen King

Once you get a group together, here are some brass tacks to make sure it moves and grooves like it should:

  • Meet once a week. It’s a big commitment, but the time you invest in this group will return to you tenfold and more. We’ve talked with groups who only meet once a month. Guess what? They don’t have websites. They don’t go on field trips. They aren’t making any kind of an impact on their communities. They aren’t building their platforms, and many aren’t getting published. They write, and they critique each other – period – which is fine if that’s all a group wants to do. But The Flying M-Inklings have higher aspirations, and so do most writers we talk to.
  • Find the perfect number of members for your group. The Flying M-Inklings have seven members, six who meet regularly plus Cody who we’ve named our M-Inkling Emeritus because he moved away. (He still shares his writing wisdom on our site.) Keep the group small enough so that solid relationships can be built but large enough so that if one or even two members can’t make it one week, it doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the group.
  • Once members are fully committed, be loyal to one another. When the M-Inklings first began to meet, we were liquid. No one was necessarily permanent. We stayed fluid and tested the reliability and loyalty of our members with a rule that basically said if a person is gone three consecutive weeks, they’re out. As we got to know each other and people proved their commitment to the group (not to mention their writing chops), we began to gel. After a year-and-a-half, we are concrete. People can move out of state, and they are still very much a part of us and will be forever. Our vision is to becomWriting Groupe iridium in the years to come, resistant to corrosion. Till death do us part.
  • Have a regular submission schedule and set aside one week a month that is devoted to business. The M-Inklings have a private Facebook page where we communicate with each other and post our submissions. At the top of the page, Colby has magically made our submission schedule stick to the top. (He’s handy like that.) Katie and I know we’re always up the first Saturday of the month. Nic and Shannon are the following week, and Colby and Brandon The fourth (and fifth when there is one) Saturday of each month is when we get down to the business of our website; we plan our field trips, retreats, and community outreach endeavors. We also sit in a think tank and dream up new and fresh ways to get ourselves into trouble. Flexibility is key, obviously, but the structure has helped us to be phenomenally productive.
  • Make sure writers submit a few days before your group meets. This way everyone else has time to read, contemplate, and provide a quality examination of the work. Members should come prepared to have a meaningful conversation. The only time we ever read to each other is during our annual retreat in October or while our families are all camping together in the summers. We don’t expect one another to necessarily critique those pieces – we simply enjoy and talk about them. If your group’s protocol is to read the work right there in the meeting, expecting people to shoot from the hip in response, their feedback is probably lacking. No… their feedback is lacking, sorry to say; however, if you plan ahead and make sure your group can read your work before everyone arrives, this is easily remedied. Your time will be much better spent and your critiques will be meaningful and beneficial.Flying M
  • Have a plan for how your group will spend your time together. Our group is together every Saturday for three hours. We’ll take the first hour and talk, laugh, eat a bagel, and simply catch up on how our lives are going. It’s pretty chill – we have to wait for the caffeine to kick in, after all. The second hour is when we critique whichever two people have submitted pieces that week. The third hour, we write. Not one minute is wasted – especially not that first hour when all we do is sit and shoot the breeze. I think that’s been the magic that is us. We straight up love each other. The M-Inklings produce a colossal amount of work, we get out into the community, and we’re making a name for ourselves. Believe me, we’re busy too. But the best work we do is friendship – hands down – and we consider that first hour every Saturday nothing less than sacred.
  • Don’t get your panties in a wad if someone (or everyone) in the group pans your work. Yeah, I said it. This friendship that you build with each other comes in darn handy when there is constructive criticism “Flying” around. Being vulnerable in your writing is the nature of the beast and, to be frank, every member has to possess a measure of maturity if the group is going to be successful. Take it or leave it, but be open to whatever the others have to say. I submitted a piece once about rage – I thought it would be really edgy. The group thought it was hiLARious! They laughed their butts off, and then they all did Daisy Martin impressions with their favorite lines. Did I storm off? Did I throw a fit? Did I threaten to quit? No. I told them, “I can’t stand any of you,” and they laughed even harder. Good self-esteem is a non-negotiable. If you can’t handle your work being sidelined by the people who love you, you might want to avoid ever pitching it to agents and publishers who reject people for a living.
  • Celebrate every victory. Without this, you’re all writing with invisible ink, and you won’t last. People will reach their goals and see their literary dreams come true. Don’t allow those moments to disappear without fanfare. Throw a party, have a BBQ, or sneak some champagne into your beloved coffee shop so you can make mimosas!

I’m sure there are many of you out there who could add to this list. Maybe you agree with us or maybe you disagree with something. What say you? (We all have good self-esteem and promise not to get our panties in a wad!) Start a thread and put your wisdom on this post for us and for everybody else – we’ll get on and write you back!

Daisy

 

Daisy

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Daisy Rain Martin is editor in chief for RAIN Magazine. She is also the author of Juxtaposed: Finding Sanctuary on the Outside and If It’s Happened to You, which can both be found on her website. Look for Hopegivers: Hope is Here in 2015.

After a Conference: Next Steps

March 3rd, 2015 | Career, Conferences, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’ve talked before about the value of a good writer’s conference as a place to connect with mentors/writing partners and as a reward/motivating factor in meeting your writing deadlines. Since I just got back from a writer’s conference, I thought I’d talk about some post-conference steps you can take to make sure you get the most out of your experience, because as fun or as encouraging as writer’s conferences can be, you’re not getting the most out of your time and money if you don’t follow up on the new information and contacts you encountered there. Here are a few ways to maximize your conference experience after you get home.

  • Organize new contact info (before you lose it). Save email addresses and phone numbers, make notes about who was who while you still remember– if you’re keeping business cards, write some reminders on the card, such as “French parenting book” or “talked about Star Trek.” This will help you keep all your new acquaintances straight and give you a talking point to start from if you contact them in the future.
  • Compile new information/feedback. Go through your notes from workshops and meetings, look over the comments on any manuscripts you shared for critique, and highlight or copy the pieces of advice that resonated the most, as well as the pieces you have questions about or didn’t understand. This way, you have all your favorite advice in one place to look over and remind yourself of, and you have the things you need to think more about/ask more questions on in one spot for reference if you want to email the workshop teacher for clarification or decide explore a topic more at a future conference.
  • Compare advice. Between workshops, critique groups, and agent/editor meetings, you can come away from a writing conference with a whole bunch of suggestions for your work, and they’re not always going to agree! Before you can decide which advice to take, you’ll need to compare the different feedback you received. Make a list of each general piece of criticism you received– too many adjectives, voice not strong enough, pacing inconsistent, etc.– and add a check to the list for everything you heard more than once (additional checks for additional times). Don’t forget to track your positive feedback, too– if you receive multiple compliments on your characters or voice, make note of it. Anything you have more than one check mark for is probably worth some consideration, either as an area you need to work on, or as a strong point you want to continue to highlight. Consider also the source– if you were told one thing by a beginning writer in a critique group and another by a longtime editor in your genre, you should usually lend more weight to the opinion of the more experienced critic.
  • Take action. Once you’ve identified some areas for improvement or collected some strategies for improving your writing and writing habits, take specific action steps to work on those areas and implement those strategies. If your dialogue needs work, seek out some novels in your genre with great dialogue. If you got some helpful time management tips, buy a planner and revamp your schedule/goal list. If your characters are two-dimensional, find a writing partner who is great with character development.
  • Follow up with new contacts. If an agent or editor requested materials, send them. don’t wuss out! If you met a new friend who you might want to form a critique partnership with, follow up and feel them out on that possibility. If you took an especially helpful class from a faculty member, send them an email thank you– it’s always nice to hear.

Don’t let your conference experience be limited to the time you’re actually on-site. Review your new info, follow up on new connections, and take some steps to apply what you learned!

What have you always wanted to ask an agent?

February 25th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

In the month of March we’re going to invite writers to send in the questions they have always wanted to ask a literary agent. Normally we tackle one question per day, and try to go into it in-depth, but in March I want to fill up the calendar with questions, and respond to as many questions as I can from readers of this blog. So just start an email, write down the question you’ve always wanted to ask someone in publishing, and send it to chip at MacGregor Literary (d0t) com. I promise to get to a bunch of questions over the next month. Looking forward to it! You in?

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-chip

 

 

 

 

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Before You Write: Part 6, Next Steps

February 18th, 2015 | The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’m wrapping up my “Before You Write” series today with a post that’s a bit of a cheat, since it actually has more to do with the end of the writing process than the beginning; that is, what you’re going to do with the finished manuscript when you’re done. It’s worth mentioning because, as I’ve said once or twice (or seventeen times) during this series, the purpose of pre-writing exercises and plans is to make it easier to sustain your momentum during the actual writing process. To that end, knowing in advance what you’re going to do with your completed novel when it’s finished can help you avoid the post-writing slump and take some meaningful action with the result of all your hard work. Having a plan for your finished novel can also help motivate you to stick with it when you hit those middle-of-the-book doldrums.  Here are some suggestions for next steps you may want to have in mind on the front end of the process.

  • Take your manuscript to a writers’ conference. Even if it’s not ready to be published, a writers’ conference can be a fabulous place for a manuscript to continue to take shape. Between writing workshops, opportunities for private critique, and chances to pitch your book to agents and editors, you can leave a good writers’ conference with some really helpful feedback and a better sense of what should actually be next for your manuscript. If you’re an experienced writer or a really fantastic first-time writer, you might come away with some good leads as far as editors or agents who might be interested in your book, and if you’re newer to the writing scene, you will most likely get some valuable direction for how to improve your pitch or your manuscript before seriously attempting to get it published. If you have a rough idea of when you’ll be done with a draft of your manuscript, get online and find out what conferences might be taking place around the same time– if you register now, you’ll be doubly motivated to stick with your writing schedule so as to get the most out of your money at the conference.
  • Write a query letter and proposal for your manuscript. If you know your ultimate goal is to pursue traditional publication for your manuscript, you’re going to need a solid query letter and proposal at some point in the future, so why not harness the momentum that carried you through the writing process and get them down on paper right away after completing your book? You can always come back and polish/expand on a proposal later, but you’ll be glad you gave yourself something to work with before your enthusiasm/writing energy died down. In addition, having a proposal/query ready to go will make you more likely to take your manuscript to a writing group or conference because you’ve already created the documents you’ll need, and helps you to start to think about your novel in terms of the “pitch;” what the big-picture elements are that you’ll want to focus on when talking about your book to others. If creating these documents is part of your post-writing plan, add them onto your schedule/goals now so you don’t stop writing as soon as the manuscript itself is done.
  • Distribute it to a trusted group of beta readers. I talked a lot more about beta readers and where to find them in this post from a couple months back, so I won’t repeat myself too much here, but deciding at the front end of the writing process that your first step post-writing will be to let a select few people read it and offer their feedback is a great first step in getting over the sometimes-terrifying hurdle of letting other people see and critique your writing. Newsflash: if you want to be published, you have to learn how to deal with the possibility that other people will read your book and will not like it. Even if you self-publish rather than pursue publication through agents and editors, you will eventually be in a place where people can access your work and make unlimited unsolicited comments about it. And I know that’s not an entirely pleasant idea, but it’s a LOT easier to get there via baby steps– starting out with two or three beta readers who will be honest but supportive before moving on to agents and editors who will be even more honest but potentially slightly less supportive before ending up in front of Amazon reviewers who will sometimes be honest and will occasionally be complete trolls– than it is to go straight to being judged freely by the Internet at large. If you don’t start out the writing process with a specific commitment, even just to yourself, to let certain other people see your work, you run the risk of chickening out once the manuscript is in your hands and shoving it in the back of a drawer for your grandchildren to discover once you’re dead. For extra accountability, inform/ask your beta readers now that you’re writing a book and let them know your target finish date so they will bug you for copies when the date arrives.

That’s it for the “Before You Write” series; thanks for reading, and come back next week when I’ll hopefully have thought of something else craft-related to blog about! As always, suggestions or questions for future posts always welcome in the comments.