books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Confessions of NYT Bestselling Author Gone Indie

by Eileen Goudge


We have a visit from a literary superstar this week. New York Times bestselling author Eileen Goudge has written 32 novels, sold over a million copies, and been translated into 22 languages. 

I first heard about Ms. Goudge in the 1980s, when my friends and I all ran out to buy her phenomenal novel Garden of Lies when it first made the New York Times bestseller list. I was living in the San Diego area at the time, and she was making all the local papers as the "hometown-girl-makes-good."

But like so many successful traditionally published authors at the height of their creative powers, Eileen found herself pushed out by her publisher (and agent--in a particularly unpleasant way, as you'll read below) as the marketing department went off chasing the next shiny thing. 

We live in a winner-takes-all economy these days, and publishing companies often don't want to promote skilled, regular producers of good quality product when they can throw all their money behind a brand new Snooki book or ghost-written celebrity tell-all. 

By cutting the advertising budgets of long-term successful authors, publishers create self-fulfilling prophecies that these authors "aren't selling anymore" and the authors find they're no longer making a living at the profession they've practiced successfully for 20+ years. 

Luckily we now have self-publishing. Some of the most successful self-publishers are the former stars who were told they "weren't selling anymore" and went on to hit the bestseller lists as indies and live there permanently, like Catherine Ryan Hyde (who has a similar story of being told she "no longer had an audience" before hitting the #1 spot on Amazon with each of her self-published novels.) 

However, Eileen didn't just have to deal with shifting publisher loyalties, difficult agent relationships and the usual disrespect. She also had a tech/social media catastrophe that would win any bad luck contest. 

She has a message for all of us about how to take care of ourselves so this doesn't happen--so DO read the part at the end about social media. (Especially where she calls me a rock star. LOL) 

But she's back on her feet, has a fabulous new series, and has lived to tell the tale...Anne

HOW I WENT FROM 'ON THE LIST' TO 'OUT ON A LIMB': CONFESSIONS OF A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR GONE INDIE

By Eileen Goudge



Let me begin by saying I’ve never met an author who was an overnight success. It just sounds sexier when you put it that way and makes for good press.

So if you should happen to Google my name and come across an old article about my “meteoric” rise from welfare mom to millionaire, take it with a grain of salt. Yes, I was on welfare, years ago, at an especially low point in my life. And yes, I wrote my way out. But it didn’t happen overnight.

Behind every successful writer is a stack of journals or boxful of unpublished manuscripts moldering in the basement. I’m no exception.

The year was 1983. I had just moved to New York City from California with my two young children, a typewriter and no child support. I’d been eking out a living as a freelance journalist, but needed to find steady work – pronto – or we’d all starve. 

At a party I chatted with an attractive young woman who confided that she earned more money moonlighting as a call girl than from her day job as a flight attendant. She offered to set me up with her escort service. I declined.

I wasn’t that desperate.

I signed with a book packager instead. 

For the next couple years I paid the rent and stayed afloat churning out genre romances for teens. I was among the stable of ghost writers behind the wildly successful Sweet Valley High teen series created by Francine Pascal. I didn’t get rich from it—I was making only enough to squeak by—but I’m proud of the role I played in launching the series. 

The "Overnight Success"


In 1986 I had the joy of seeing my first adult novel published in hardcover. I was ecstatic when Garden of Lies went on to become a New York Times bestseller. I’d been warned that green-colored book covers don’t sell but had ignored the warning, figuring if mine was the only green cover it would stand out. I was right, as it turned out.

Unfortunately it was the only thing I was right about.

Back then I naively believed I’d continue to build on my early success if I reliably produced a book a year. I failed to factor in the variables. The shifting sands of the publishing industry for one and flux and flow of the economy for another. 

There was also the fact that I was married to my agent whom I later divorced.

I had a nice ride for a time. The novels that followed Garden of Lies sold well. 

The Four-Step Fall from Grace


Then came a spectacularly horrible two-year period worthy of one of my novels in which I was slammed by the quadruple whammy of: 

1) a corporate merger, 

2) falling out with my editor, 

3) the loss of my in-house “rabbi” to another house, 

4) the aforementioned divorce from my agent husband. 

I was left reeling. My sales took a hit. That in turn led to booksellers cutting back on orders. Long story short, I eventually reached a point where I was no longer making a living wage. 

Come the Revolution  


I ought to be depressed, right? Out on a ledge with some Good Samaritan trying to talk me down. 

But I’m not depressed. Instead I’m hopeful. Why? 

 Because while I was on my ass a revolution was taking place.

With digital sales growing in leaps and bounds, traditional publishing is no longer the only avenue open to writers. Name authors displaced by the seismic shifts in the industry are migrating to indie publishing. Some have enjoyed great success. Others are making a living. The majority continue to struggle.

But one thing is clear: Indie publishing is a boon to writers. It provides hope where there was little and give us some control over our own destinies.

The inspiration for my first indie-published title, Bones and Roses, Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series, came while I was strolling on the beach in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California.

I’m fan of the genre and always wanted to write a mystery, since I created the teen series Who Killed Peggy Sue? in the 1980’s. When I sat down to write the first draft, it poured out of me.

But writing was the easy part. 

The Steep Learning Curve


Becoming my own publisher required a whole other skill set. 

I took a self-taught crash course in indie publishing by reading everything I could find on the subject and picking the brains of my indie author friends. My friends have been amazing. They’re always on hand to answer questions, share resources and provide reassurance.

But I couldn’t shake the pit in my stomach and the little devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear that I was a fraud, I’d never be able to pull this off. In addition to the mechanics of launching of a business, there were social media platforms and computer programs to master (Goodreads alone was a labyrinth that had me lost!) and the biggest challenge of all: finding the time to do everything. 

(Note from Anne: I can't figure out Goodreads either, and they've even made me a librarian!) 

The Tech Catastrophe


I acquired so many passwords I didn’t know what to do with them all, so I stored them temporarily on my iPhone. 

Bad move. 

In a single, sleep-deprived moment, with a misbegotten swipe, I accidentally cut-and-pasted the entire list onto the text of an Instagram post. 

I instantly deleted it, relieved to have dodged the bullet until my sister-in-law in California phoned me in alarm to let me know it was still on my Facebook page. 

I panicked and spent the next two hours changing the passwords on all my accounts. I went from sleep-deprived to not being able to sleep, I was so wired, visions of Ukrainian hackers dancing in my head.

(Naked photos leaked on the Internet, as in the case of Jennifer Lawrence, wouldn’t be as bad a having your bank account hacked into!)

Don’t make the same mistake. I don’t mean just this business of securing your passwords. I mean don’t put yourself in a position where you’re so addled your left brain doesn’t know what your right brain is doing. 

I saw my screw-up as a wakeup call. I was worn down from trying to do much. 

Don't Try to Do Everything!  


I know, I know. There are indie authors advising you to go all out and do everything the sun. 

I learned the hard way I’m not one of those authors. 

If you’re like me and value your sanity and wish to have some semblance of a personal life, you’ll ease up on the throttle. Here are three simple ways to achieve that while increasing your chances of success (because I’m convinced nothing good or lasting comes of pain or deprivation).

*Delegate wherever possible.


I signed with a distributor, INscribe Digital, once I realized I couldn’t do it all. Founded by former Borders executives, it’s a young and dynamic company with the expertise and preexisting relationships with e-tailers I knew I could benefit from.

It’s also where bestselling author Sylvia Day got her start. They work on a commission basis (15%) so I wasn’t out of pocket, which is important when you’re on a tight budget.

*Get marketing help


I also hired a freelance marketing expert to help develop a targeted plan of action. If you don’t have money in your budget to allocate on marketing, join an online writers’ group. I belong to several, and I’ve found my fellow members to be unstintingly generous, not only in sharing their wisdom and expertise but in helping promoting one another’s works. You can benefit from your peers. They’re always on hand to give advice, help out, or act as a sounding board. And it’s a global village, so there’s always someone awake in some part of the world.

*Put your money where it will do the most good.


Whether you’re working on a shoestring budget or have bottomless resources, play it smart.

1) Start with a professional-looking book cover. For the covers of Books 1 and 2 of my Cypress Bay mystery series, I hired a designer who’d done the covers of several of my backlist titles.

Mumtaz Mustafa is a senior art director at Harper Collins with a freelance business on the side. It was a joy to work with her. She’s super-talented and a seasoned professional. I ended up with two covers such as you might see on a front table at a Barnes and Noble. 

There are other book designers like her; you just have weed through all the dross to get to them. Keep in mind you get what you pay for, so go with the best you can afford. In the meantime, read this insightful article from Psychology Today, Judging a Book By Its Cover, if you want to know more about what is it about certain covers that attracts buyers.

2) Don't stint on editing! The good news is there are lots of freelance editors to choose from. I went with people I knew, the editing team of Perfect Pen Communications. Samantha Stroh Bailey and Francine LaSala are both authors in their own right, so they have a unique perspective. They did an excellent job and delivered on time. I highly recommend them.

*Do what you can and don’t stress about the rest.


Let’s face it, you’re only human. If you try to do it all, unless you have a background in marketing like my savvy indie author friend, Josie Brown, you risk being a jack of all trades and master of none. Sort of like the old saying, He who represents himself in court has a fool for a lawyer. Best concentrate your time and energy on what you do best.

Which for me is

  • Writing
  • Blogging
  • Engaging through social media.

Writing, you already know how to do. So let’s talk about blogging. 

Specifically guest blogging. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately because:


  • I enjoy it. 
  • I always have something to say. 
  • I engage with more people that way than I would on my own.

How do you get invited to hop on as a guest blogger? By first engaging with other bloggers.

Like Anne is always urging.

Actively seek out blog sites in the community of whatever genre you write in. Sign up for their newsletters and comment on their blog posts. That’s precisely how I came to be invited to do a guest post for this blog.

Anne commented on another blog post I’d done and one thing led to another. (At the risk of gushing, may I just say I was totally over the moon to be asked. She’s a rock star and role model.)

None of this happens overnight. Be prepared to do some spade-work. But don’t think of it as work. Find the joy in it. Make it fun! 

(And always, always, always read a blog before you ask to guest post!! Otherwise it's like asking for a favor with your middle finger raised. You will not have happy results...Anne)  

Keep in mind, unless you have a cast of thousands at your beck and call, you will only scratch the surface of all that’s available to indie publishers online. For every social media platform or app you master, there are a dozen new ones popping up. Every day. Every minute of every day. 

If you try to keep up with it all, you’ll go crazy or drive your loved ones crazy. Information overload is a bigger threat than that of any sales you might lose due to not utilizing every bell and whistle. Take a deep breath, then let it out. 

Now repeat after me: 

"I understand I can’t do it all and I’m okay with that." 

Say it a few more times until you mean it.

In short, do what fulfills you, what brings you pleasure, rather than strive for perfection. You’ll be happier. And probably more successful. 

Me? I didn’t sell my body and I’m not going to sell my soul.

What will come of all this? I don’t have the answer yet. This is long-tail publishing so I may not know for another year or two. In the meantime, I’m happy to have some control over my destiny.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bake a cake. 

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any horror tales of tech nightmares you've caused by being on overload? What do you feel is the best use of an author's time on social media? Do you have any questions for Eileen? 


New York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge is the author of 15 women’s fiction titles, which include Garden of Lies, published in 22 languages around the world. Bones and Roses is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon.

BOOK OF THE WEEK




Available at Amazon NOOK, Apple, Kobo 

Welcome to the northern California seaside town of Cypress Bay, where the surf’s up, the sixties live on and long-buried secrets are about to surface.

From home invasions to cheating spouses, Rest Easy Property Management owner Leticia “Tish” Ballard thought she’d seen it all. Almost four years sober after flambĂ©ing her real estate career in an alcohol-fueled blowout, she’s finally in a good place in her life when the discovery of skeletal human remains rocks her world and plunges her headlong into solving a decades-old crime. 

Now she must delve into the darkness of her own past, including the one-night stand gone horribly wrong with Spence Breedlove, who happens to be the lead detective on the case. When the truth comes out at long last, Tish finds herself pitted against an enemy who will stop at nothing in a fight for her own life.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

The California Book Awards NO ENTRY FEE Three prizes are given annually to writers residing in California for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (including creative nonfiction). Prizes are also given for a first book of fiction and a book of fiction or nonfiction that relates to California. Authors or publishers may submit six copies of books published in 2014 by December 22. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline December 22, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blogging for Authors: How to Create a Blog that Can Grow With Your Career


 by Anne R. Allen

Maybe you've just finished that NaNo novel and you know you want to publish, so you'd like to get a head start while you slog through the editing process.

Or you've been writing for a couple of years, you've published some short pieces, and you've got maybe two novels in the hopper and you're ready to get this career on the road.

Or you've finally landed that agent, but you don't have anywhere near the platform she wants. 

Any of these could be a good point to start a blog.

Yes, a blog is still a great way to build platform and establish an Internet presence. So says agent Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary, who will be visiting us here in January.

But a writer starting a blog right now faces two problems:

1)  There are already, like, a trillion writers out there lecturing the blogosphere about how to write vivid characters, prop up saggy middles and avoid adverbs. A lot of them probably know more than you.

2) If you’re a writer with books to sell, you want to reach a general audience, not just other writers selling books.

So how can you be different? How do you create a blog that somebody will read—somebody besides your stalker ex-boyfriend and your mom?

The most important thing to remember with any kind of blog is you need to offer something. It should be fresh, informative, and/or entertaining.

How you approach your blog is going to depend a whole lot on your stage in the publishing process and your immediate goals. (For info on what not to blog about, see How Not to Blog )

Stage #1: You’re a developing writer.


You’re working on your first or second novel, and maybe have a few stories in literary journals or a couple of contest wins. You want to be a published author sometime soon, but you’re not quite ready to focus on writing as a career.

Your goal: LEARNING THE PUBLISHING BUSINESS AND NETWORKING.

You want to make friends in the writing community for career help and mutual support. You want to learn the best writing techniques, network with publishing professionals, and educate yourself about the business.

If you’re in stage #1, I think it’s OK to blog about writing. I know most blog gurus tell you not to do this, but I think that caveat is aimed more at people at stage #2 and #3.)

I’m not talking about lecturing on craft as if you’re a pro when you’re not. But an equal-to-equal post about something interesting trick you’ve discovered about writing the dreaded synopsis, or what agents are looking for this month is just fine when you’re reaching out to other writers.

Why do you want to reach other writers? Because networking with other writers is essential in today's market. Joint promotions and anthologies and boxed sets will be some of your most most powerful marketing strategies once you're published. The friends you make now will be a huge asset to you later on in your career.

Plus I know a number of authors who got their agents through a referral from a fellow blogger.

I found both my publishers through blogging.

Also, I’m not sure I would have made it through the darkest rejection phases if it hadn’t been for the support of writer blogfriends.

How do you get blogfriends? You visit other blogs. Social media is social. Don't sit all alone like a spider waiting for flies. Go out and meet people. Comment on blogs and engage in dialogue with other commenters.

When you have a writing blog, you get to participate in blog hops, flash fiction swaps, contests and all kinds of networking events that help you meet people who can be important in your future career. There are some great blogging groups like the Insecure Writers Support Group where you can meet lots of interesting, supportive writers.

But do make sure your writing blog has something fresh going for it—something that’s helpful. There are all sorts of ways you can help:

  • Author interviews
  • Profiles of small publishers or agents who are interested in your genre (take them from websites—you don’t have to bother the agents and editors)
  • Info on contests, giveaways and blog hops
  • Links to great articles and posts in your genre or field of interest.
  • Book reviews. If you write thoughtful, useful reviews, you’ll immediately become everybody’s best friend. (But don't take on too many! Book review bloggers get burned out very quickly and unfortunately get a lot of disrespect from authors and publicists. For more on how to establish boundaries as a book review blogger, read this great post from book blogger Ed Cyzewski )
  • Commentary on the book business or trends in your genre.
  • Flash fiction and vignettes that you do not intend to market to magazines or publishers. Putting something on your blog is publishing, so it will be considered "published".  I used to advise newbies not to put any fiction on a blog, but I know a number of successful bloggers who have built an audience with this kind of writing, so I've reversed on this. What you don't want to do is write the rough draft of a novel in public on your blog. It can be embarrassing, and no agent will take it on once it's been published on a blog.     

 Stage #2: You’re ready for the marketplace.


You’re querying agents or getting ready to self-publish. You’ve got a couple of books polished and ready to go. You have a business plan.

You’ve been to writing conferences, taken classes, and hired a freelance editor if you're going indie. Your writing is at a professional level.

Your goal: BUILDING PLATFORM

You want to get your name out there to the general public. When you query an agent or ask for a blurb or review, you want a Google search to bring you up on the first page, not page four, with that rant from five years ago about the ending of Lost.

If you’re a stage #2 writer, you should heed the blog gurus' advice not to blog about writing. You’ve got a trillion competitors and that would severely limit your audience.  (Yes, I blog about writing, but I started a long time ago, and I already had an audience from my writing column at Freelance Writing International.)  

So try something that’s related to your writing but has a unique slant. But don't restrict yourself too much. Leave room to grow and change. You may not even know yet what kind of people will be interested in your work. 

Here are a few suggestions of topics to try when you're starting:

  • Focus on your genre or subgenre (unless you’re still experimenting with different genres.) You can discuss movies, videogames, TV shows, even jewelry and costumes—as long as they relate to your niche
  • Blog about your hometown or state, especially if they’re the setting of your novels. Travel sites that link to local landmarks and Chamber of Commerce will help you make friends locally that can be a big help later on.
  • Offer links to important information. If you’re writing a memoir or fiction about certain health issues, promote organizations that help with those issues. Link to support groups and they might even link back.
  • Provide people with the benefit of your research. If you’re writing historical fiction about a certain time period—post the research on your blog. (This is doubly useful because it will help keep you from cramming it all into the novel at the expense of story.) Have to research guns for a thriller? Poisons for a cozy? Are you basing the story on a real case? There are people who would love to read about this stuff.
  • Appeal to another Internet community. If that historical novel is based on a real person or your own family history, you could target readers from the genealogy blogosphere and links to historical research sites. If your heroine loves to fish, sew, or collect stuff, connect with blogs for fly fisherpersons, quilters, or collectors of floaty pens.
  • Provide a forum for people in your target demographic. If you write for a particular group—single urban women, Boomers, stay-at-home moms, or the just-out-of-college dazed and confused—focus on aspects of life of special interest to them.
  • Offer recipes or how-tos. Have a character who’s an expert at something? Give readers the benefit of his expertise in the woodshop, garden or kitchen. Have some great recipes that relate to your character, time period, or region? Write about the food in your books, or food in fiction generally. 

Stage #3: You’re a published author


Your agent/marketing dept. says, “Get thee to the blogosphere!”

Or you realize the brilliantly blurbed oeuvre you’ve self-published is sitting there on Amazon with only two sales in three months (both to your spouse) because nobody has heard of it—or you.

Your goal: FINDING AND CONNECTING WITH READERS
  
If you’ve reached Stage #3, you can be more eclectic. People will be coming to your blog because they want to get to know you and find out more about your books—so focusing on one subject isn’t as important. 

The blog becomes a place to showcase who you are. Think if it as your own version of Oprah magazine: not a place to toot your own horn as much as share things of interest to you that will also be of value to your readers. 

So you can continue whatever you've been doing in Stage #1 and #2, plus add stuff about you and your books.

Yes, you can talk about your books. I think people are silly who say you shouldn’t use your blog for self-promotion. That’s why you’re in the blogosphere in the first place. It’s fine as long as you don’t use hard-sell tactics and make sure you provide something besides "buy my book!"

Each type of blog can evolve into another as your goals change. 

A few tips for the new blogger:

  • Make a list of topics you might like to explore before you begin, so you have a running start. If you visit other blogs regularly (and you should) you may find yourself making long comments on some subject that gets your hackles up/juices flowing. That’s the stuff you should be putting in your own blog.
  • I STRONGLY advise against having more than one blog. If you decide to change your blog tone and content, just change it. You can change everything but the url. But multiple blogs sap your energy and fragment your audience. (It also annoys the hell out of them: I hate hitting somebody’s profile and finding six blogs. Unless one is clearly marked “author” I don’t even try to wade through them: you’ve lost me.) Blogs have many pages. Use them.
  • Put your own name (or pen name) in the blog title! Your name is your brand. And also, you’ll find it easier to transition from Stage #1 to #2 and #3 if you brand yourself from day one. Subtitles are easy to change. Titles, not so much. “Susie Scrivener’s Blog” can go from “Susie's writing and ranting” to “Susie's Floaty-Pen Collecting” if Susie decides to change the blog’s focus. But “Floaty Pen Central” can’t be changed to “Susie Scrivener’s Amazing Books” without a lot of confusion. And you want to keep the same blog. The longer a blog exists, the higher it ranks with the Google spiders. 
  • Write an inviting “About Me” page with clear contact information. I’m amazed at bloggers who don’t even post their names or contact information. The whole purpose of blogging is to let people know who you are and how to find you! (And don’t just post your resume. Be informal and friendly.)
  • Don’t succumb to pressure to blog more than once a week. Posting once a week on a regularly scheduled day is better than posting often but erratically. Allow yourself time to write your books. Remember you’re in this for the long haul. Quality over quantity. Slow blogging works. 
  • Be friendly. The way to build an audience, no matter where you are in your writing career, is to be likable and helpful. You don’t have to be chirpy. Just don’t project a phony or selfish tone. 
  • Learn to write good headers. If you don't write Tweetable and shareable headers, nobody's going to find your deathless prose. That means avoiding titles that are generic, like "It's Wednesday" or poetic, like "Winter Clouds". And I guarantee nobody's going to retweet a post called "Random Thoughts" unless it's written by somebody famous, or maybe that nutjob who just married Charles Manson. The header must make a good tweet. Offer something other than your own angst. Questions, lists, or surprising facts will entice people to click

More blog advice in my blogpost How To Blog: A Beginner’s Guide for Authors.

And for a comprehensive guide to blogging, I highly recommend Robin Houghton's new book from Writer's Digest Books: Blogging for Writers. It's a beautifully designed paper book, full of useful illustrations and screenshots. I sure wish I'd had something like it when I started blogging. And I even learned some stuff.

Okay, I especially liked it because Robin named this blog as one of the Top 12 Writing Blogs to Follow. That really brightened a dismal day in a dismal month of fighting the endless, will-not-die, virus-from-hell.

But I'd love it even if she hadn't.

And it's only $13.99 at the Writer's Digest Bookstore right now. It's also available at Amazon US and Amazon UK. Got any writers or potential bloggers on your Christmas list?  I highly recommend this book. It's a goldmine. And did a mention it's really pretty?    

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a blog? Does it suit your stage of writing? Are you going to be able to give up those six semi-neglected blogs and concentrate on one great one? What advice would you give a new blogger?

BOOK OF THE WEEK


The Camilla Randall Mysteries Boxed Set

9 Months on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!

On Sale for $3.99: Three funny mysteries for 99c each!

Camilla Randall is a magnet for murder, mayhem, and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the case in her loopy, but oh-so-polite way.

The Camilla Randall Mysteries Box set is available at Amazon US and Amazon UKAmazon CAKobo iTunesSmashwordsInktera, NOOK, and Scribd





"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess aka the Wordmonger


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



VIGNETTE WRITERShere's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

The California Book Awards NO ENTRY FEE Three prizes are given annually to writers residing in California for books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (including creative nonfiction). Prizes are also given for a first book of fiction and a book of fiction or nonfiction that relates to California. Authors or publishers may submit six copies of books published in 2014 by December 22. Visit the website for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline December 22, 2014

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Frazzled, Overwhelmed, Swamped? A Writer's Guide to Mental Health

by Ruth Harris

You’re swamped and there are alligators in that swamp. They have sharp teeth and they bite. Their names are Stress, Clutter, Distraction, Disorganization, and Interruption.

You’ve got a book to write, a cover to create, tweets to tweet, promos to set up, blurbs to polish, and pins to Pin. There’s metadata, pricing decisions, giveaways, keywords, tagging, liking, formatting, blogging, Instagramming and facing FaceBook.

Your phone is pinging and your computer is beeping. Your lists have lists, your eyes are crossed from staring at a computer screen all day (and night), and carpal tunnel syndrome isn’t just something that happens to other people.

Frazzled doesn’t even begin to describe it. You’re irritable and short-tempered. You’re working hard but never experience the satisfied feeling that you’ve actually finished something. You can’t think much less think straight. You’re overwhelmed, overcommitted, and in a state of perpetual exhaustion.

You are not alone. Anne and I confess.


Your social media accounts are growing mold and/or they are covered with cobwebs? You got lured in/carried away and signed up for accounts you haven’t visited since the last century?

Ruth blushes and raises her hand.

Your email is a tsunami of the unanswered, unfiled, and/or undeleted? Your in-box overflows with requests for quotes, newsletters, mass mailings and triggers feelings of guilt, fear, panic, and inadequacy?

Anne sighs and raises her hand.

Anne and I have both been feeling overwhelmed lately. We recently compared notes and agreed that we were probably not alone. We decided it was time to take a step back and figure out How To Be A Writer In The E-Age (title alert!) and have a life, too.

Here’s a little of what we learned and what we’re doing about it.


Clutter is toxic. That ready-to-topple stack of messy papers, print outs, scribbled notes you can no longer decipher, remnants of yesterday’s ham sandwich, unsorted receipts, unpaid bills, and that drooping plant gasping for water are the enemy.

Clutter will (literally) fry your brain and torpedo your memory. Not only does a messy desk (or desktop or work space) look unprofessional, clutter is a scientifically proven source or stress.

In a recent study, neuroscientists at Princeton University found that each piece of physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention. Each item shouts “me first!” and the consequence is decreased performance and increased stress

Different people have different definitions for how much clutter is “too much.” Sentimental Sam’s treasured collection of five year’s worth of birthday and Valentine’s Day cards will send Neatnik Nancy shrieking into the abyss.

Still, there are alerts that will let you know when you’ve reached your own limit. A few hints:
  • Need to walk the dog but can’t find him/her anywhere in the chaos?
  • Surprise! You’re almost fifty and you find your high school prom dress lurking in a file drawer?
  • Wow! You’ve been looking high and low for your lawn mower and find it right there, under your desk.
  • Your home office looks even worse than Steve Jobs’s home office?
  • Your Significant Other confuses you with the Collier Brothers?

Sound familiar? If so, develop a realistic system for controlling the clutter. Some like to shovel out the mess straighten out their desk/office first thing in the morning. Others use breaks throughout the day to tidy up as they go along. Still others take a few moments at the end of the day so they can start the next day with a clear mind, ready to go to work.

Some let the chaos build for a while and then set aside a morning, an afternoon, a day if necessary, to dig out.

There is no one way to tackle clutter but whatever approach works best for you, stick to it and make decluttering a habit you incorporate into your daily routine. The reward will be increased peace of mind and an improved ability to concentrate.

Here are a few specific declutter and de-stress how-tos:


Organize and automate.


Writing by its nature is a messy business with notes, ideas, snatches of dialogue, plot points popping up in random order. All need to be organized and eventually wrestled into usable shape. Olde Faithful word processors like Word are powerful and reliable and work perfectly for many.

Newer writing apps take a deeper look at writers’ needs and offer tools to help control and organize the mess.

Scrivener, beloved by many (including me) comes in both Mac and PC versions. Scrivener is an organizing ninja that provides space for your manuscript plus character and place descriptions, and all manner of research including web links, images, audio files and videos. There’s an easily accessible cork board complete with index cards and an outline function. Thanks to Scrivener’s “binder” concept, moving scenes around is quick and easy.

There’s a learning curve but you can easily start with the basics and go on from there with the help of Scrivener’s own videos and tutorials plus loads of on-line info. Scriv offers a generous trial and, if you decide Scrivener is for you, the purchase price is $45.

Ulysses (Mac only) is another, newer but highly-respected writing app and presents the writer with a distraction-zapping interface. Author David Hewson is a fan and has written a number of helpful blog posts about how he uses Ulysses including why it’s so easy to write in Ulysses.

You will find a Ulysses-Scrivener comparison here and another here. Ulysses, like Scriv, offers a FREE trial and will cost $45 if you decide to buy.

Both Scrivener and Ulysses will export your manuscript into pdf and ebook formats.

Atlantis (for PCs) is a full-featured, moderately-priced MSWord lookalike. Comes with a generous FREE try-before-you-buy trial, offers on-line help, and user’s forum. Atlantis can do much of what most modern writing apps do including turn your text into an epub or mobi file.

Evernote and Microsoft’s One Note are both FREE downloadable on-line notebooks that will help organize the clutter. They are fast, searchable, and can be set up in whatever way works best for you.

Backing up your work is critical and being able to do it automatically means one more thing you can delete from your to-list. Some are FREE, others paid. Each takes a slightly different approach and each has its fans. To decide which is best for you, check out:

Dropbox

Carbonite

Backblaze

GoogleDrive

ICloud

CrashPlan

Mozy


Distraction and Interruption


Whether it’s the phone, IMs, emails, texts, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, those interruptions add up and not in a good way. According to a New York Times article distraction actually makes you dumber.

Other data show that the stress of the distraction or interruption causes cognitive fatigue, which leads to omissions, mental slips or lapses, and mistakes.

A 2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost $588 billion per year. To compound the issue, the time required to reestablish your focus after an interruption takes even more time out of your productive day.

Another survey found nearly 60% of disruptions come from email, social networks, and cell phones.

Nora Roberts has said that she permits distractions only in the case of “blood or fire.”

Some writers (including Ruth) wear earphones to block out noise and others set timers to carve out no-interrupt writing periods. Still others close the door and post “Do Not Disturb” signs.

MindTools offers an in-depth look at distractions and lists ways to curtail or minimize them.

Laura Stack, a personal productivity expert, looks at the negative impact of self-sabotage and the downside of multitasking. She offers strategies for staying on focus and in the zone.

Anne and Ruth Shape Up And Pare Down


Anne is spending less time on Facebook and she’s taking Thursdays off from all social media. The volume of requests for her time make it impossible for her to deal with them.

From now on she’s decided she’s not going to respond to mass mailings or cold queries. If she doesn’t have time to read newsletters or online magazines, she deletes them immediately. No saving for “later” because she’s found she never gets back to them.

I ration my social media to Twitter (where I’ve made lots of friends and which I enjoy) and indulge in one brief, catch-up session in the morning and another in the evening. Whenever something catches my eye and I think of it, I share it on Pinterest. Otherwise, my moldy, cobwebbed accounts are doomed to stay that way.

I’ve cut down on my blog and basically use it only to announce sales, reveal new covers or introduce new books. If I get a zippy idea I can write quickly, I’ll post it but, otherwise, my blogging is focused here with Anne.

I’m also planning to turn off those annoying email notifications but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

Too busy. ;-)


What about you, Scriveners? Are you feeling a tad frazzled and overwhelmed? Swamped? Are you paring down on Social Media? How about dealing with desk and office clutter? How do you deal with your tsunami of email?


BOOK OF THE WEEK

DECADES: It's FREE!!

"The songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the way we made love. Absolutely perfect!" ...Publisher's Weekly



Kindle  |  iBooks  |  Nook  |  Kobo  |  GooglePlay

THREE WOMEN. THREE DECADES. Spanning the years from the optimistic post-War 1940s to the Mad Men 1950s and rule-breaking "Make Love, Not War" 1960s, DECADES is about three generations of women who must confront the radical changes and upended expectations of the turbulent decades in which they lived.

Evelyn, talented but insecure, is a traditional woman of the Forties. She is a loyal and loving wife and mother whose marriage and family mean everything to her.

Nick, handsome and ambitious, a chameleon who changes with the changing times, is her successful but restless husband.

Joy, their daughter, confused and defiant, a child of the Sixties, needs them both but is torn between them.

Barbara is the other woman, younger than Evelyn, accomplished but alone. She is a transitional woman of the Fifties who wonders if she can have everything--including another woman's husband.

DECADES, sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, is the emotional, compelling story of family, marriage, crisis, betrayal and healing.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


VIGNETTE WRITERS, here's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

8 Bogus "Rules" New Writers Tell Each Other

by Anne R. Allen


We get lots of questions from new writers who have spent time in forums and online writers' groups where they've been given advice by other newbies. Some of that advice is fine, but a whole lot is dead wrong.

Unfortunately, the wrong stuff is usually delivered with the most certainty.

That's because the most ignorant people are generally the most sure of themselves. This phenomenon has been scientifically proved. It's called The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Nobel Prize winners David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University did a study in 2000 that proves the least competent people really are the most likely to overestimate their own competence.

I remember feeling perfectly confident I knew everything worth knowing at age four. Then I went to school and it ruined everything.

I do still encourage the use of critique groups and beta readers as a first step in learning the ins and outs of the craft and business of writing, but keep in mind that most of what you hear in a critique group needs to be taken with a grain of salt. And now, with the rise of social media, the chances of getting bad or misleading information has increased exponentially.

So make sure you cross-reference if a suggestion for a change goes against what you've observed or heard from respected authorities.

Some of these "rules" are pretty comical—the opposite of what the publishing industry considers good writing. I have a feeling some frustrated new writer may have made them up to justify bad writing habits.

When in doubt, ask a professional or look it up. There are many, many good books that teach the basics of how to write fiction. One of my favorites is How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey (not the James Frey who who wrote the bogus memoir.) I also like The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman (nice and short). Screenwriters' bibles Story by Robert McKee, and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder are great for story structure, and of course every writer's library should have a copy of The Elements of Style.

If you have a favorite nuts-and-bolts writing book, do tell us about it in the comments.

I hope you'll pass this post on to new writers who may be led astray by "the blind leading the blind" syndrome that can happen in social media.

Here are eight bogus "rules" I've heard recently.


1) When writing something inspired by your own life, every incident must be told exactly as it happened, or somebody will sue you.



If you know somebody is likely to sue you if you include them in a memoir, it's safest to disguise them with a name-change. Better yet, fictionalize your story. For advice on how to fictionalize a "true story," read Ruth Harris's great post on the subject from earlier this month.

But even if you're writing a memoir or a piece of creative nonfiction, you still have to craft it into a story with an arc. That's a story with an inciting incident, conflict, and resolution. That's never going to be exactly "the way it really happened," because real life is a meandering journey, not a tidy story. Plus real life has lots of boring bits. Do NOT include them if you want anybody to read your book.

A memoir has to tell a story. That means it has dialogue and scenes. You can't help putting less than accurate words in people's mouths unless you recorded every word ever said to you.

For advice on how much "truth" to put into a memoir, here's an enlightening post from Jane Friedman: How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Have to Be?

She points out how subjective all memory is, so no one person's memory is going to provide 100% absolute provable facts.

2) Novels can not contain contractions.


This one floored me. A writer had been told this by an "editor". (Which shows you should carefully vet freelance editors. As I said last week, anybody can call herself an editor, so do your research before you hire somebody.)

If you follow this editor's advice, every person in your novel will sound like Star Trek's Mr. Spock.

People who speak English as a first language (and are not robots or space aliens) use contractions. If your characters don't use them, your novel or memoir had better be set in a robot colony or the planet Vulcan.

3) "Said" is boring. Use more energetic tags like "exclaimed","growled", and "ejaculated."


Whoever thought up this one is treading dangerously close to Tom Swifty territory.

"Said" is invisible to the reader. Any other dialogue tag draws attention to itself. Use other tags judiciously, the way you do with exclamation marks. You do use exclamation marks judiciously, don't you!!?

4) In a memoir, everyone in your life must be given equal time.


Somebody has been telling memoirists that even if they were personal friends with Elvis, the king shouldn't get any more space in a memoir than Great Aunt Myrtle Mae, if the two people were "equally a part of your life."

Sorry. Unless you're writing an autobiography for your family's eyes only, this is the worst advice possible.

First, a memoir is not an autobiography. Autobiographies are a chronology of a life from the cradle to now.  Nobody's likely to read them unless they're written by heads of state, tech moguls, or members of the Rolling Stones.

A memoir should be the story of a particular incident or related series of incidents in your life that will be of interest to the general public. Maybe how you overcame a disability, had Elvis's love child, or invented Post-It Notes.

So unless your Great Aunt Myrtle Mae was Elvis's date for the prom, or a crazed fan who broke into Graceland and stole a leather jumpsuit in which she wants to be buried, only give her a walk-on part in your story.

A lot more people want to read about Elvis than want to read about how much you loved your Auntie. Sorry, but that's the way human beings work. We've always been suckers for royalty.

5) Head-hopping is necessary if you have more than one character in a scene.


You don't need to tell us what everybody is thinking in every scene. That only confuses the reader. Good writers can show the reactions of other characters through the eyes of the scene's point-of-view character.

After all, you're seeing your entire life through the eyes of one point-of-view character: you. And you probably know what's going on. Or think you do.

Learn to use body language, facial expressions, and dialogue to let us know how key characters are relating to the action.

The exception is a story told from an omniscient point of view, which is not the same as head-hopping. Omniscient POV uses a god-like voice that knows everything. You'll often see it in high fantasy, which is told in a "bard's" storytelling voice.

An omniscient voice also works well in a humor novel, because it makes the story sound like a stand-up comedy routine. Carl Hiaasen does this brilliantly. So does Dave Barry.

But be aware omniscient POV in most genres seems old-fashioned, is hard to pull off, and is often taboo with agents.

For a hilarious take on the omniscient narrative voice, here's a brilliant video by Nick Offerman in which the characters in a Western movie rebel against that all-knowing narrator.

For a great overview of POV, read this post from Kristen Lamb: Point of View: How to find the perfect voice for your story. It's a must-read for anybody having POV issues (and most newbies do.)

6) All internal monologue must be put in italics.


I've even seen this in guidelines from small publishers. It's not wrong, but it's not the norm.

Putting internal monologue in italics is a convention that comes from mid-20th-century pulp fiction. You especially see it in thrillers. Some literary authors, like William Faulkner, also experimented with it. Some contemporary authors like to use italics to show alternate points of view. I've seen both Terry McMillan and Marian Keyes do this. They're both brilliant authors, and they used the device well.

But italics are on their way out. I've seen agents say in their guidelines they won't read anything that's italicized. That's probably because italics are harder to read and cause havoc with electronic formatting, especially for ebooks.

These days, writers generally use the "deep third person" point of view that allows for inner monologue without dialogue tags. Here's a great post on deep point of view from Rhay Christou at Writers on the Storm.

7) Good writers never use sentence fragments: all characters must speak (and think) in perfect English.


Oh. My. God. If all your characters speak in complete sentences, they'll sound as if they're living inside a school book report.

Where they're probably cohabiting with those Vulcans from #2.

Even Jane Austen's characters speak in sentence fragments. Shakespeare's do to, as in: "But Soft!"

When you write a novel (or a memoir or a play), your aim is to to present realistic characters, not impress your third grade teacher.

I've met some people who insist that even fictional five-year-olds must have a perfect understanding of the subjunctive mood and never, ever mistake a gerund for a gerundive.

Do I have to say why this is a recipe for snoozerific, inauthentic, bad fiction?

Or farce. It could make a pretty funny farce. Otherwise, do not listen to these people.

Nobody uses perfect grammar when they speak. Not even Ph.Ds. (My parents both had Ph.Ds: one in English and the other in Classics, so trust me on this.)

The rules for writing fiction are very different from the rules for writing a scholarly essay. If you confuse them, you're going to end up with a pompous, comical mess.

8) Never use the word "was."


This is my unfavorite piece of writing advice and you see it everywhere.  I wrote a whole post about the "was police" in 2012. They're wrong. Using the verb "to be" in any tense is perfectly fine.

"Was" is not always "passive." The past tense of the verb "to be" is also used in creating the past progressive tense in English.

Passive: "The book was read by me..." Passive voice tends to sound pretentious and annoying. (But sometimes the passive voice is necessary, so don't try to eliminate it entirely. )

Past Progressive: "I was reading the book when some idiot came in and told me the word 'was' is taboo for writers."

If you change the construction to "I read the book" instead of "I was reading the book" you have no sense of timeline. It would be dumb.

Yes, doing a search for "was" is a handy tip for self-editing. It helps to weed out passive construction (when it needs weeding.) A "was" search can also pinpoint lazy writing habits like starting descriptive passages with "there was." But there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the word. People go way over the top with their hatred of the past tense of the verb "to be."

Let it be.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a favorite nuts-and-bolts writing guide? Have you heard any of this bad advice? What's the worst piece of advice you've been given about writing? How do you react when somebody tells you, with great conviction, something you know to be wrong? 


BOOK OF THE WEEK



Sherwood Ltd is only 99c for two weeks! 

It's #2 in the series, but can be read as a stand-alone.

This is the one where Camilla Randall a.k.a. "The Manners Doctor" goes to England. 

She and Plantagenet will be returning to England in book #5, coming up in the spring: So Much for Buckingham, which will tackle the controversies surrounding Richard III, the way Sherwood Ltd deconstructs the Robin Hood myth

At Amazon US, Sherwood Ltd is 99c, at Amazon UK, it's 75P, at Amazon CA it's $1.13, Amazon AU it's $1.12 and Amazon IN it's 49 rupees (yes, India gets a special deal.) And in all international Amazon stores. Here's the link to the International Amazon Landing page.




"Camilla realizes that here is a gang of modern day outlaws. At first, she’s disgusted by their foul mouths and sexist macho ways, but she comes to see among Peter’s disreputable but loyal friends personifications of all the members of Robin Hood’s gang of old – Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and all the rest; yet does she want to play Maid Marian?

[She] finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue, and has no idea who in this surreal world of latter day outlaws she can trust; who are the villains, who are the heroes, and who are both?

…it’s a wonderful spoof full of absurd synchronicities with the Robin Hood legend, incongruous happenings, over-the-top yet fully believable characters and a whole series of twists to the plot. I was particularly impressed by the excellent background details; this US author reproduces the speech patterns of various sections of UK society perfectly."
…from a review by UK reviewer "Mary Ann."

And Food of Love is now available as an audiobook, narrated by C.S. Perryess


Part thriller and part screwball romantic comedy, Food of Love tells the story of Regina, a former supermodel, now princess of a tiny European principality, who has lost her skeletal figure and finds herself threatened by an unknown assassin.

Fearing her royal husband wants to kill her now that she's not model-thin, she seeks protection from her estranged African-American foster sister, conservative Christian television pundit, Rev. Cady Stanton.

Reverend Cady has some serious weight and romantic issues of her own, compounded when an "accident" intended for Regina leaves her temporarily blind. But when Regina is declared dead and Cady's seventy-year old secretary is wrongly arrested for smuggling a small nuclear bomb to the funeral, Cady takes control.

With the help of a porn mogul, a Russian spy, a rap diva and her fierce hairdresser-girlfriend, Cady is able to save Regina, restore the bomb to its proper owners, and unearth the long-buried family secrets that hold the key to her own happiness.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Looking for an alternative to Goodreads? BookBzz is a brand new site where you can present your books in an attractive online format. It comes with a "Tell a Friend" Book Marketing and Reviews Engine and audience management system and you can (optionally) gateway to other marketing services (reviews engine, price and discount management, newsletters, reward promotions and affiliate programs).

VIGNETTE WRITERS, here's a contest for you! The Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Contest. The prize is for a collection of vignettes and poetry up to 20,000 words. Fee $25.  Prize is $500, publication by Vine Leaves Press (paperback and eBook), 20 copies of the paperback, worldwide distribution, and promotion through the Vine Leaves and staff websites. It will be judged by an editor from Simon and Schuster. Deadline February 28, 2015.

THE MEADOW NOVELLA PRIZE $15 ENTRY FEE. The winner of the contest will receive $500 and publication in the annual print edition of the journal. Submissions should be between 18,000 and 35,000 words.  Deadline February 1, 2015. 

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Feel Like Popping Your Editor? Keep Calm and Read This.


Most writers know we require editors. The need for editing is drummed into us from the time we venture into our first writing class, blog, or forum. We know if we're offered a contract, we'll be assigned an in-house editor, and if we self-publish, we'll want to hire a freelancer.

These days, agents do a lot of editing too. (This is done on their own time before a book is sold, so it's one of the big pluses of having an agent.)

We've heard for years about the fantastic symbiotic relationships superstar authors have with their beloved editors.

So when we finally get an editor to take us on—either on a freelance basis or assigned by our publishing house—we might imagine the editing process will be all Kumbaya and hugs.

We picture getting our pages back from our wonderful editor covered with positive comments and little hearts. Maybe they'll catch a few typos and suggest we embellish the story of the house elves getting into the mulled wine for a few more pages and ask for a little more of the mechanics involved in the sex scene with the three-headed trolls from Alpha Centauri. 

And perhaps they'll mention it's one of the most entertaining, well-written books ever.

Or not.

The truth is your pages are probably going to come back bleeding with red ink. Or yellow highlighter and little multi-color comments if your editor uses Word to edit the way mine does.

"Wha....???!" you say as you wipe tears from your keyboard and reach for the chocolate and/or vodka. "But this is polished stuff. I worked years on this. How dare he say I need to cut it down to 100,000 words and eliminate half the house elves? I NEED 47 named elves to show the chaos that reigns in the House of Nevermorish!" 

Welcome to the club.

All authors have to go through the process. The truth is that the glorious stories we have in our rich imaginations don't usually make it onto the page in the first try. 

But as writers we can only see the work as it exists in our heads. 

Unfortunately editors see the actual pages. And so will readers. That's why we need to go through this. 

Without readers, we're just crazy people making up stories.

(And if you're doing NaNo right now, keep on being crazy. It's the crazy that makes it all happen!)

But the editor is our bridge from our own fantasy of brilliance to the reality of actually entertaining our readers.

Judy Probus is a new author whose first book debuted in January of 2014. Today she tells us about her own journey through the editing process.

I'm glad to see she's using some of the material her editor made her take out for a supplemental book of related stories. A lot of what you take out of one book can be used in another: either as a novella with backstory about your world or characters, or a series of short stories. Those eliminated elves might be able to star in a whole series of their own. These days, we have lots of options. No writing is wasted.

But before you plunge into the editing process, here are some tips for choosing a freelance editor:


Tip #1: Try a critique group, beta reader, or self-editing software first.


Judy took a raw, never-workshopped manuscript to a professional freelance editor for a complete developmental edit. You can save money by first doing some self-editing using editing software (which Ruth Harris discusses here), workshopping your book in a critique group, or sending it out to beta readers (check out Jami Gold's great post on betas here.)

Those methods can soften the blow considerably, so maybe you won't feel the way Judy did when you get your first edits, although I think almost all published writers have felt that way at times.

Tip #2: Know what kind of edit you need.


Judy needed a complete developmental edit. Some authors need a line edit, and some only want proofreading/copy-editing. For a breakdown of the types of editing available, and how much they cost, here's a helpful post from author/editor Meghan Ward

Tip #3: Get a sample edit. 


Anybody can call him/herself an editor. Many may know grammar, but not the conventions of writing fiction. That type can be great for proofreading, but not for developmental edits like Judy's.

Or they may be English majors who don't understand genre fiction who will try to turn your fast-paced thriller into a bad imitation of Karl Ove Knausgaard.

A sample can help you see if the editor is the right fit for you and your genre.

Tip #4 Look for red flags.


These days there are probably more people making money off new writers than there are people making money from their own writing, so watch out for these red flags. (For more on editing scams, see Writer Beware.)

Bad grammar on the webpage: Don't laugh. I've seen people who claim to be editors who don't know where apostrophes go. You don't want to pay them your hard-earned money.

Lots of testimonials from unknown, unpublished authors. A good editor will want to let you know about successful clients, and the site will probably include some testimonials, but if there are pages and pages of over-the-top praise from people who who are unGooglable and haven't been published anywhere, you could be in scammer territory.

A recommendation from one writer you know is better than praise from 100 unknowns (especially if they're fictitious.)

False claims. Scam editing services often tell newbies that agents don't accept work that hasn't been professionally edited. That's not true. In fact, if you've hired an editor, don't mention it in your query. They want to see your work, not your editor's.

If you're referred by a publisher or agency. This scam isn't so big in the age of self-publishing, but there are still bogus agents and vanity publishers who own "editing" services and use one to feed the other. People caught in their web not only get bad editing, but the "agent" won't represent them to anything but scammy, high priced vanity publishers. (Sometimes the "agent", "editor" and "publisher" are one and the same.)

Vagueness. If an editor won’t give you a firm pricing scale or a list of clients and a resume, you want to move on. Here's a link to the standard pricing for editing as given by the Editorial and Freelancers Association.

Condescension. Everybody makes typos. If an editor says stuff like, "Obviously you're too stupid to know that a sentence ends with a period, not a comma," or "the article 'the' is not spelled "teh"; you need to go back to kindergarten, kitteh," you should run. Disrespectful remarks of any kind should send you out the door. There is NO place for verbal abuse in the editor/author relationship.


But sometimes simple truth can sting. Especially if you've been working in a self-protected bubble like Judy. But if you listen and learn, you can work your way through it to a popular book, the way she did....Anne


What my Editor Did that Made me Want to Pop Him (and why that’s a good thing)

by Judy Probus


While I wrote the first draft of my Middle Grade fantasy, ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm, my anxiety skyrocketed every time I thought about having it edited.

The mere idea evoked emotions similar to how I feel when I watch the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Jones steps off a ledge into thin air, hoping not to plunge to his death.

You see, in the early days of writing my story, I guarded it from strangers.

For a couple years, I created and lived in my own writing world. In it, I invented my characters, sharpened my writing skills, and developed the plot.

On occasion, I invited my husband in to read bits and pieces of the story that I was especially proud of or to talk through parts I was particularly hung up on. But for the most part, the story lived in a temperature-controlled, highly protected environment. As you can imagine, working in this environment was rewarding because it gave my imagination the opportunity to run wild and free.

When I put a period on the last sentence in the story, I wanted to throw a party and wait for a standing ovation. Yes, there’s no doubt it was an accomplishment worth celebrating. But there was also an elephant in the same room my story was locked in, which was that my story was indeed locked in a room!

My inner voice finally spoke up and vetoed my desire to claim I had reached the finish line. “Yo, writing warrior, you forgot something. Hold up and get a grip. Before the story becomes a book, you need a kick-butt and objective editor to proofread your text, lest you reveal all of your unintentional errors to the world!”

I had to come to grips with the fact I had been experimenting in a vacuum. I knew I had to open myself up to criticism if I wanted to grow as a writer and develop the story, but the thought of doing so was terrifying.

Nevertheless, like a courageous little Hobbit, I ventured out of my writing hole on a personal quest to find an editor who would rival Indiana Jones’ search for the holy grail. While sifting through my options on the Internet, to my surprise, an editor crossed my path via a mutual acquaintance.

I met Matt Langan, a technology entrepreneur and editor, when ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm was two-thirds complete.

(Anne here. I'm not sure this is the best path for everybody. I think it's generally better to wait to hire an editor until after the book is complete. That's because you can't usually write the best opener until you've written the end of the story, and each rewrite will cost money. But obviously it can work, as it did for Judy.)

After an initial read, he decided to edit twenty pages at a time.

At first I was thrilled. But then when he returned the first twenty pages covered in red ink… I was devastated.

I returned home to vent to my dog, Buster. I paced, I ranted, and yes, I cursed once. I assumed I hired a madman for an editor. I found his directness and honesty offensive and assumed that we would never get through the text without parting ways on unfriendly terms!

Later that night, I took a deep breath and I read through the text he had pored over again.

While churning over each and every one of Matt’s comments, I realized that Matt devoted a substantial amount of time and thought to his critique of my fledgling manuscript, a true mark of a professional interested in realizing the story’s potential.

I asked myself, “Isn’t that the caliber of editor you were hoping for?”

So, I swallowed my bruised pride and scurried back to my laptop to make corrections while Matt put the next twenty pages under his editing microscope.

And so it went until over 400,000 words were shaved back to approximately 130,000.

Once a week, Matt and I met to discuss the next twenty pages. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we didn’t, but we always maintained respect for one another’s abilities and the desire to create a top-shelf story.

During the editing process, Matt did more than find grammatical errors. He challenged me to rethink, rework, reimagine, and reinvent to the best of my capability. He never allowed me to slump into mediocrity.

Sometimes in the beginning, Matt’s candor got on my nerves, but when I realized it came from an honest attempt to better my story, I began to see things in a new light. I realized I wasn’t angry at him… I was just feeling the growing pains associated with getting better.

Sure enough, as the ink changed back from red to black and the story became tighter and faster, grunts changed to grins.

Three grueling edits and rewrites later (to date, Matt has read the book more than nine times), our working relationship and zeal for the project grew stronger. After we sent the manuscript to beta readers in several states and received unanimous thumbs up responses from them, I made a final sweep through the text before the story was published.

When positive reviews came across the wire from Amazon and reputable sites like NarniaFans and MuggleNet, the fire we went through together seemed like a cool fall Kentucky morning.

Below are some of the rigors and rewards Matt and I encountered during the editing process.

If you are an author, my wish is that by sharing my experience, I can help you feel more comfortable with the path you’re on or even inspire you to raise the bar and accept nothing but the best from your editor.

To my fellow readers, I hope the following thoughts make you feel as if you were peeking over my shoulder during the process so you can further appreciate the effort that authors put into crafting the final stories your imaginations love so much…

Rigors of Editing



      The most challenging part of the editing process for the writer is to remain objective and open to constructive criticism. The writer must set aside any emotional attachment to the story that may have been forged with the characters during the write and analyze the story in a new light.
      The editor’s largest challenge is to amend the text for details with the eyes of a hawk and the objective nature of a detective.
      Depending on the length of the story, the time-consuming process can take weeks or months. Quality cannot be rushed. If you’re committed to excellence, adopt a long-term perspective.
      Editing a novel is an eye-crossing, hair-tugging, one-page-at-a-time agony.
      Never settle. Always be willing and able to rewrite a scene over and over again until it feels just right.
      Red ink can be harsh on the writer’s eyes. Dear editor, please use another color.
      Toss your ego. It hinders progress like a series of speed bumps in the road.
      Editor and writer need to stay objective, tactful, open-minded, on point, and professional. The writer and editor’s personalities must be compatible.
      During the editing process, it’s important that the editor respects the writer’s voice/style. The writer must stay true to the characters’ voices when amending the text.
      Despite differences of opinion, stay strong through honest and open communication.


Rewards of Editing



      The reader’s version of the story is purged of extraneous words, grammar errors, disjointed scenes, and typos.
      Keen inspection of the text requires concentration and attention to every detail that results in a stronger text.
      The editing process unearths and polishes previously undiscovered diamonds in the rough.
      It challenges the writer/editor to perform at their highest levels.
      A worthwhile editor wields a merciless iron quill, an asset to be cherished.
      Iron is forged from fire. A good story is forged from fired up exchanges between editor and the writer.
      The write/edit collaboration doesn’t require an office. A coffee shop chat will produce powerful insight for both editor and writer.
      When you work on a book, many people will question you (strangers, friends, even family members). Although a good editor will question elements of your story, they will never question you as an author or human being. A great editor may not start as your friend, but he or she will become one. He or she should be there to bring clarity to your vision when you’re second-guessing yourself, inspire you when you’re stuck, and celebrate your breakthroughs.
      Striving for excellence requires dedication, sweat, and teamwork. There are no shortcuts, which means eventually there is no greater feeling of satisfaction upon reaching the conclusion of the process.

One of the best writing tips I ever read warned against using your family or friends to edit the story. I agree.

What started out as a rocky working relationship between Matt and me developed into a rock-solid friendship and professional relationship. I am extremely fortunate and happy to have met such a dedicated and diligent editor. I can only hope every writer finds a similar editor and friend.

Got story? I like to say, “Choose to edit or you’ll regret it.”

There is no magic formula for success as a writer, but there is writing magic to be discovered during the editing process.


PS: I know finding a terrific editor can be extremely challenging, which is why I put together a list of editors I’ve either personally worked with or have heard very good things about from writers I trust - you can see that list here. Just so you know, I’m exclusively offering this to Anne’s readers. I expect these editors might be overwhelmed with requests for work (and they deserve it) as a result of this post, so I apologize if this link is taken down shortly after it goes live. If you want to work with them, I recommend reaching out to them quickly...Judy


What about you, Scriveners? Have you reached the editing stage with your work? What has your experience been? Do you have an editor you'd like to recommend? Do you have any bad editor horror stories to share?



BOOK OF THE WEEK

ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm
a Middle Grade fantasy by Judy Probus






A once peaceful planet is under siege by an evil sorceress, an exiled member of the royal family, and the growing army they wield.

In a last ditch effort to put an end to the evil, a crystal wizard scans the solar system for help. He pinpoints three earthlings he thinks have the unique traits needed to complete a secret mission to find the three pieces of the Crystal Heart, a mysterious weapon that was broken and scattered throughout the ImagiNation centuries ago.

As if the task isn’t tough enough as it is, the earthlings are the Edwards siblings who are only 8, 11 and 17 years old. And they would have to fly to the four corners of the alien planet where magic, danger, and fantastical creatures lurk. But even if they succeed in their quest for the Crystal Heart, they’ll have to use it in an epic battle that seems destined to take place on the Crystal Castle’s lawn.

Notable reviews
"I think this could have the potential to be this generation's answer to The Never Ending Story." - NarniaFans.com

"A fascinating fantasy novel ... Reading this book felt very much like I was watching an episode of Avatar meets Indiana Jones in space." - MuggleNet.com

Judy Probus is the author of the adventure fantasy novel ImagiNation Unveiled: The Hidden Realm and its supplement, full of backstories, character descriptions and illustrations. Her husband Bill and extended family reside in Kentucky, “the unbridled state” – a perfect place and state of mind for a writer of adventure fantasy tales. Discover Judy’s imagination and what inspires her to write at ImagiNationUnveiled.com.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


NPR SELECTED SHORTS CONTEST. First Prize is $ 1000,  plus a scholarship for a 10 week course at the Gotham Writers' Workshop. Your story will be read to a national audience by a well-known actor.  Deadline March 15, 2015

Looking for an alternative to Goodreads? BookBzz is a brand new site where you can present your books in an attractive online format. And once listed, for bookbzz.com to promote them for you. Listing is quick and easy... and it's free (and always will be, they promise!). Despite being simple to use it has some sophisticated marketing tools built in. It comes with a "Tell a Friend" Book Marketing and Reviews Engine and audience management system and you can (optionally) gateway to other marketing services (reviews engine, price and discount management, newsletters, reward promotions and affiliate programs).

WALKER PERCY PRIZE IN SHORT FICTION $15 ENTRY FEE. Winner receives $1,000 and publication in New Orleans Review. All finalists considered for publication. Enter previously unpublished original stories up to 7,500 words. Deadline December 31st

Writers’ Village International Short Fiction Contest $24 entry fee. Prizes of $1600, $800, $400 and $80. A further ten Highly Commended entrants will receive a free entry in the next round. Professional feedback provided for all entries! Any genre: up to 3000 words. Deadline December 31st.

First Crime Novel Competition: Sponsored by Minotaur Books (St. Martins) and Mystery Writers of America. Prize: $10,000 advance. Open to any author who has not published a novel (self-published novels OK). Must have a murder or other major crime at the center of the novel's plot. Deadline December 15th, 2014

SCHNEIDER FAMILY BOOK AWARDS: NO ENTRY FEE. These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Deadline December 1, 2014. 

New York Times Pulp Fiction Contest. They want 150 words of your best pulp noir. To submit, and read the other hilarious entries, visit their website. But HURRY. Contest ends at midnight, New York time, on Friday, November 21.