February 26, 2013

Paying the Bills

As writers, we dream of seeing our works on bookshelves, bestselling lists, and now e-readers.  Down in the real world, we also hope that being published will provide sufficient income to support our lifestyle.  Deep inside, many of us may believe that attaining this goal of publication will also lead to a life of (relative) luxury.  

Realistically, most of us are wrong. Catherine Anderson wrote on her tip page (which has been removed in her site update):
"If you believe your toilet seat will be plated with solid gold when you finally publish a book, think again. Countless writers make very little money. Granted, some of us do very well, others even better, but this isn't a profession that guarantees riches."
 Still, this post isn't about the passion for writing which ultimately drives us to create, while finding other gainful means of affording life necessities. It's about the numbers.

February 23, 2013

Three-letter Word

A couple hours, a local coffee shop, and a bunch of writers... A potentially volatile combination that, for some of us, is simply the occasional weekend afternoon. 

I am the only romance writer in my writing group, and yet one of our primary topics of conversation today was – you guessed it – sex.  

"Why do those women just throw themselves at the male character?" "Do I need to add sex to my [young adult] novel?" "What's the difference between erotica and romance?"  These questions and more were raised.  The fact is, when working with characters who have been through puberty, physical intimacy, in one way or another, must be addressed.  

February 21, 2013

Revising That Precious Draft

Once a completed draft of a novel finally exists, revisions begin.  Revising is a long, demanding, and inescapable process.  According to Nora Zelevansky:
"No matter where you are in your journey as a writer, the editing and notes process remains arduous and stressful. It will always test you . . . Ultimately, rewriting is hard.  Maybe even harder than staring at a blank page."
Thanks to the internet, many articles and posts discussing tips for revision are readily available, so rather than also describing basic methods for improving writing, I have included links to several quality examples.  This post will focus instead on the overall process – not how to revise, but rather what steps revising in itself requires.

February 18, 2013

Making Plans

There is a fairly well-known, Yiddish proverb that states:

Man plans and G-d laughs.

It's intended to warn against making concrete plans, as a power beyond our control may choose to interfere, ruining them.  I say, what's wrong with making G-d laugh?  Wouldn't we prefer an almighty power to be in a good mood? 

February 16, 2013

Don't You Dare Revise!

Some of the most popular advice floating around for those interested in attempting the NaNoWriMo challenge is: "Turn off your inner editor!" – closely followed by: "Don't revise until after NaNo".  At some point during the month, there also comes a warning: the novel you'll have written through this process will need to be completely rewritten, possibly many times. 

  • For instance, Jody Casella – a successful NaNo winner and soon-to-be-published author – writes on her blog
    "Doing NaNo will kill (or at the very least, muffle) that pesky internal editor voice that streams along in your head as you write, telling you that what you write is crappy and stupid and pointless. You don't have time for that voice during NaNo. If you want to finish, you are going to have to keep writing those crappy words. NaNo is about quantity not quality. Repeat that after me: quantity not quality. Write it on a sign and tape it to your computer screen. No, you are not writing the word Bluh over and over, but some days it will feel like it. Whatever. Keep writing anyway –"

I have seen many variations of this admonishment, and I haven't seen any contradictions.  People in my writing group swear by this process: "Don't even think about revising until you have the first draft down!" they advise.  Hopefully, such an approach works for them – maybe it even works for the vast majority of writers and specifically of NaNoWriMo winners.  But I didn't do that.

February 15, 2013

Genuine Love

The many posts about love which annually accompany Valentine's Day brought to mind my favorite Shakespearean sonnet.  In the world of Anglophone literature, Shakespeare is touted as particularly romantic, both in his poetry and in his plays.  I'm uncertain which criteria was used, but About.com decided to list Sonnets number 18, 116, 29, 73, and 1 as Shakespeare's '5 most romantic'. 

Sonnet 18 – which begins with the lines "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate." – is frequently alluded to in romantic situations which arise in television shows, movies, or literature.  In my opinion, however, this is not Shakespeare's most romantic sonnet. 

February 13, 2013

Celebrating the Moment

Those moments of achievement and triumph are fulfilling all on their own, but the support of those close to you sure doesn't hurt.


February 12, 2013

Two Little Words

A hefty, long-term project, such as writing a novel, offers many opportunities for a sense of fulfillment – important markers to reach along the way.  Mini moments of triumph sustain motivation, providing their own brand of encouragement.

Through my months of writing this manuscript, such moments have both rewarded me and prompted me to continue working toward the next.  Personal conquests have included:

February 10, 2013

Word Counts

Although industry standards exist in theory, defining different types of fiction based on approximate word counts, no one seems to agree as to where exactly the distinctions lie. As far as I have found, very general guidelines, not considering genres, are:

  • Micro-fiction : up to 100 words
    • The shortest example is attributed to Hemingway and consists of only 6 words.
  • Flash fiction (aka "short short") : up to 1000 words
    • Some sources don't differentiate between the above categories
  • Short story : up to 7,500 words
  • Novelette : up to 30,000 words
    • Some sources don't use this category, defining short stories as up to 20,000-30,000 words
  • Novella : up to 60,000 words
    • 60,000 words is also considered a full-length, young adult novel
  • Novel : 75,000-100,000 words
    • What happens between 60K and 75K? (I don't know.)
    • Some say novels, particularly in science fiction or fantasy genres, can reasonably reach 120,000 words.
  • Epic : over 120,000 words
    • Longer word counts like this are also considered appropriate for sequels.

Some editors, agents, and publishing houses have more specific guidelines.  A rule of thumb for a first novel seems to be: do not surpass 100,000 words.  

February 9, 2013

Agent or Publisher?

Having decided on pursuing traditional publication, a writer must decide whether to seek the representation of a literary agent or to pitch directly to publishing houses.

Agents have become de facto ‘gatekeepers’ for the publishing industry.  Many publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts that come from authors without representation, simply because it has become accepted that agents will weed out the unsuitable manuscripts and select ones that could make great books and, most importantly, sell.  Already, this means that, if an author chooses to move forward without representation, the options are severely limited.  Good agents also serve many other purposes, not least of which is the manipulation of their carefully cultivated industry connections.
Like most who write on the topic, I feel pressed to include the aside that NO legitimate agent will ever ask for money up-front from an author – and the same goes for a publishing house.  Agent’s make ~15% of the money an author earns from publishing, and publishing houses make money from the sale of the books / e-books.  In neither case should a writer be paying the entity directly – with the exception of vanity presses.  If an agent or publishing house asks you for money, it is a scam.

February 8, 2013

A Notebook of Poems

I own a lot of notebooks.  Many of them are still blank, and most were gifts, since that’s what one apparently buys an aspiring writer (or did, before laptops became as ubiquitous as they now are).  One such notebook, I long ago decided to use to collect my poems, ideally in their ‘finished’ form.  I thought then that once the notebook was filled, there just may be something worth publishing. 

Recently, I rediscovered both that notebook and other pieces written thousands of miles away from it.  I polished many of those pieces, reworked some of those that had already been written into the notebook, and added them all to this collection.  The notebook is now only about half-full, but the world has changed, and various options exist for the publication of work that might otherwise never have been seen by readers’ eyes.

February 7, 2013

After the Writing

Once a manuscript is completed – written, revised, tested on first readers, & polished – a writer interested in publication must begin navigating a somewhat complicated series of options.  I made the mistake of delving into these options prior to finishing my manuscript, and I would advise others to avoid focusing on these questions before having a mostly completed product (yes, once finished, that's what a manuscript becomes), as otherwise, these questions may seem like an ever-widening spiral of decisions clamoring to be made, which can ultimately become overwhelming, distracting, or even discouraging.

That being said, moving toward publication begins with making some choices:

  • Traditional Publication or Self-publishing?
    • I've read posts by many successful people, weighing in on this topic.  Some good ones were Nathan Bransford's, who writes from the perspective of both an author and a former literary agent, and Jennie Nash's guest post on Rachelle Gardner's blog. (Ms. Gardner also has many other useful posts.)

February 6, 2013

Beginnings

It's difficult to pinpoint when this project - which I am hoping will become my first published novel - began.  At some point in August, a scene played through my mind.  That scene kept replaying, and eventually, it grew, developing into a series of scenes.  

While those scenes were primarily built of snapshots of moments, by the end of August, late one night, a conversation played out.  This conversation insisted on being completed and recorded, and so it was.  Bits and pieces of scenes and plots kept circling through my mind as these characters developed, growing ever more insistent. 

February 4, 2013

What is a Writer?

Hi, I’m Aria, and I am a writer.

What makes someone a writer is a complicated question.  The very basic definition is simply that a writer is someone who writes.  Through the very action of putting words on paper, we open the door to being ‘writers’.  Gennifer Albin wrote in a pep talk for National Novel Writing Month 2012:

The real secret is that anyone can write a book. There’s no initiation ceremony. No dues to pay. You don’t need a special degree from a fancy school. Writing is for everyone.”

While I agree, I have also found being a writer to be more complicated.  Writers morph experiences into words on a page.  They delve into the minds of a vast array of characters to create openings into worlds – ones which welcome readers, affording them an opportunity to experience more lives than a single person could otherwise know.  Writing may indeed be for everyone, but not everyone can be a writer – producing openings, rather than embracing them.