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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Next Step (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

"Whistler in Sight" - The view of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains from across the valley. The mountains are grand in the distance. Tall trees frame the view from this side of the valley. Photo taken near Whistler, B.C., Canada. © 2011 Laura Sheana Taylor. 

Here's a look at what we should be doing once we've finished writing a novel.

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The Next Step

Authors: John G. Harness, Misty Massey, Terry W. Ervin II, Edmund Schubert, Gray Rinehart 
Moderator: David B. Coe

So you’ve finished your book … what now?
- This is assuming that you’ve already sent it to beta-readers and edited it.
- Having a good beta group geared towards publishing really really helps.

As the author, what should we be doing?
- TE: Get the novel best you can, research markets, check guidelines to see if it’ll be a good fit; write other stuff while waiting on response. You can always read the guidelines of the publisher but also read what they’re publishing. Know what you’re going for. Check the bookshelves in the library and the bookstores.
- MM: Start the 2nd book right away because if you sit and wait and stare at your e-mail, you’re just wasting time. These books don’t write themselves. Keep moving, keep writing. Novels. Short stories. Work on *something*. Momentum is hard to regain once you let it die.
- JH: Took the self-publishing route after trial and error. When he finished his first novel, he tried the “submit to agents” route, then realized he had no idea how to craft a query letter or who to submit to. Spent a year submitting poetry and lit fiction to small presses. Learned the process. Didn’t make much money. Self-published first, and then started learning by fire the self-publishing route. Went through self-publishing process on a much smaller scale, then realized he couldn’t categorize his first novel. So he hired an editor, formatted and reformatted the book for print and e-publishing. Was not an immediate success. Now he has a publisher for his books.

For the editors in the panel, did their experience change anything?
- GR: No, because he started as an author. Started making all the mistakes generally made on the writer’s side. Didn’t have experience to draw some. Didn’t have beta-readers; that was a big mistake. Did Orson Scott Card’s boot camp. Started writing short stories when he was really young. Gave up for a little while, and came back to it later. DON’T give it up, or you’ll have to re-learn. Wrote a few more short stories then went to the novel.
- ES: Also was a writer first; also did Orson Scott Card’s boot camp. Realized he had so much to do. His beta group was great but everyone was interested but not experienced. He wrote novels before transitioning to short stories. Turned to short stories to learn his craft. Then went back to the novel feeling more competent.

Should we be writing shorrt fiction first?
- JH: Wrote a lot of articles for the poker industry. Didn’t write short fiction until he started self-pubbing novels and needed something to fill in the holes between self-pubbing his novels. Quick turnaround time. Quit his day job.
- MM: Writing a short story is easy. Started writing short stories. Also, instant gratification from short stories. Novels take a bit longer. FH encouraged her to write novel-length.
- TE: Short stories are great, but writing fantasy/sci-fi shorts is a challenge because you also have world-building, too.
- ES: It is possible to write a novel full of short stories – a cluster of standalone short stories that has an overarching arc or links, but would take more time and effort to write this than to write a novel.
- DBC: Still, this isn’t something he’d recommend to beginners.

About queries:
- ES: Query-writing is a science. Getting a rejection doesn’t mean that your book sucks, it means that your query letter sucks.

About agents:
- Most authors agreed that it was important to find an agent first, but only one had an agent at the time of this panel.
- Publishing is a hurry-up-and-wait game.
- One author went though a small publisher.
- One author: Had an agent who sold the author's first book. Signed with that agent because the agent had the connections in New York. You need someone enthusiastic who’ll believe in your work. But then as time went on, the author realized the agent wasn’t doing much to help, and didn’t even look at the second book before passing it onto the publisher. The author currently looking for a new agent.

About editors:
- DBC: Editors can be friends. The average writer will go through several editor relationships. An agent author relationship is a marriage. Ending it is like a divorce. The relationship is complex; there should be rapport. There should be support. They should be there for you.

How long does it take to publish a book?
- JH: finishes a novel-length Jan 1, hired a good freelance editor. Sent it off. Gets it back from editors and proofreaders by the end of February. Meanwhile has consulted with cover artists. By March 1 is ready to sell/upload. Meanwhile sold the contracts to re-release older works to small pub last August, and the books should be ready to go this August.
- DBC: Handed in Thieftaker on time Feb 1, 2010, will be published July 3rd, 2012. And it didn’t need that much rewriting. Tor is notoriously slow. Editor is glacially slow in the context of Tor editors.
- GR: The process of creating cover art, releasing arcs for review, is 6 months to a year. Publishing schedule is 18 months to 2 yrs. Lots of BAEN authors are very prolific. As far as what you can expect, if you submit a novel today, you’ll get a response in nine months. Don’t expect exclusivity. Appreciates being notified if the novel has been picked up elsewhere. If he likes the start of the book and sets it aside, it’ll take much more time for him to look at. Then if he really likes it he’ll submit it to his boss (chief editor), and then that will take more time.
- ES: Remember, there are a lot of little steps in the process. You want the publisher sending out review copies. The reviewers want the books 3-4 times prior to being published, too, and you want it reviewed, because good reviews drive sales.
- DBC: Got blurbs by sending out manuscript to authors, which adds a few more months (but this is also very important)
- TE: Smaller press means smaller pub schedule. Depends on blurbs, reviews, etc.
- JH: There are many of self-published authors who sell tons of copies.

Social media before submitting?
- DBC: Social media is a great way to market a book that is already most of the way through the publishing process. But it takes up more time that you should spend revising a novel, and you should focus your energy on writing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kidnapping Your Muse (ConCarolinas 2012 Writing Panel Notes)

"Let me go, plz ;__;" - Charlie is sprawled diagonally in a box that stands upright, with its opening at the top. He clutches the edges, trying to pull himself out. For the record, he got himself in there. © Laura Sheana Taylor, 2012.

Back again, finally. Sorry for the delay, folks. Canada Day fell on a Sunday, so our statutory holiday was Monday ... and, well, not much sleep was had that night. Let alone posting. My rhythm, it was interrupted.

This next panel, "Kidnapping Your Muse", was technically called "Part One", but I never did make it to Part Two (which featured different authors). But this was pretty good. It was about writer's block (if you so choose to acknowlege it), overcoming simply being stuck, and how to keep the inspiration flowing.The responses were very insightful into process!

Again we had a round-table sort of discussion going, so here's what I transcribed.

* * *

Authors: David B. Coe, Crymsyn Hart, Misty Massey, Allen Wold, Faith Hunter 
Moderator: A.J. Hartley

AW – Does writers workshops, teaches
MM – Fantasy writer, Mad Kestrel, pirate magic adventure, on the Magical Words team, MW book
FH – Jane Yellowrock series, on the Magical Words team
DBC – Now also writing as D.B. Jackson – Thieftaker, on the Magical Words team
CH – Paranormal erotic e-romance

What to do when the book we’re writing doesn’t want to be written – inspiration, and more specifically, what to do when it dries up

What do you think about Writer's Block?
AW – gets blocked when his story takes a left hand turn and goes off in the wrong direction, that can be discouraging – when he lets a character down, when he pushes them down a wrong path or make a wrong decision rather than what they want to do – that’s why he’s often stopped writing. So he has to go back and find that place and where he’s supposed to go and then he can continue with the story.

MM – hates the term writer’s block. Two types – 1. The temporary, where she’s stuck at the computer and the words aren’t flowing – gets up and moves, walks around her house; dances; that; 2. Emotional issues in her real life that stand in the way of her being creative – she calls friends and seeks solace, or turns to something completely different from what she’s working on, for forward motion.

FH – Instead of not allowing a character enough freedom, she gives the character too much freedom and they do something stupid. Has to back off, put the words elsewhere, and make the character do what she promised to do in the outline. Also, can’t write when house is dirty; has to houseclean to get work done

DBC – Doesn’t believe writer’s block exists – that term presupposes writing is easy, is supposed to flow, everything should go smoothly from beginning to end – Writing is hard. There are fits and starts and stumbles. That’s writing. This is a hard process. Block is just the wrong word for it.

FH – It’s a creative process.

CH – When creative process stops or dayjob gets in the way, characters are screaming in the air to write them, there’s a spot she gets to that she has to write

AJ – Writing time is circumscribed. Very specific deadlines. Has to produce x words consistently in places to get it done. He’s not blocked, but he’s bored sometimes by sitting in the same place, etc. Has to get re-excited about the book again. Something about the term writer’s block  - it’s a legitimizing excuse for not working.

AW - It’s about not being able to move forward for some reason. There are several different varieties of reasons – You must be able to identify it and then you’ll get unstuck.


FH – does not deviate from outline. If she leaves outline, it gives her trouble. (She only outlines plot points, not how the character feels or reacts).

MM  - Used to be a pantser, let narrative carry her along – tried outlining and is now completely committed. If she’s not sure where to go, she looks at outline. She’ll occasionally deviate if it turns out in the narrative that it’s not a really good idea – She outlines the events, not the reactions.

AW – every book is different. Has written with and without outlines. "Outline" is like “block”; it means different things to different people. The more detailed, the less he can write.

AJ – Outline not written in stone – tells story as he imagines it at the start – discovers things about characters as he goes along – it’s a balance. He may not need the outline in the end, but it gives him faith that there is a story to be told that he can get to the end of. Occasionally he glances down to make sure it still working.

CH – Is a pantser. She just keeps going. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and she writes something different.

DBC – Writing a 15 pg outline would be death. Each chapter gets 2 sentences. This is his creative process. It's like a bottle of soda – every time he opens it to talk about it, to outline it , it goes flat. He is sparing in what he does in prepping because that release of energy is his creative process. He re-outlines as he goes along if he needs to.

AJ – Does write a 15 page outline – very loose, and he writes from character perspective so that it reads like  a short story with lots of emotional colour with lots of specifics that are missing. He knows what has to happen in the next 70 pgs, but doesn’t know how it’s going to happen.

Outlines with novels vs. short sotries?

DBC, AW: don’t outline their short stories. The outline is the objective the character is trying to accomplish, whether he gets it or not. DBJ has no idea what’s going to happen, how it’s going to end. Writes with faith, treats it like an adventure. The characters tell him. Misty: outlines short stories. On paper.

AJ: However much outline he does, there will always be a point where he has to create a document, “What the hell is this book about”. What the core of the story is about. What the narrative arc is. This is after writing the story, though.

CH – Doesn’t outline anything, writes the outline in her head and not on paper.

Does the quality change whether you struggle in real life or don’t?

CH – Where your mind is is a big thing.

AJ – They tend to go together.. A miserable day in real life or writing is a miserable day. They're not separate. Writer's block is a sign that he’s lost faith in a story.

When you have a bad day, do you find refuge in your writing to turn your day around?

FH – Sometimes.

AW – If he has a bad day, he can’t write. Except when he gets a very very very nasty rejection.

MM – Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

FH – Writes well when upset if she can find a way to channel that energy.

What's one thing you do when you’re stuck that works for you?

FH: (You mean, other than drinking?)

DBC: Opens a separate file, talks about where the story needs to go. Also goes back and reads what he has so far (even if it’s the whole book), and takes notes.

AJ: Sometimes the act of re-reading gives you faith that it works.

CH: Steps away from the book.

AW: Goes back and sees where he made the mistake. If you can’t get much done, it’s time to stop and go back. 

MM: Moves – dances (exercises). Easiest way to jumpstart her brain. Stops reading what she is writing and looks at something else.

FH – Outlines in a web outline, starting with the main point in the centre, to try to pinpoint what's not working.

AJ – Walks, any time he runs into a part where he’s bored, struggling , or stuck. Doesn’t run. Energizes his body but keeps his brain free. Imagines conversations – the act often helps get the issue figured out.

MM – Does her best dancing when she stops talking to herself. It’s about disengaging the brain. Can think about writing because her body is doing stuff.

DBC – Can’t walk away. When faced with that thing that isn’t working, he pounds away at it until he figures it out.

AW – Ideas come clear to him when he first wakes up, because all of the critical aspects of thinking are eliminated.

AJ – Wrote a problem on a piece of paper and stuck it under his pillow before bed. It worked. Because he was aware of it.

Do you ever have moments of doubt even after completion of the novel?
DBC – Every novel at 60%, he has a serious crisis of faith. Everything sucks. Then he gets over it.

AJ – Neil Gaiman's 3 things : “Produce good work, on time, and be nice and easy to work with. If you have two of those, you can get away with the third.”

MM – Yes, we doubt. The night before her book came out, she thought of better ending.

AW – There’s always another book, another story to tell.

Can you read fiction when you’re writing fiction?

AW – No.

MM – Yes, reads all the time. Tries to save it for bedtime, like a treat for having written. Everybody’s different, though.

AJ – Yes, but things that are different from what he’s writing

DBC: Didn’t used read what he is writing, because he was afraid of similar voices creeping into his head. But at this point he does and he’s glad, and it took him awhile to be comforatable enough with his own writing.

CH: Doesn’t read romance because that’s what she writes.

If you’ve built your world for your novels, do you therefore stop reading in that genre to avoid lifiting ideas?

AJ – Yes, so he doesn’t subconsciously.