Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Day Q&A

It's about that time again! Leave your questions in comments, and I will answer as fast as I am able. Yes, you may ask as many as you'd like about whatever you want. I will be around all day, and all questions asked before I wake up tomorrow will be answered.

*opens edits to work while I wait*


  1. I know from reading your blog that you were on submissions for a long time. Was there a point where you had to have contract renewal discussions with your agent? How did that work? What was it like?

  2. Lisa, I've never had to! My contract did say that it had like a year on it, but when that year hit I didn't have a desire to discuss it. I was happy with Nathan, and despite the lack of success on sub I had no intention of moving on or anything.

    When Nathan had to leave, there was no talk about the contract either, since I was still with Curtis Brown. Anna essentially picked up where Nathan left off, and she's been absolutely wonderful! I am very happy where I'm at:)

  3. In your opinion, how can you tell if a novel is done? As in ready to query? It seems like there are always things that can be changed, but those changes might be changes for the sake of changing and not actually making it better. What do you think? How do you know when you are done?

  4. Aww...rats! I think Blogger ate my question. If it didn't and I post twice, my apologies.

    I've been writing off and on for the past 4 years, but never seriously. I have some good ideas that I tinker with when I'm feeing ambitious. The bottom line: I don't get anything done because I don't take myself seriously. (And no risk = no failure, right?)

    My question for you is this: When did you start taking yourself seriously? What was the impetus for making writing your career?

  5. Jenilyn, that's a GOOD question, and virtually impossible to answer:) I would say that when you put everything you can put into a book—including edits and betas crits and all that—that you are ready to query.

    Now, here's the problem with that: That doesn't necessarily mean the book is good enough. I know, that's a horrible thing to say, but it's the truth.

    I can honestly tell you that I did the best job I possibly could on every novel I queried. I was not lazy. I edited. I did all I knew how to do. But the thing is, I was still green. My best effort, sadly, still wasn't a *publishable* effort. It's hard to face that, but I'm okay with it now.

    That's why I think it's always important to move on to the next book (NOT the next book in the series, mind you). Because that book will always be stronger. And even if the previous gets published, you still need a Next Book.

    So I would say do everything you can, know that it might not be enough, take the plunge and query, and if the feedback isn't what you want know that it's okay. You learned, you're growing, you'll get there.

  6. Bethany, I didn't take myself seriously for a long time. I was an admitted hobbyist. I never thought I could actually write a publishable story, though I'd daydreamed of it often.

    I was in a bookstore one day when I saw a bookmark with that Henry David Thoreau quote in my sidebar: Go *confidently* in the direction of your dreams!

    With an exclamation mark and everything.

    It's totally cheesy, but that quote did it. I'd never really gone after my dreams. I played with them, thought it would be nice if they happened, but I never had the confidence to go out and get them.

    I bought that bookmark. It was a nice metal one with red and orange lettering (Orange! It was DESTINY!). I've since lost it, but I will never forget those words. That was the day I decided I'd give my dreams a shot, when I would go "all in" on the writing and see if I could make it happen.

    That's the funny thing about dreams. They don't just land in your lap. You really do have to work for them. I was recently watching The Pixar Story, which documents the birth of Pixar Studios. I can't remember who exactly said it on there, I think it was Steve Jobs but possible John Lasseter or Ed Catmull, but they said, "Most over night successes take years to achieve."

    I got my dream, but it will take SEVEN years to be fully realized (that's how long it will have been from that bookmark to TRANSPARENT's publication).

    If you really want it, you have to work. And if you are just playing around, that's okay, too, as long as you're honest about it. Maybe you're not ready to go all in yet, but someday you will be.

  7. Hi Natalie!

    Any advice on what to look for in a critique partner or a beta reader? And what do you look for when you're critiquing or reading someone else's work? (Read: how can I be a better CP/BR?)



  8. Kathryn, I have a whole section in my Reference tab on crits and betas and such. So if you want a lot more information, check that out.

    But one question I haven't answered there is how *I* crit. That's an interesting question! I'll see if I can give a succinct answer.

    When I go into a crit, it really depends on what the writer needs. Sometimes a book has a great plot already, but the characters are flat and I don't know why I should care about them. In that case I would point out where I need more character development to make the story compelling.

    Sometimes a writer has great characters, but nothing is really happening, so I focus on how to make the plot move.

    And, yeah, sometimes both character and plot need work, so I work on both.

    There have been times that I've critted writers that struggle a lot with the actual prose. Their grammar is sloppy, and I spend most of my time suggesting how to improve that. Or they have chronic repetition in tags, wording, character actions, etc. Or perhaps they over explain.

    It varies so much that it's hard to say what I do. I guess mostly I try to help, but not take over the work and make it mine. I try to show the writer how they can make what they have even better, and I hope they get that I believe in their ability and work.

    I always try to be kind, because people are much more willing to take your advice when you make it clear that you LIKE them and their work.

    I have no clue if I actually accomplish any of that, though.

  9. I looove when authors take questions, so thanks for any advice!

    My question is how do you typically write a first draft? Do you write an outline first? Do you write it all the way through fairly quickly, then go back and do a major fixer-upper? Or more slowly? Or out of order? Or something else?

    I'm working on the first draft of my first stab at a YA novel, and I started with simply a word count goal for every day (with the idea that I'd go back through it after the first draft was done and flesh it out a lot more), which worked great at first. About a third of the way through, though, I feel like it's gotten off track and I need a new approach!

    I love your blog, by the way.

  10. When you were on sub, how long did it take to get responses? Both positive and negative? Did it ever feel like forever?

  11. ClaireCWrites, it really depends on the book. For paranormal/fantasy-ish type stuff, I seem to average about 3 months for a first draft. For contemporary, they take anywhere from 6 months to a year. I have just started research for my first historical (with some Paranormal elements), and I'm sure that will take...awhile:)

    As far as method, I'm kind of a hybrid pantser/outliner. I don't so much outline as take notes on what I think will happen next. I try to explore a few paths. But at the same time, I NEVER plot out an entire book to the end. It just gets boring to me at the point.

    I always write linearly (or what I think the order should be), and I usually try to be succinct because I prefer to be on the short side and add rather than cut. I like getting the bones of the story, so to speak.

    If you feel like you've gotten off track in a draft, I'd suggest stopping and just thinking. Find the point where you think it derailed. DON'T push yourself to writ more if you are lost. Have a decent idea of where you're going:)

  12. Becky, first, it ALWAYS felt like forever. Whether it was two weeks or six months.

    For me, responses varied quite a bit. The fastest rejection I got was in 2 weeks. The slowest was over six months. I didn't get a single bite on the ninjas until over six months in (and not on the first round of subs). It was honestly one of the roughest times in my life.

    On TRANSPARENT, things went quite a bit differently. I didn't hear ANYTHING for like 5 weeks. Nothing. Then at about that time I got a couple rejections and found out a couple editors were in the acquisitions process. But those 5 weeks felt like a lifetime, I'm telling you. I even shut down my blog for awhile because I just couldn't function being on sub a 2nd time.

    Six weeks in, we got the offer. Took a little bit of waiting to hear from outstanding subs, and then it was on to the negotiations, etc:)

  13. As always, thanks for doing these great Q&As!

    Especially since you like to genre-hop (which is awesome), I was wondering if you've tried out different forms as well. Have you written (or do you ever plan to write) short stories, flash fiction, poems, funny memoir pieces, etc. to submit for publication? I don't know how you'd have time with all of the amazing novel writing you get done, but I thought I'd ask.

  14. Do you know anything about pen names and how they work? I mean, legally and stuff ... do you sign contracts with that name? What about book tours? Do your friends have to remember to call you by that name when they're around you? Do you just choose one and go, or do you need to do something "formal?" What happens if you write in a different genre and don't want your "kidlit" name associated with an adult romance, for instance? Just pick another and go? What name do you sign your checks with?

    It all seems so confusing. But yes, this is my big question and I don't know where to ask. :)

  15. Jillian, I don't know! I think it would be really fun to participate in anthologies and the like, but I have to admit I don't often write short stories. Okay, it's been a LONG time since I've written one, and I've never been very good at them, honestly. I always end up having way more to tell...hence the book thing:)

    I have told a lot of "life stories" on my blog that would likely count as "memoir" though. I do like to write about my life, and I think it's important to have those stories and experiences documented.

    Who knows, maybe one day I'll write a series of shorts? I always like to change it up:)

  16. Clickerbug, I must admit that I don't know a whole lot about pen names, but I think it's simpler than people make it out to be. Several writers have different pen names for different genres, and I can see why it's important, especially when there's a big difference in genre.

    A lot of the times, publishers are involved with choosing a pen name, so I would hazard a guess that your actual name is often on the check. I think it would depend if you went into the house with the pen name or not.

    A close friend of mine actually uses a pen name, and sometimes I *do* forget that her last name is actually different because I say the pen name so often online. She does book tours and all that stuff as a pen name, with no issues, though I imagine sometimes one would get mixed up signing in the beginning.

    I wish I could give you more info, but that's all I got.

  17. I'm currently trying a new approach to writing - in the past, I've just plunged in and starting trying to get cracking... which usually lasts about 700 words before I think 'Right. What next?'

    I'm now trying to work on a much more detailed plan before I start, so as to avoid that block... I wondered what your planning process was like, and what you think you do well/badly?

  18. I actually included "funny memoir" in the list specifically because I love your life story blog posts - so even if you never publish-publish something in that genre, thanks for letting us read them here!

  19. Nik the Mod, I might not be the right person for this question, because I tend to be a plunger. I can usually dive right in and pump out 30-50 pages before I hit the "Uh...so now what?" block.

    But I guess I can do this because I have a clear idea of my story's set up. There are certain things that have to happen at the beginning of a book. You have to set up the characters, why we should care about them, and the impending conflict.

    Simply put, these things need to be there in some form:

    1. Character motivation/desires

    2. Obstacles to those desires

    3. Character's choice to take action of some sort

    As an example, let's use Star Wars: A New Hope:
    1. Luke wants to get off Tatooine.
    2. His uncle won't let him
    3. After uncle's death, Luke decides to avenge/set out (so he got what he wanted but at a great price), adventure ensues.

    There's A LOT more in that opening, of course, but those are the simple points that drive Luke's opening. Now, it gets more exciting when there are multiple character/goal/obstacles combos, ya?

    You have Leia wanting to help the Rebellion, Darth getting in the way, her using R2D2 to twart him.

    You have Han Solo wanting cash, Luke's whole adventure getting in the way, but his eventual reward for sticking with him.

    And even Darth Vadar/The Emperor wanting to rule the universe, the Rebellion in the way, and the Death Star as their ultimate way of doing that (and since he's the villain he's thwarted).

    Desire, obstacle, action, result. Mix 'em up, repeat them, etc.

    These motivations are what help me set up a story in the beginning. It should let us know what the characters want and what they plan to do to get it. The rest of the book is really a pursuit of that goal, riddled with obstacles and twists and ending at either the character getting what they want (or an altered form) or failing.

    I have no idea if that helps, but that's my best effort:)

  20. Jillian, thank you! Glad to know the stories are appreciated, especially when I feel like such a dork when I write them:)

  21. I was wondering if you were planning on donating other full manuscript critiques (plus character sketch) to good causes in the future?

  22. Rena, I'm not sure! It really depends on my schedule. I wasn't very busy when All 4 Alabama asked me (I hadn't even announced my book deal then), so I had the time to do that. Now that I'm wading through edits, there's no way I could offer a full. But maybe there will be opportunity in the future?

    I definitely plan on offering crits for as long as I'm a writer, though. I can tell you that. I am a firm believer in giving back, and a long time ago I decided that I would always read for people no matter how "big" I got. So you can count on seeing me offer crits (whether through contests or auctions) for years to come:) They may not be in mass quantity, but there will always be chances.

  23. How long did it take you to find an agent? How many times did you submit before finding representation?

    Thanks for answering questions. :-)

  24. Hey Natalie,

    Did you ever know, before it was done, that whatever you were working on would be a 'practice novel'? I'm about 50k into an adult paranormal romance WIP, and I'm thinking it may not be salvageable/marketable etc. I plan to finish it regardless, but was wondering if you had any thoughts on the matter.

    Thanks so much for doing this--I love this blog :)

  25. Lena, It took me almost two years to find an agent. I tried with four different projects, amassing around 200 queries in the process.

    Yes, for reals. I'm stubborn like that.

  26. Lee, once. It was between finished draft #6 and #7. So, 6.5, you could say. I was about 45k into a book about a girl who could talk to plants. I know. I stopped writing to do a reading marathon, got an idea for another novel, and never when back to it. I felt guilty for a while, but when I decided to try and get back to it, I wasn't impressed with my work and was happy I moved on.

    I ended up lifting two of those characters later for SIDEKICK. They aren't much like their old selves, but that was their origin:)

    I think it really depends for you. I mean, I know when I'm done with a book, but I can't tell someone else when they are done, you know? Sometimes it's okay to move on, but that's such a personal choice. You could just be having jitters, but I don't know all the circumstances. Think about what's making you say it's not salvageable/marketable, and try to figure out if that's valid.

    I mean, I never thought TRANSPARENT was very marketable, but here I am! All of my stuff is a little off beat, but there might just be a place for you anyway:)

  27. Do you ever find that your characters are taking the book in a direction you didn't expect?

  28. William, yes, fairly frequently. I am pretty character based, but I still don't know my characters 100% when starting a novel. Sometimes I assume they will do one thing, but when I get there I am wrong. That's fine with me—usually what I figure out is better than what I planned.

    In my current WIP, for example, I had this idea that one character was really bubbly and eccentric. We'll she's not. She's actually quite sad and very guarded. She may open up over time, but that changed the story quite a bit. In all good ways.

  29. Ok, weird question, but I'm curious: do you ever write things solely for yourself or for your friends? I'm not talking about the books you sold/subbed (obviously you loved those a lot), but the kind of book where you know it doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell but that's OK because you love it anyway?

  30. Elizabeth, I do that all the time! In junior high, I wrote a series that I'd pass out to my friends and they read it and beg me for more. They were great ego boosters.

    And I do have 13 novels written, probably 9 of those I will never attempt to publish.

  31. Hi Natalie,
    I don't have a writing question, but a food question:
    As you have a passion for cooking, and New Zealand heritage, have you ever made ANZAC biscuits? (ANZAC = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps)


  32. kllamp, I haven't! But if it's a cookie I better get on it! Unfortunately I don't know as much about my Maori culture as I'd like. My kiwi grandmother died when I was 8, but I remember her singing Maori songs and teaching me how to use poi balls!

    I really want to go there someday! The last time I went I was a toddler. Boo.

  33. One more! What are some of your favorite books? YA and/or otherwise.

  34. Claire, so many! My favorite is usually what I'm reading at the time. I've just started Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and it's as beautiful as expected!

  35. They are so easy and yummy to make!
    They are called Anzac biscuits as the wives, daughters and girlfriends of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC's) made them for the soldiers in World War 1 as they were concerned they wouldn't be getting enough nutrition, they were made from things that were easily available at the time, and with things that would be able to last the 2 month plus trip by sea.

    1 cup rolled oats, 1 cup plain flour, 1 cup sugar, 125 grams butter, 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 1/2 teaspoon bicarbinated soda, 3/4 cup desiccated coconut, 1 tablespoon boiling water

    Mix oats, flour, sugar and coconut in large bowl.
    Melt butter and golden syrup in a saucepan.
    Mix bicarb soda and water together and add to the melted butter and syrup (watch out it froths up!)
    Stir the butter mixture into the dry indredients, mix until combined.
    Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on lined trays (spaced apart as the do spread), flatten with a fork.
    Place in a 170 C (approx. 340F) and bake for 10-15 minutes, until just golden.
    If you want chewy biscuits, you would take them out around 10-12 min, if you want them crispy leave them for longer. I love mine chewy!

    Although they are not Maori, they are a great tradition in this part of the world. I would love to go to New Zealand one day too, I've only been to the Auckland airport when I was 14, which was a while ago!!! But I do remember my mum and dad bringing me back some poi balls when they went when I was younger, some Maori Missionary Sisters tried to teach me how to use them, so fun!

    Hope you try them out!
    Melissa x

  36. Thanks for taking the time to respond Natalie - I like the Star Wars analogy!

    Still can't believe we have to wait until 2013 for Transparent!!!


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