Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All Turned Around

I made these Berry Blondies to keep me company all night. True story.

So we've been going through some life changes here at the Whipple house. One of them is the fact that my husband got a new job! Which, YAY. Seriously, I will not miss my insurance regime one bit. But the new job comes with an interesting change—Nick is working swing and weekends, so now he's gone in the afternoon/evening.

Today is Day 1 of the change, and it's definitely weird to be sitting here while he's still at work. I am very aware of the items in my house that could be used as weapons. And I may have checked the locks on every window and door. I certainly miss him, and I'm still trying to figure out how to make sure he has a decent dinner that isn't always leftovers.

It's funny, how changes seem to come all at once. You'd think they'd space themselves out, but we've had one after the other for a couple months. Change change change. Each day is a new puzzle, some easier than others but always involved. I'm rolling with it, for the most part.

All this to say that I will probably be blogging at night now, when I'm all on my lonesome, because I need to spend the time I have in the morning with Nick and the kids, like I used to in the evenings. I know people don't seem to check the blogs in the evening (at least I rarely get comments past, like, four), but you have a heads up. I hope you'll still stop by when you can!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Egg Shells

I have a confession to make. I have a lot of fears, but the biggest right now is something I never thought I'd have, something I never used to worry about, something I used to love and enjoy daily:

The Internet

Yes, it's true. Particularly social networking. At times, logging into this online world puts me in a fit of panic. I freeze up when I go to blog or even tweet. It feels like a ticking time bomb. Will this be the day that the internet turns against me?

It didn't used to be this way. When I first started blogging, no one actually read my blog and I felt like I had the freedom to say what I felt like saying. For better or worse, one of my blog povs has always been honesty. While I also believe in being positive and not giving up, I certainly don't sugar coat my experiences. I tell you when it's hard. I tell you when I'm happy and what has been fulfilling about my journey.

But lately I find myself not wanting to be honest, not wanting to put myself out there. I want to hole up where it's safe.

Don't get me wrong, social networking can be an amazing thing. I have certainly benefitted from it. I've learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and grown as a writer because of this blog. I'm not unaware of what a blessing this experience has been, or the fact that being online has, overall, a positive impact on my writing "career."

It's just that lately, it feels like the dark side of the internet rears its head more often. The same benefits that allow us to spread good news are often being used to spread, well, gossip and other not-so-nice things. It seems like every time a person says one thing a group doesn't agree with, they pounce on them like a pack of vindictive cheerleaders. They launch massive twitter attacks and mocking sessions, they blog about their stupidity, they effectively lock the person in the stocks and throw rotten food at them. Because an example must be set, as a warning to anyone else who dares to say what they think.

Yes, I know that sounds harsh. It is harsh, but it also feels that way to me, and it scares the hell out of me.

And I am not saying I am clean on this matter. I have participated. I am not proud of it. In fact, I always regret it. It's so easy to fall into it without even noticing. The internet is crazy like that. How quickly we can forget that we were once ignorant of this business, this online community, and the etiquette that comes with it.

So here I am being honest about it, wondering if this will be the post that ruins me. Or will it be the next? How many more honest posts can I risk before I'm the one in the stocks, my face dripping with rancid tomato juice? I don't know, and lately I don't want to take the chance to find out. I'm starting to understand why authors keep a safe distance on their blogs.

This probably isn't a problem when your schtick isn't honesty, but it is a serious issue for me. The internet has changed so much since I started blogging. I have changed. My position has changed. I am still trying to figure out how to behave at this point, and I pray that people will be forgiving and understanding. I hope we can all give others the benefit of the doubt.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Oh, The Repetition! Make It Stop!

Repetition is your novel's worst nightmare. Your readers', too. It's like water torture, that little drop plink, plink, plinking on your forehead over and over until you want to scream "YES I KNOW HE LIKES HER EYES IF YOU TELL ME AGAIN I WILL HURT SOMETHING."

There are so many ways to get rid of repetition, and I highly recommend going through your manuscript at least once with a focus on this oh-so-annoying writer habit. I mean, we all do it. It's unavoidable. That's what revision is for.

Let's start small and go big, ya?

Punctuation Level
Just like words lose their impact in repetition, punctuation does as well. My personal crime is the overuse of dashes, but it's important to watch out for ellipses, semi-colons, exclamation marks, etc. I get so crazy with dashes that one of my friends said I was allowed just one every other page at the most.

As you go through your work, look closely at the punctuation you favor and consider varying it up.

Word Level
I think word repetition is the one we're most aware of. I personally can't stand to have a repeated word in a sentence. I avoid it at all costs. If it's a "big word" or a made up word or a "bad" word or something punchy/funny, it should be used sparingly. They have impact—they also stand out much more when repeated.

A reader will remember you describing something as "lenticular" seven times, while "round" tends to blend in more, you know?

And then there are personal word ticks. Mine are "just" and "even." I usually have to remove over 100 of each from my rough drafts. I try to watch for it while writing, but I still don't notice how often I do it.

Phrase/Sentence Level
Sometimes with get into structural ruts. Look at your sentences—are they all the same relative length? Do you use certain phrases more than you should? Are your sentences' grammatical structure all the same?

I tend to have an extreme love of participle phrases. Sometimes my early writing will look like this: "He walked to the door, wondering who it could be. He opened it, eyeing the strange figure. The man wore a top hat, dripping wet from the rain."

Same. Structure. Over and over. That is not good. Sentences need to be as varied as words, if not more. Monotonous grammar kills.

Paragraph Level
The layout of your words is far more important than we sometimes realize. Just like a bunch of same-length sentences is boring, so it a page full of same-length paragraphs. Our minds seem to thrive on variety. Visual, mental, physical, what-have-you.

I tend to write in three-line paragraphs. I have no idea why, but I do. My pages will often be three-line paragraphs all the way down if I'm not paying attention. Other writers tend to abuse the one-liner, having one every other paragraph. Some writers write EPIC paragraphs that make the entire page one miserable block of text.

There's no right or wrong, as long as you switch it up.

Chapter Level
Yes, even chapters can benefit by some differences in length. Look at your chapters. Are they all ten pages long? Is there a way to make some snappier and some longer? Perhaps. Keeping the reader guessing is good. A short chapter may propel them to the next. A long chapter may keep them reading and invested.

Not saying you should have one-pagers when all your others are twenty, but they certainly shouldn't all be the same.

Watch out for how you begin and end chapters as well. I tend to have a lot of chapters ending with someone leaving, which is not only repetitious but gives a reader the chance to put down the book. Look for different ways to begin and end chapters that will keep readers intrigued.

Another place to watch for repetition is in and around dialogue. Are you explaining what your character just said? Is this conversation similar to any others? Is there new information given, or is old info regurgitated in a different way?

Also watch for character actions. Does your MC solve problems the same way every time? Is he or she facing the same problem over and over with no real change or complications? Is your character growing and making different choices, or just staying the same?

Be aware of setting repetition, too. How many scenes take place in the living room? At school? In the car? Perhaps some of those can be changed to more exciting/new venues.


As you've probably gathered, the key here is variation. It's essential to good writing. If you are over-looking repetition, I highly recommend you mend your ways. Taking a closer look at all these things has greatly improved my own writing, and I hope it helps you, too.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Writers: It's Never Over

Oh, Charlie. You just keep trying and trying...

I used to think there'd be a point in my writing life where the publishing gods would officially ban me from trying to get published.

Like, on my fourth queried project (my 8th finished novel). I sent it out with great trepidation, positive that these agents I've queried two or three times already would finally say, "Okay, dear, since you can't take the hint, IT IS TIME TO QUIT." I mean, surely there was a limit. After someone queries that long, no success has to mean it's over, right? Clearly I wasn't good enough, and yet like a stubborn ox I kept at it.

Well, you all know I got an agent—an agent who'd seen my very horrible beginnings, no less. AKA: My greenest of queries on project #1. And it didn't matter. All that mattered was my current project.

Sometimes it sounds like you only have one chance. One chance to impress an agent. One chance to make it on sub. One chance to be a bestseller. One chance one chance one chance. It can feel like this business is completely unforgiving. If you don't nail the query the first time, you are doomed. If you don't sell in the first three weeks on sub, you won't. If your first book doesn't sell well, you will never sell a book again. Etc. and so forth.

But take this from someone who has had a lot of second chances—it's never over.

If you have the will to keep going, you can. You would be surprised how forgiving agents and editors can be. They are not the unfeeling, stiff characters they are sometimes made out to be. There is such a thing as a second chance. Even a third and fourth and fifth. Every time I thought, "Surely, this time it is over. This time I have failed so hard I won't be able to get back up," I was wrong.

Like good ol' Charlie Brown, I just had to try and kick that football again. I had to hope that someday I'd kick it. And I did. And I will again.

Because it is never, ever over.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Makes A Book "Real"?

If you're a writer, maybe this dream is familiar to you:

You walk into a bookstore, and there, faced out, is a book with your name on it. You take it off the shelf, run your hands over the beautiful jacket with embossing and the expensive paper and a perfect blurb. Then you pull the jacket off, mooning over the hardcover's surprising color. And they splurged on the imprinted title!

You open your book, the spine cracking oh-so-splendidly. The pages are perfect, with a beautiful font for each chapter heading and even a little graphic that matches your book's tone perfectly.

Finally, your book is a "real" book.

I've been thinking a lot lately about this idea of a "real" book. For better or worse, it seems that we writers have this ideal in our heads. I can admit to it; I've fantasized about publishing for a long while. But the longer I've spent on the fringes of publishing—as in knowing a lot about the business and knowing a lot of people in it—the more I've come to see how dangerous this ideal can be. Especially in a time when the traditional idea of a book is changing rapidly.

I have 13 completed books on my hard drive, most of which haven't seen much past my little crit partner circle. Are these books not real because they aren't printed between two hardcovers?

I feel a bit like Pinocchio. I just want to be a real boy! I want my stories to have skin and bones and all that real boy stuff.

But did Pinocchio being wood invalidate his humanity? His feelings? One could argue he was just as human as a puppet as he was as a "real" boy, no? Different package, sure, but human, mistakes and all. Hell, you could even argue that being a puppet has its advantages.

Is a book "real" if it debuts in paperback? With no pretty jacket or stiff spine to crack? Is a book "real" if it's only a digital copy for sale online, just words on a screen as it always has been? Is a book "real" if it's never been published in any form at all?

I think we all know the "good writer" answer: Yes! Of COURSE these books are all real. Even the roughest first draft is a real book.

Why doesn't it feel that way then?

Why do I feel like my stories are "less" because they aren't encased in an expensive hardcover? Why does it feel like paperback debuts are "lesser" than a hardback debut? Why are digital books seen as "less" than both hardback and paperback? I don't know the answer, really, except that it probably has to do with that fantasy above, and reality often falling short of it.

A friend of mine compared it to envisioning your wedding day. Most girls have plans, ideals, for what that day will bring. I remember wanting to have my reception in a fancy ballroom with a big chandelier and a live band and amazing food.

I had my reception in a church cultural hall. AKA: A gym. No chandelier. Because it was free and we weren't made of money, still aren't. I made my own playlist, and my sister put it on her iPod. We played it from some small speakers. BUT. The food was amazing, thankyouverymuch. Peppermint cheesecake FTW. My priorities were made very clear, heh.

If I wanted to, I could focus on all the things my wedding day wasn't. Honestly? It did not even come close to what I pictured as a little girl.

But it was still the best day of my life.

Because the important things were there—the most essential being a man I would marry over and over again. I was so in love with him that all the details didn't matter. I didn't let them matter.

I hope that, when publication comes, I can handle it like I did my wedding. I hope I can focus not on what form my book takes, but on what's between the title page and the acknowledgments. I hope I can rejoice in the fact that a stranger out there might buy it and read it and love it. I hope I can remember that my books are as real now as they'll ever be.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Character Sketch

It's been awhile since I've posted a drawing. Not that I haven't had pictures to post, but I've been doing a lot of notebook sketching and my scanner, I'm pretty sure, is possessed. It can take like an hour to scan a picture, and frankly I've been a little lazy. And busy. But mostly lazy.

So here's a sketch! Isn't she pretty? I won't tell you who this is, as she is part of a brand new WIP that is just for fun. I can't talk about it because then I will take it seriously. Does that happen to you guys? The second I share an idea/WIP, the pressure turns on.

Not happening with this book. It's all for my own enjoyment. I have plenty of other projects to take seriously.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Having A Voice Is Awesome

Hi. Good to see you all. Did you pierce your ears or something? You look different. Good different. So last week I spent the majority of my time in bed, sick enough that I couldn't stand for more than a few minutes, let alone work and do that whole mothering thing. My poor kids.

Today was filled with much catching up—with work, with my kids, with friends, and my mess of a house. And now here I am catching up with the dear blog!

You know, there's nothing like NOT having something to make you grateful. Last week, I spent most of my time voiceless, and when I did talk it was a painful whisper.

Have you ever tried to mother in whispers?

Not. Easy. Okay, impossible.

My voice, I hadn't realized what a tool it was. A sharp "NO." An excited "Good job!" A gentle "I love you." I was relegated to one flat, quiet tone, if that. My kids didn't listen, honestly. Why? Because inflection and tone are as much as part of communication as the words.

Ah, yes, yes, you may see where I'm going. Voice. More importantly, YOUR voice. I think sometimes we're afraid to use our writing voices, so instead we write in the equivalent of a whisper. But guess what? No one listens when all you do is whisper. Using the full range of your voice is what makes your writing unique and vibrant, different from anything else, something people perk up and listen to.

I am so glad to have my voice back, and I'm gonna use it. A lot.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Dad, The Quiet Worker

I don't talk about my dad as often as I should, mostly because it tends to make me cry. He's just that kind of man, you know? The kind that has quietly worked his entire life to help others. His family. His company. His church. He is the humble, able hand that makes sure things get done, whether or not he gets praised.

I would say that my mother taught me to dream, to be creative. And my father taught me to how to work, to set goals, to achieve those dreams. Both as important as the other.

From an early age my dad had me thinking practically. When it came to career goals, he always encouraged my writing, but he also made sure I was informed. He told me how hard it could be, how long it might take, how I should cultivate other skills. That way I could have another job while I pursued my dreams.

At times, I wondered if my dad didn't believe in me. He always took this practical approach to my dreams. It was never "You can do it! I know you can!" More like "How will you accomplish that? What are your goals? Your plan? Have you researched? Looked into this opportunity or that?" I didn't understand why he'd pummel me with these questions instead of encouraging me like my mom did. His drilling made me feel like he thought I was incapable, that I wouldn't succeed.

But my dad knew a secret I didn't know at the time—work makes dreams come true.

It wasn't until I stopped pretending and started working that I understood why my dad always asked me those questions. It wasn't that he didn't believe in me; he wanted me to achieve my goals, and more than that, he wanted to give me the tools I needed to succeed.

When I started my writing journey in earnest, my dad's ever-present advice was ready and waiting for me. I made a plan—I would pursue publishing for five years, and if nothing came of it I'd reevaluate. I set goals, just as I was taught. The first being a thousand words a day, since I knew that I had to learn routine if I wanted this to be my job. I did my research, gathering as much knowledge as I could about writing and publishing. I read books in my genre, read blogs, writing advice, query tips, and on and on.

My dream became work, which hasn't always been easy or fun, but it was the only way to make it a reality.

I never would have been able to do that without my dad.

So today, Dad, I thank you. My dreams would still be floating around in my head if it weren't for you. Even if I didn't understand at first, I will never forget that all those questions were asked out of love, not skepticism. Thank you for believing in me in your special way. Love you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Writers: The Write Race

I am so very happy to welcome Sally Hepworth to Happy Writers Society today! Since I am incredibly sick, I'm even more grateful that she has offered up this lovely post for us today. It's back to bed for me now. Make sure to keep the clubhouse clean, okay?

The Write Race
For most writers, the highs - finishing a manuscript, getting an agent, signing with a publisher, being told that someone loves your book – is the reason that we do it. So how ‘bout this for a crazy suggestion? I think the lows (rejection, writer’s block, crappy feedback – sound familiar?) are even better.

*needle scratches off old-fashioned record and men pause mid-puff on their pipes*

All right, calm down people! If you’ll just re-take your seats I’ll be happy to explain.

Picture yourself crouching at the starting line of a race track. To your right and left are eager writing enthusiasts all of whom have ‘a book in them’ (Don’t you hate that expression? Who doesn’t have a book in them? It’s getting it out that’s the hard part! But I digress.)

The gun fires and about half the people start running (writing). The other half wander off and do something else. Bonus! You’ve halved your competition and you’ve only just started.

Of those of you who did start, about half have their heads down and are running as fast as they can toward the first hurdle. The other half amble along, stopping for a cold drink or a chat with their mates. You’re among the runners.

After what seems like an eternity, you make it to the first hurdle. You’re probably not the first one there, (there’s always some smart -arse who is faster.) But you’ve got a polished manuscript, so who cares? It’s time to jump the query hurdle.

This one’s a toughie. You’re pretty intimidated, but you’re determined to get over this hurdle. If you’re smart you’ll watch your opponents tackle it and try and learn from them. You may need to go back to the beginning and start the race over, but you stick with it. You glean everything you can from your opponents and listen to advice from the sidelines.

It takes longer than you expect, but (eventually) you get over the hurdle (land an agent). And when you get to the other side, you see that three quarters of your opponents have dropped out. Woot! Woot!

The crowd is really cheering now, and you might throw them a bashful smile before turning back to the race. Then you continue on, feeling tired, but elated. You’ve past a tricky hurdle, you’ve obviously got what it takes! But as the next hurdle looms before you, you realize it’s even bigger and more precarious than the last one. The dreaded publication hurdle.

This hurdle usually takes several attempts to master. Like with the query hurdle, you may need to start the race again before you can successfully take the leap. But don’t dismay - look around! There’s only a handful of you left. All of those who simply ‘had a book in them’ are at the pub, swilling their pints and talking about how they ‘have a film in them.’ You’re still in the race.

It may take a long time to get over that publication hurdle (I’m still trying). When you do, I’m told there are more hurdles on the other side. In fact, there is no finish line to this particular race (it is a circular track). But if you’re keen to continue, you’ll face more cheers (highs) and more hurdles (lows).

The thing we writers tend to forget is that we are not the only ones facing lows. The other thing we forget is that, if there were no lows, everyone would be doing it (instead of just talking about it), and we’d be lost in the stampede. So, every time I come up against a new hurdle in my writing life, I celebrate it.

It reminds me that I’m one of the few still in the race.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I Blog A Lot...

So I looked at my dashboard today and noticed that Between Fact & Fiction has a whopping 974 posts! That's a lot of blogging, guys. I usually don't count milestones on my blog, save my anniversaries, but I'm thinking ONE THOUSAND blog posts is a big enough deal to do something celebratory.

What, I do not know.

Good thing I have 25 posts to figure it out. I'm thinking a contest. I should have some kind of contest, right? Maybe a sappy oh-I-love-you-guys-and-I-love-blogging speech? A Between Fact & Fiction digest, recounting everything that's happened since I started this whole thing?

Wow, boring ideas. If you have anything better, I am open to suggestions.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

All Day Q&A

Hi! It's about that time again. If you have a question, I will happily answer it in comments. It can be about whatever—doesn't even have to be about writing. Answers will appear as quickly as I can type them.



*Waits more*

*Taps pencil*

Questions? Anyone?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thinning The Crop

My grandfather was, and still is, a gardener. His old backyard—with rows of vegetables, a strawberry patch, a raspberry patch, a fence draped in grapes, and beautiful apple trees—is one of the fondest memories of my childhood. I remember one particular visit, in June, when I found my grandpa outside pulling baby apples from the tree. He ripped every other one from it's perch without ceremony.

I looked at him in horror, unable to fathom why anyone would waste all those baby apples. "What are you doing?"

"Thinning the crop." He pulled another one from the branch, and it fell at my feet.


"The tree can only handle so much fruit. When there are fewer fruits, the tree makes those apples bigger and sweeter. If I left all the fruit on, the apples wouldn't be very big or sweet."

I pondered this for a second. "So you're helping the tree?"

"Yes," he said. "Would you like to help?"

I nodded, and my grandfather taught me how to thin apples. Then he told me every crop needed to be thinned. You thin the grapes and the peas and the carrots and the lettuce. If you don't thin, your crop suffers because it doesn't have enough room to grow. And many spindly plants does not a good crop make.

I thought of my grandpa, today, as I went out to thin my own little garden (That's my pile of broccoli, poor broccoli). It's hard, honestly, to watch that pile of discarded plants grow. I've spent many an hour watering them. I've worked for them, and here I am ripping them out of the ground. But I can't mourn over the lost plants, because the ones that remain are much better off. They have room to grow, to be what they're supposed to be.

And of course that got me thinking of editing, since that's where I'm at writing-wise right now. I remember when I was hesitant to chop out any word. I had worked over those words! And if I cut them that meant I'd wasted time. But that's not true. Editing is much like thinning a crop. We writers take out what's in the way, so that the important stuff can flourish. If we don't, our book won't grow as it should.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Happy Writers: Missing Out Is Okay

Hello, all my happy writers! Hope you are doing well this Friday. The sun is finally out here, and my kids are loving it. Sure, not getting much done, but sun! Yay! This also means that the HWS clubhouse pool is officially open. Feel free to lounge and talk plot devices, whatevs.

So, Honesty Moment: When I heard about this awesome Comic Con panel? Yeah, I might have pouted about missing out. How could I not? So many cool people! People I kind of know. So yeah, those feelings of "Why don't I ever get to do anything cool?" came rushing in.

We all feel that way sometimes, don't we? (Please tell me I'm not the only one, otherwise this post is going to be SUPER embarrassing.) Especially with the advent of social networking, it seems like that feeling of "missing out" is lurking at every Twitter refresh or Facebook login. Now, more than ever, we get to see and hear about all the cool things people are doing. And since the internet has hyperbole down to a science, it can feel like everyone in the entire world has a cooler, better life than you do.

Which of course isn't true.

The truth? Everyone in the world is missing out on something. I am, sadly, not in Paris right now. AND THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE IN PARIS. I could spend a lot of time feeling deprived about that if I wanted to, but I don't. So why do I get so worked up over not getting to see one awesome Comic Con panel?

Well, probably because I really like hanging out with my friends, and they have the gall to live all over the country. So when they congregate in one place WITHOUT me, in come those "I am missing out!" feelings. Add to that the fact that I've always wanted to go to Comic Con, and...yeah.

But here's the thing. Last Saturday I got to spend a whole day with one of my best friends, doing book things and eating good food and seeing an awesome movie. And on Tuesday I got to hang out with my mom in a bookstore, browsing the pretty shelves while I took a call from my agent. On Wednesday, I had the privilege of attending Elana Johnson's launch at The King's English, which was wonderful and inspiring and just plain fun.

And Ally Carter will be here to sign in TWO WEEKS.

And in July I'm going on a writing retreat with some of my closest friends.

And other secret stuff...etc. and so forth.

When I'm looking at my own life, things seems pretty dang cool, you know? Sure, I am missing out on stuff—that's the plain truth—but it's inevitable. And that's OKAY. It's part of life. Even those people who look like they're doing all the cool stuff? They're missing out on something, too. We can't do everything. We can't go to every event. We can only enjoy and make the most of the things with do get to experience. The more I focus on my own life, not what everyone else is doing, the happier I am as a writer.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Simple Perfection

Yesterday I had a cheese sandwich—the BEST cheese sandwich I've ever had in my entire life. Not grilled cheese, mind you. I was at this fancy deli with all these pretty cheeses, and if you didn't know I'm kind of a cheese fan. Like, as a teen my friends called me Cheesegoddess, since I haven't met a cheese I didn't like.

So I ask the lady how big their cheese platter was, because I really just wanted to experience some of that beautiful cheese. She said it wasn't really a meal, but she could make me a special cheese sandwich that wasn't on the menu.

I am a fan on things not on the menu. They make me feel all cool and rebellious.

So I got my special sandwich—provolone, smoked gouda, and white cheddar, with lettuce, tomato and a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil for good measure. It was amazing. It sounds so simple, but the smoky gouda and the sharp cheddar cutting across that sweet balsamic? Genius. And the lettuce and tomato lightened what would otherwise be a rich set of cheeses. The combination was simple and yet perfect. So perfect that I went out late last night to buy the ingredients, just so I could have it again today.

It probably sounds weird, but this sandwich taught me something. Or rather, it reminded me that great things do not have to be complex. Great food is often simple and pure, and this is the same for many arts. Yes, I'm so relating this cheese sandwich to writing. Yes, this sandwich SPOKE TO ME. I really, REALLY like cheese. Deal with it.

Sometimes I try to make writing so much harder than it is. Sometimes I dig for the most complex solution when that perfect, simple cheese sandwich answer is right there in front of me. But the more I write, the more I discover that the simplest solution is most oftentimes the best. Stories don't have to have a million ingredients to be GOOD.

Don't get me wrong, I love me those fancy sandwiches with three different meats and two cheeses and veggies and grilled onions and french fries and avocado all rolled into one glorious handheld food masterpiece. BUT. That doesn't mean something simple is any less amazing or satisfying.

I think at times I get so focused on what my writing doesn't have—no onion rings! no Russian dressing! no pastrami!—that I forget just how perfectly well that balsamic and smoked gouda go together. And it's not so much about how many ingredients I have, but how I put them together that counts.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sidekick In Pictures

So I'm editing my pet project, Sidekick, right now. I don't think I've said much about it, save that it's contemporary YA and a little off beat (Wait, isn't ALL my stuff a little off beat?). I simply love working on it, you know? For some reason, even the editing doesn't stress me out too much. It's just one of those projects that has taken it easy on me, even if I will soon be rewriting the ending. I really hope someday I'll get to share it with more people!

Anyway, today I had to go to the dentist, and it threw off my editing groove a little. So I, uh, decided to hunt down images that remind me of the book. Visuals are always fun, right? Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Book That Speaks For Itself

Oh, marketing. Writers hear a lot about marketing. Make yourself a brand, get out there early to build your name, have contests, get followers, get blurbs, make countdown meters, master change avatar campaigns, networknetworknetwork.

But I'm not going to talk about that today. Because honestly? None of that really matters if you've ignored the most important marketing tool of all—writing a book that speaks for itself.

Sure, the other stuff can help, but when it comes down to it the best way to get your book out there is to write a really spectacular one. One that people can't help but share with their friends. One that has readers shoving it into the hand of everyone they know. One that doesn't need the other marketing stuff.

I truly believe, when it comes to marketing, this is the first responsibility of every writer. Writing and crafting the book should always be the main priority. The other stuff is just frosting, but what good is frosting on a cardboard cake? It is my goal, every time I sit down to a story, to write one that is solid and compelling enough to stand on its own. More than anything, I (and I'm sure all writers) want to create a book worthy of reading.

I never want to feel like my book needs a blurb to sell, you know? I don't ever want to be in a situation where my marketing efforts don't feel like a supplement, but a necessity. Because ultimately, a good book will eventually find its readers, regardless of how much marketing frosting is piled on top.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Illusion of Embarrassment

Today I've decided to share one of my most embarrassing moments with you. I know! Aren't you lucky? It's probably one of the most-asked questions of all time, but I promise you mine comes with an interesting twist.

It was my senior year in high school. After school, I headed for my locker like usual. I think I needed some books for homework, something like that. I traipsed through the long hallway, ready to get home. I opened my locker and grabbed my book. I looked over my stuff to make sure I had everything, and then I shut my locker. Except I forgot one thing—to take my head out first.

Yes, I shut my head in my locker.

Not softly, either! I SLAMMED my head in my locker. It hurt—that eye-stinging hurt. I shut it right on my temples, and the pain radiated through my skull like sound through a tuning fork. Talk about mortifying. Who forgets to take their head out before shutting their locker? I could not have been more embarrassed. But here's where it gets weird:

It was after midnight; I just finished painting the stage for a show.

The halls were completely, utterly empty.

No one saw.

Yet I was still embarrassed. Not because people laughed at me, or even because anyone saw. It was all me—all in my slightly bruised head. I didn't really think much about it at the time, but looking back I find this event rather interesting. I mean, I was terrified that someone would find out. I worried about the security cameras capturing my clumsiness. And this was before YouTube exploded! I worried someone would ask about the bruise on the side of my face, tried to cover it up with makeup, wore my hair differently to hide it until faded. As if it was this huge, scandalous secret!

Now? I mostly just laugh at myself, but today I've been thinking a lot about this thing we call "embarrassment." As this incident so clearly shows, this feeling comes from us. No one made me feel embarrassed. I chose to be embarrassed, and I chose it based on how I thought other people would think of me if they knew.

Then I started thinking about the others things I'm embarrassed about. Not the silly head-slamming-in-locker moments, but the bigger things. Like how we don't have very much money. Or how my publishing journey has been so long and fraught with obstacles. Or even how I feel about my appearance. I realized my embarrassment came down to the same thing on that late night—I'm worrying about what other people will think.

The funny thing is, for a long time I thought that if I avoided "embarrassing" things then I wouldn't look or feel like a fool. But even if I hid "embarrassing" things about myself, I still felt like a fool or a phony or whatever. That's not the way to get rid of those feelings. In fact, it only breeds them, until there is so much you feel embarrassed about you can hardly make a move without worrying what someone will think.

No, the only way to get rid of embarrassment comes from inside. Because in reality, when you feel that way it's not so much that others think you're stupid or klutzy or unimportant—that's how you feel about yourself, and you're scared that everyone else knows. But no one else really cares, and even if they do it doesn't matter as much as how you feel about yourself.

Archaically, the word "embarrass" meant something slightly different. It meant to hamper or impede, to make difficult or intricate, to complicate. I find this definition fascinating, because in a way that is just what embarrassment is even now. It's allowing your insecurities to get in the way. It's letting yourself be impeded. It's making something more difficult than it needs to be.

I mean, so what if I shut my head in my locker? I made the whole thing so much more embarrassing (i.e. difficult and complicated) than it had to be. I let my insecurities take over.

I wish I could say I don't do that anymore, but I do sometimes. And every time I do I look back and shake my head at myself, because all my worries about what others would think never pan out. Most people never even notice. Lately, it's been one of my goals to stop being embarrassed, to stop getting in my own way. Because no one can make me feel embarrassed but myself.

Friday, June 3, 2011

HWS: Pressing On & Getting Out There

Today we have writer Mindy McGinnis as a guest on Happy Writers Society. Welcome, Mindy, make sure to visit the VIP room—the cupcake buffet is magnificent. This is your reward for providing such a lovely post for us.

I’m a happy writer, but I freely admit I haven’t always been. Fellow blogger and YA author Anita Howard asked me to guest post on her blog, A Still and Quiet Madness, when I became agented. That post details my decade long wallow of self-pity while on the agent hunt. After over 130 rejections on a single novel, I was this close to being a bitter failure.

So I asked myself, “Alright Mindy, whaddya gonna do? Quit writing? Really? Cause will that make the stories in your head stop happening?” The answer was, “probably not.” I packed up my negativity and started fresh, whipped out a new novel and found My Agent Who Loves Me (a.k.a Adriann Ranta) shortly thereafter.

And yeah, having someone to love you is a totally awesome experience. But at the same time, I’d already made the decision to BE a writer, regardless of whether or not I was ever an author. Even if we stop taking our fingers to the pen or the keyboard, our brains will continue to function in the same way they always have. You can turn off the light switch, but there’s still an electrical current under there.

So I entered AgentedAuthorLand feeling pretty good, started up my blog and shot out a few tentative emails asking agents, authors and industry bloggers if they’d like to come on over and do an interview to help get my blog off the ground. To my total surprise, positive responses started flowing into my inbox the same day. Agents who I’d pelted with bad queries were like, “Sure, send the questions on over.” Authors whose books I had on my bedside table said, “I’d love to! So flattered you like my work!” Bloggers whose sites I’d stalked for years replied, “Of course – I know exactly what it’s like to build a blog. Anything I can do, I will do.”

Now, I’m sure it helps that I start my emails to agents with “I’m recently agented,” so they know that I’m not going to entice them over to the blog with promises of candy, then tie them up in my Basement of Pain until they agree to represent me, but that’s besides the point.

This industry truly is filled with kind, intelligent, accessible people. I’m a newborn over on this side, and everybody is contributing to my care with an awesome – “Yes, I will!” And that’s a damn good thing, cause I’ve totally filled my diaper a few times already.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What To Expect When You're Submitting

I figure it's about time I be helpful again. It's been a while. I know several friends who are about to be on submission, and I've watched several go through the process. I also happen to know quite a bit about that process now, having been out twice. Which, well, isn't something I'm super proud about or anything, but hey! Let's spread the knowledge!

Submission, as we all know, is probably the least talked about process in a writer's road to publication. And rightly so. It's part of the biz that must stay professional at all costs. It's not something you can talk about in detail—especially in very public forums such as a blog. Thus, I won't be talking about my experiences in any detail, but only what a writer can expect from this phase.

For those who don't know, submission is what happens after you get an agent. It's when said agent sends your manuscript to editors, in hopes that they will offer a deal. This is, obviously, not the same thing as querying.

Querying = Submitting to agents

Submitting/Going on sub/Being on submission = Submitting to editors

Okay? Okay.

Now that we have that cleared up, let's go through the most important aspects of being on sub and what to expect of them, in hopes of getting you a little more prepared.

The Actual Submission Part
Going on sub varies greatly based on your agent. In all likelihood, any certain approach is perfectly normal and acceptable. Some agents will have their authors write the cover letter that will be sent to editors with the manuscript. Some prefer to do that themselves. Some will call editors to pitch, others will email. Some will send out very few initial submissions, others might send out a little larger group.

As far as I've seen, the only submission tactic that is somewhat looked down upon is the "throw a bunch out there and see what sticks" approach. Editors sometimes feel this is a bit like spam, and those submissions may not get attention as a result. If you are concerned about your agent doing this, make sure to be open and honest.

In general, keeping communication lines open is a good idea at this point. If you have questions, ask! That is what your agent is there for. You are not being a burden. You are not annoying them. They know this is part of their job and are happy to do it.

Okay, so you are officially on sub! Your agent has sent you a lovely list of editors who have your book. The number one question I get at this point is, "How long can I expect to wait for replies?"

I wish the answer was more specific, but reply time varies A LOT. One thing I do know—the rejections usually come first. If an editor is initially interested, reads, but then doesn't feel like the book is for her, the reply can be rather quick. Getting an offer can be much more complex. It takes more time, because if an editor wants to buy it there are hoops to jump. Meetings to attend. People to convince. Numbers to run. Possibly even revisions to request.

If you want a number, I would say, on average, I've seen my friends get most of their replies within 2-6 months of starting sub. Of course there are a few who go shorter, and a few who go longer, but that seems to be an average for lots of replies. Notice I said replies, not sales. I won't even dare to put a number on that.

One thing I didn't expect from sub was the frequency in which I saw friends have requests for revisions. I went through this, too. It can feel overwhelming and frustrating, but know that revisions are a pretty common practice. You are totally normal if you get revisions. No worries.

There's also a lot of mystery around "acquisitions." This is a general term for the way in which a publishing house acquires a book. There are usually meetings involved, in which your potential editor pitches your book to the rest of the house. The goal of this meeting is to evaluate whether or not your book is a good investment. If they think it is, you might be seeing an offer soon. If not, well, yeah.

You can go to acquisitions many times or just once. It is a GOOD sign, but when you hear you're in acquisitions, it doesn't mean it's a sure thing. Once again, it is totally normal to not make it through acquisitions. I've been there—lots of people have been there. It does not mean your book won't sell; it's just the way it goes sometimes.

And...that's all I can think of right now concerning the actual process. Feel free to ask additional questions in comments if I don't get to it in the forthcoming topics.

Your Mental State
Submission can do a number on your sanity. I like to call it "pendulum swings." One second you will be "THIS BOOK IS SO GOING TO SELL!" The next it'll be "IT WILL NEVER SELL CUZ IT SUCKS!" Back and forth, up and down.

As far as I've seen, this is NORMAL. Every writer I've watched go through sub has had this swing in some form. It is not fun, but when you experience it, realize that you are not alone. This is part of the process, and these feelings do not reflect the reality of your book's future.

In fact, no one really knows if your book will sell. That's the maddening part. You literally do not know—your brain tries to read into every little thing in order to KNOW. But it doesn't. You just have to wait, and the waiting sucks. Period.

It is highly likely that being on sub will affect your confidence in some form. You may not be able to write as well. You might second guess your choices. It could be harder to get those words down. Again, all normal. Writing while on sub is hard, but also very important. You have to keep going despite the mental challenges.

Dealing With The Internet
It is very likely that the internet will be a difficult place to hang out when on sub. You will see other people sell books. You might start reading into editor's tweets and decide you're doomed. You could see similar books selling and feel like your spot is gone. Cover reveals could send you crawling back into bed. Earlier release dates might make you wildly envious.

The internet could make you feel like you are falling behind. It could encourage comparison at a time when it's most dangerous.

You are not the only one feeling this way. I've been there. Most every writer I know has been there. Jealousy is a very real thing in this profession, and you just have to face it and get past it. For better advice on that, read this post by Gayle Forman, Queen of Amazing. I can vouch for that advice, since that is how I've dealt with my own jealousy.

And when in doubt, stay away from the freaking internet. It can be toxic while on sub.

Facing Your Writing
No matter how hard, you have to work on that next book. Sub is NOT an excuse to sit around and wait for everything to work out. The writing must go on!

Writing can be very hard when you're waiting to hear from editors. It's hard to get that possibility out of your head and make room for a new story. It's always there in the back of your head—I could sell a book soon. And when editor rejections come in, it's easy to let yourself doubt. Your writing isn't that great. You're doing everything wrong. Your voice isn't strong enough. Why bother?

But if you let it, working on a new project can be a great comfort. When things are going tough, it can be your future, the book you will sell, the one that makes you smile because it's full of possibilities. And if sub is going well? It can be the same thing—your next book. There's always a next book if you're a writer.

Coping With Waiting
Oh, the waiting. The waiting is maddening. It's a quiet killer. The one constant in all of publishing. No one likes it—everyone must deal with it. I am not a patient person, and it has been quite the challenge for me to come to terms with the sheer amount of waiting that I've had to, uh, wait through over the past several years.

If you let it, waiting can destroy you. What you want will always be just one step out of reach, and when you're done waiting for that there will be something else to wait for. It's hard to be happy when you're constantly focused on that thing that could happen in the future, instead of what's happening in your life right now.

For me, being on sub impacted the way I lived my life. Mostly because of the waiting. Instead of living my life, I waited. Saundra Mitchell had an AWESOME post on this a week ago or so. The key to surviving the waiting is to DO. Whether it's write the next book or plan a vacation or learn how to cook like you've always wanted.

Life doesn't have to stop when you're waiting for something. It's shouldn't stop. For us writers especially, life is where we get our stories, so we better be living one, not waiting for the "Professional Author" one to happen.

When To Call It Quits
Yes, I'm going to talk about this. Having put a manuscript aside after almost a year and a half on sub, I think it's an important thing to talk about. It's not a fun thought, but it does happen. Actually, it happens far more often than you think. I think about half the authors I know have at least one novel that did not sell. They had to move on—I had to move on. Which is why you write another book while on sub.

The choice is a very personal one, but I can say you'll know when it's right. For me, it was when I no longer felt like the book on sub should be my debut. Enough time had passed that I didn't feel like it was my best work. I still love the book, mind you, but I'd moved on. It was no longer the first story I wanted to share with the world, and that was okay.

Sometimes, it's okay to move on. And if you have to face this decision, know that it is no reflection on your talent. It is purely a market thing. That's something I didn't quite understand when I first started sub. Publishers buy books that they can sell. Yeah, they're also good, but selling is VERY important. There are many books out there that are amazing, and yet not-so-marketable. That is okay.


Okay, whew, can we say longest post ever? But I hope that it helps those who are about to embark on submission or those who are currently going through the process. Please remember that you are not alone.

And, if by some chance I haven't answered a question you have about sub, feel free to ask in comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Twitching and Changing

My back keeps twitching. We're on day two. The right side, just below my shoulder blade. I don't know why I'm telling you this. I suppose I need to say how annoying it is purely for the sake of saying it. And it's my blog. So there you go.

I keep looking for deeper meaning behind this twitching, which I realized was pretty stupid about an hour ago as I was scrubbing dishes.

There I am, focusing on this twitch in my side, wondering what it could possibly MEAN. Am I over-stressing myself? Is there something wrong? Should I google and see if I should be worried? (I swear google is responsible for the world's increased paranoia.) I mean, maybe I'm not taking this twitch seriously enough. Maybe it's a sign. Maybe it's only the beginning. MAYBE THIS TWITCH TRIGGERED THE APOCALYPSE.

And then I laughed at myself, because, c'mon, it's a twitch. I did a lot of lifting yesterday. It is most certainly nothing to worry about. Yet there I was trying to milk that little muscle spasm for all it was worth.

I've always had a talent for making something out of nothing. While it comes in very handy with writing, it can get in the way of my actual life. It's called anxiety. Yes, I have anxiety. For a long time I didn't want to admit it—despite the family history—but having come to terms with this part of myself has helped me cope with it.

I've been changing a lot, guys. And my life has been changing, too. I really, really wish I could tell you all the reasons why, but alas. They are family things and personal things and even a couple writing things that I can't share.

But suffice to say my life is changing, and I'm still figuring out how to be this new me. It's like any shift in life, be it going to college or finishing, getting a new job, moving, getting married, having a child, etc. The changes happen, but it takes some work to adjust. That's where I'm at right now. I'm adjusting. Even good things require some adjusting. I still don't quite know how to be this, but I do know I need to stop worrying about every little twitch in the process. They pass. You keep going. There's no reason to turn it into a sign of the apocalypse.

Because sometimes a twitch is just a twitch.

Huh, considering that I had no clue what to right today, that turned out pretty good.