WRITE MORE GOODER – Do Not Give Up

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So, do anything exciting lately? How about that local sports team? Crazy weather we’re having, huh?  Let me show you what I’ve been up to, I think you’re really going to like this.

Write More Gooder, for those that don’t know is the podcast I’m putting out to talk about craft and writing and motivation. I’m proud of it, I think I’m getting better with every episode. By that reasoning, this is my best one yet.

In fact, this one is so awesome and intense, I can’t directly link to it in WordPress (it’s 52 MB too big) or over on Patreon (it’s 2MB too big), so here’s the Dropbox link to it.

The TL;DR on it? Do not give up. Not on your dreams. Not on your project. Not on yourself.

This message is so critical, so important, and so necessary. There’s so much stuff out in the world that tells us to give up, that encourages us to be discouraged, and it can be hard to stand up against that. But remember that we stand up every time we create. That’s our activism. That’s how we hold the line. That’s how we turn the tide. We create because it burns inside of us to do so. We create because the alternative is infinitely worse.

Nope, it’s not easy. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s worth it. You’re worth it.

I hope you enjoy the audio. If you want more stuff like it, or if you’re a fan of the tweetstorms every morning, I ask that you pop over to Patreon and check out what I’m doing. Your very generous contributions of $2 are what make this stuff happen.

See you next week for more blog action (insert that ennh ennh ennh triple-horn sound from dubstep and rap here). Happy writing.

Writer, Why Are You Doing That?

I’ve been away for the weekend, part of a new regimen of relaxation and de-stressing, trying to get (and keep) my blood pressure down. It seems to be working, and in general, I’m finding my weekends a lot more happy and pleasant, doing everything from brunches with new friends to leisurely game playing or even deep conversations.

The upside is that my BP is down ten to twenty points over the last week or so, and I’m sleeping better and generally embracing more of life. The downside? I come home to a crowded inbox of 300+ new messages, all in various states of update, panic or frustration. Usually pruning this inbox down calls for a ginger ale or strong cup of tea, and leads to quite a few tweets:

 

Not pictured: The loud sigh that accompanies writing the tweets

Not pictured: The loud sigh that accompanies writing the tweets

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It’s not that I dislike talking to writers, quite the opposite in fact. I love talking to writers, and we’re not even counting the ego stroke reasons that come from making a living giving advice. Helping someone do something better, especially in those cases where what they’re doing excites some deep passion, is gratifying. Not unlike good ice cream, kissing or catching Murder She Wrote on television.

But there are times where setting writers straight, addressing issues, putting out fires, assessing professional damage and generally laying down a little smack is tiring. And grating. And draining. I have no kids, but I have to liken part of this feeling to what a parent feels when they tell a child for the umpteenth time to do something. Yes, okay, they protest, but way down the road, some time in the nebulous future, they’re going to be thankful for having that knowledge help them. Cleaning your room sucks when you’re ten, but when you’re 35 with many rooms to tidy, you’re thankful you know how.

So too it sucks when you’re a new writer and you’re trying to figure out your way in the wild world of writing. There are so many blogs to read, so many books to digest, so many “experts” all giving you advice that seems to vary based on everything from the number of books they’ve sold to the size of their social-media-credentials-slash-genitals. Unfortunately, there’s no codified set of things to do or read when you get started. And depending on the crowd around you when you start, you might mature as a writer in a fearful way, that you need constantly check some website for good and bad people because the world is full of thieves and con artists. Or maybe you never really mature because you get caught up in some petty social politicking on a message board that wants to talk more about sales than finishing products. Or maybe you deify a writer because their blog is pretty or because they curse or because they have some graphics in the margins, but you’re quick to knock them off that pedestal when you find new and conflicting information. All of these things are possible. As I write this, I’m thinking of writers who range from really great to really great-at-perpetuating-excuses-and-horsefeathers.

I don’t know where you are in your progression. I don’t know if you’re new or if you’ve been writing forever and a day. I don’t know what you write, how you publish or why you do what you do. Regardless, I want to break out the stop sign and slow the race down under caution (that’s the yellow flag, yes?) because of some behaviors I’ve seen.

Yes haters are gonna hate. Not everyone’s going to like what you write. It’s not bad. Some people will rationalize this as “you know you’re doing it right when people hate your work” and others will say you haven’t “made it” until you get opposition. Personally I lean more towards the first even if I think you can still be doing it wrong AND get negative people talking. And no, I don’t know if they’re hating YOU for being able to do something they wish they could (jealousy) or if what you’re writing is actually a bucket of mediocre-at-best wordspew. Chances are that yes, it’s a little of both. Chances are that people are jealous AND you could be producing better stuff.

But does it really matter? Is it insecurity that makes you need everyone to love you? Fear that if one person doesn’t like your work, no one will? Not everyone is going to like what you’re doing. And they won’t like it for reasons as varied as they are: you curse, you don’t curse, you use too many commas, your character doesn’t do what they expect or want them to do, you take liberties with things that really annoy them, etc etc. Who knows and who cares. YOUR writing isn’t about THEIR praise, is it? (Remember that praise is a consequence of good work and talent)

So let’s assume you’re writing, and that you finish a thing, then you send it off to whoever. Let’s call them Jane Doe. Your book has been written on lunch breaks and weekends and late nights and in coffee shops and at your kitchen table. You really tried your best to tell a story and you fought back the sea of doubts that kept you from finishing it. And you package it up all pretty and write a doozy of a query letter. And Jane rejects it. You get a nice rejection letter that may or may not have some ink-scribbled notes on it. If you get rejected, don’t take it out on the person who rejected you.

You can totally hate the system. You can think it’s elitist, exclusionary, sexist, bigoted, biased, dull, unimaginative or whatever. You can say that it’s outdated, perpetuating a model of success predicated on scarcity as to perpetuate their own jobs. None of that changes the fact that your work wasn’t what someone was looking for. You can be angry, hurt, upset, disappointed, or shocked. You can mourn the lack of success. But don’t think that if you track down your rejector’s website, social media accounts or personal information, that you can make your displeasure felt and somehow Jane Doe will totally publish your work once you threaten to publish their home address and phone number. Getting your work published is NOT a hostage negotiation. You don’t get to blackmail or bully people to get your way. It’s not personal. It’s business. And remember, 50% of the process involves you having produced a thing, so don’t forget to look in that half of the equation when you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong. (Hiring an editor is a good thing to help clarify)

Now, maybe Jane Doe rejected you, and your threw yourself a Sucks-A-Lot party. Once you’re done pulling streamers down off the furniture, it’s time to send your work out again. This time, you find Sarah PlainandTall who could read your work. You check out her website and she’s got something called “Submission Guidelines“, and maybe you think ‘Guidelines are suggestions’. Submission guidelines are RULES, not suggestions. They cover everything from what font to put your document in to margins to size of piece and other similar details. Send out something that doesn’t mesh with the guidelines, chances are it won’t even get a rejection, it’ll just get chucked into recycling or sliced into shreds or cut into scrap pages for phone notes. Also, the guidelines aren’t to be selectively followed. You can’t skip number 3 and 9 just because they invalidate your work. You don’t get to pick and choose which rules you follow. If company or person X has guidelines you can’t meet, then find company or person Y instead. Following rules is a great way to make a good impression. Not following them is a great way to make a not-good impression, or validate any assumptions that you’re hard to work with.

In short: follow the guidelines, don’t take rejection personally, and don’t take your frustrations out on inappropriate targets.

Happy writing.

The Dog Paddle Upstream

I couldn’t sleep the other night. I was cold. I felt alone, disconnected and sort of forgotten. So, I sat on my couch in front of a dying fire and watched Netflix. I didn’t know what I wanted to watch, which is never a good sign, because usually it doesn’t take much to sell me on a detective story or a documentary. I settled on ‘Salinger’ which I had seen before, but didn’t really pay attention to. I watched it the first time so that a woman would think I was smart, but I don’t think she ever realized I was even alive after our initial interaction.

If you’ve never seen it, you should. Sort of. It’s about 2 hours long, and it’s about JD Salinger, and he was sort of a fucked up sad dude. You got a pretty clear sense that he was super arrogant and obsessive, serving in World War 2 unhinged him, he loved writing and hated all the trappings of publication and he treated women like dogshit. Still, it’s got some great visual stylings and interesting interviews. So I watched, hoping that I’d learn something about his craft, like how he learned how to string words together in such a way that profoundly affected so many people.

See, in high school, I had to read Catcher In the Rye, and I hated it. I didn’t have the appreciation for wordcraft then, I didn’t understand much about voice or connectivity to a reader, but I thought as a character and a story, it wasn’t all that great. The character was whiny, and seemed obsessed with “phony”. The way my teacher raved about the book, you’d think these pages were supposed to unlock something in my brain or that they’d be my Bodhi tree under which I’d discuss the truths of existence.

More like this book bored the shit out of me and I kept questioning why we were reading it. I filed the book away as something I read and could cross off the expected list of things writers read. I don’t even think there’s a copy of it in the house.

So there I sat, watching the documentary, where it explained how people made some great pilgrimage to this tiny town where he lived, and camped out in front of his house in the hopes he’d appear and dispense wisdom. And in his later years, he was kind of a dick. I mean, I get that pressure around him didn’t help his attitude, but someone drives 400+ miles, even if they camp at the foot of your driveway, give them something other than “You should seek psychiatric help”.

There wasn’t any direct section that broke down his style, leading me to look at the interviews and snippets of quotes about how writing affected people. So I had to work backwards. To deconstruct how he saw writing, and split that from how he saw publishing and people and love and everything else. This is what I came up with, upon reflection:

1. Writing is done for yourself. You’ve heard this one before in a lot of permutations. Don’t write for trends. Don’t write to satisfy agent or publisher demands. Let’s spin it a little more. Write to express your feelings. Write what you want, audience and sales be damned. Audience and sales are the consequence of good writing, and the best writing stays closer to yourself and your expression of the world than if it strays wide into trying to fathom what other people want. The audience and sales will come, but only if you write true to yourself.

2. Have a point to what you’re writing. Maybe you heard this a lot in school, where you have to write a thesis or term paper and you have a statement at the beginning you have to justify by the end thanks to your ability to look up quotes and use parentheses. But this is different. Skip that research concept. It’s nice that we can all do that, but writing isn’t a pile of footnotes and a works cited page. Writing has a point, because whatever you’re writing, be it a blog post or a chapter or a game or a greeting card is an exploration of an idea. Later, we spin this idea into a pitch, but while we’re producing, we can keep the idea on our heads: This story is about two people who fall in and out of love with everything except each other. This is a song about not lying and enjoying rear ends. This is a game about how a plumber is a bag of dicks and earwax. We hold that idea as though it’s an axis upon which our whole created universe rotates, and everything from the littlest burble of text to the greatest action chapter  is an extension outward from that axis, with roots we can trace and motives we can fathom.

3. Writing is tough. As said before and elsewhere, the act of writing, the mechanical flexing of fingers on keys, is the easy part. You can train monkeys to write junk. You can rip off bad writing with your own bad writing. But nurturing an idea out of your head and into a draft, then a draft into a finished draft, that’s tough. Ideas evolve, and they require more than simple bits tacked on here and there. There’s a fullness to an idea, it has components and depth, and you can’t just slap a few thoughts on paper and call it a masterpiece. (Well, okay, you can, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. Remember the quote from Lincoln: You can call a tail a leg on a dog, but that doesn’t make it so.) It’s an investment into a creative bank, stocking a fund  of imagination and talent. Make deposits frequently, and they won’t always have to be substantial ones.

4. Planning isn’t writing. There’s a time to plan out what you’re going to write. And a time to write it. I know a lot of mediocre-at-best writers who have planned for years because they think the best plan in advance will produce the best book later. They tinker more with that plan and less with how they write the words, and wonder why they’re spinning in circles and at best getting pats on the back at the mutual admiration society meetings that pass for writing groups. I’ve struggled for a long time to find a way to express my thoughts on planning and writing, and to date, the best explanation I got is – it’s the fog of war in a video game. You know there’s a whole map out there, you can press the button and see it, but the details of it are unknown until you get there. You have to explore (write) to discover the map (the story’s development). Don’t go to extremes and say you’re supposed to write and NOT plan either. Sketch out that plan, have a direction you set off in, but ultimately be willing to crumple that plan and use what the exploration tells you to inform and create a new map.

5. When the current goes one way, be willing and capable of going against it. Remember a few years back when everyone was writing vampires or zombies? Remember how lots of people said things like “If you’re not writing vampires or zombies, it won’t get seen by people”, and how quickly that metamorphosed into “Stop writing about vampires and zombies dammit, we’re tired of that!” ? That was the current going one way. You could go against it, sure, but many voices who have interests in keeping the current going would shout down that you shouldn’t if you wanted whatever carrot they were dangling. But there are just as many carrots to be had for going across the current or against it, even if you’re dogpaddling upstream or running over the water. You don’t HAVE to  (remember you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, ever), but if you feel you should or need to, go for it.

6. Draw boundaries. Okay so Salinger drew some extreme ones. He lived in seclusion. He locked himself away in a “bunker” to write. He fucked up his marriages and his kids with his coldness. He was a dick of high caliber. But the idea was there – the idea that there are some barriers you need to erect. I’m not talking about things you don’t like to do, or things you don’t know how to do and you’re afraid of screwing up, I mean there needs to be some areas where you’re not writing. Everything you do, everyone you know, everything you enjoy, hate, love, fuck, taste, reject, know about, shun, embrace, dance to, smile at or bitch it is going to influence your writing, and there’s no escaping that. But, you need some stuff in your life that isn’t the act of writing … if only for the simple fact that it will influence your work later. Me? I play games and watch movies and cook and complain and get moody and rock out to loud music. I draw a boundary around things I will and won’t talk about. I share a lot but not everything. My choice. For me. And I don’t have to explain it to you. Boundaries help temper things by reinforcing why they’re important. Which helps you focus on them.

If I had to add another, it would be:

7. You’re never going to find all the answers all of the time, just some ephemeral and situational answers occasionally. I never quite understood the people who would go to Jim Morrison’s grave (I don’t like The Doors, so that doesn’t help) or the people who would go seek Salinger like he’s got exclusive access to a vault of info and if you’re lucky, he’ll give you a piece and your world will forever be enlightened. Um, no. Those guys are just dudes. They’re human and frail and fragile and fucked up and regular. The musicians and writers we think “speak to us” really speak through us, since they’re as much revealing our existing information in new ways as they are elaborating upon it. Look, I love the Dave Matthews Band, and I’ve been to a concert, but at no point to date, did Dave ever come off-stage mid-song, walk up to me and tell me some great secret of existence. Do I like the music? Totally. Do I think there are ideas conveyed in those songs that are good and resonate with me? Absolutely. Am I going to track Dave down when he’s 70 and ask him for guidance? No, because that’s weird. Any answers I need, I can get, because the songs and books and art have given me tools to do so, not just glorified their respective creators.

I would encourage you to check out the documentary and see what conclusions you draw. You might surprise yourself.

Happy writing.

 

Oh, one last thing – I’m giving a Writing Workshop this coming Sunday at Dreamation, from 12 to 3pm. I don’t know the specific location yet, but when I do, I’ll tweet it. I’d love to see you there. It’ll be three hours of writing advice, discussion about publishing, creating and making things and likely some strongly worded opinions about things.  

The blog resumes on Tuesday. 

One of the Note Card Tricks

Hello everyone. Hope you’re well and enjoying your creative processes.

I get a lot of questions about “the note card trick” since I talk about it a lot, and usually only demo it in person at workshops or to clients, because it’s easier to see it in person. What I’m going to show you now is a scaled down version, mainly because it’s easier to explain in small bites. I’ve got some pictures here that should help you follow along. You can do this spread for protagonists, antagonists, plots and even whole book series if you wanted. I’m going to show it for protagonists, because that’s an easy place to start.

You’re going to need notecards. A lot of them. Way more than you think is reasonable for any person to own. I’m only showing up to 16 here, but I’ve used these for scripts and stories and had upwards of 100 as needed, if the story calls for that many things to be happening. The note cards that follow have numbers on them, so that you can see their locations.

To put it sort of math-y (I’m sorry, I know I said I’d try and keep math away from this, but I swear this flashback won’t take long), we’re going to make an X/Y axis, where cards spread horizontally and vertically from the beginning to the end of the story. For the example story, let’s suppose we have 4 chapters, but you’re going to have likely way more than that in your book. If so, just keep moving down that horizontal axis as you have to.

We’re going to start at the 0.0 point with a note card, like this:

This is a note card. It is the building block of this system

This is a note card. It is the building block of this system

Notice how I’ve put it at the corner of my table, so that I have a whole lot of real estate to work in. Ignore the holly jolly tablecloth, it was the first one I grabbed out of the closet. On that note card you’re going to put a fact/statement/phrase about your protagonist.

The important thing to remember about this trick is this: When we go to the right, we’re going through the story beginning to end. When we go vertically, we’re adding more details.

The first card is the Physical level of description. So Card (1) is what the character looks like. Is she short, tall, nearsighted, skinny, athletic? If you were to look up from your cards and see your character staring at you, what are the first things you notice?

Now let’s give her some more details. We’re going vertical:

We're going up from Physical, to Mental, then Social, then Aspirations

We’re going up from Physical, to Mental, then Social, then Aspirations

 

Card (2) describes her Mental level of description. Is she nervous? Arrogant? Passive Aggressive? If you were to have a conversation with your character, what’s the first thing you’d notice about your conversation together?

Card (3) describes your protagonist’s Social perceptions and skills. Does she socialize? Does she date? Is she extroverted? This level addresses the question “How does your protagonist interact with the world, and how does the world respond?

Card (4) addresses the protagonist’s Hopes and Dreams. What would make her happy? What goal is she striving for? Remember, this isn’t just talking about the plot of the story, I’m asking you to think of your character as a fully formed person who has more than this particular story’s plot going on in their life. Does she want to own a farm? Does she wish her father paid more attention to her? Does she want a deluxe apartment in the sky where she doesn’t have to wear pants and can eat guacamole all day?

You can go higher. Card (5) would cover a character’s Fears and Doubts. Card (6) would be Closest Relationship and Card (7) would be Relationship to Rival or Enemy. I’ve never gone above (7), because I’ve both run out of space and never thought past those tiers of character development. Feel free to substitute your own as you like, just be consistent with it. And if you do try new stuff, please PLEASE let me know. I’m always on the look out for new methods.

Let’s go to the next part of the story. For me that’s Act 2. For you that might be chapter 2 or part 2 or the next episode. In fact, you can take this time to lay out the horizontal for the whole project or the next chunk of chapters if you want:

Notice that in each chapter/section/whatever, I've got a Physical element represented

Notice that in each chapter/section/whatever, I’ve got a Physical element represented

 

Throughout my four acts here I’m going to mention more physical elements of my character. Not that I’m always going to say she’s a redhead or that she’s got green eyes, but I’m going to talk about some sort of relationship between her physicality and the world – she’s going to get banged up, bruised, a car is probably going to explode and maybe she’ll get muddy. That relationship spreads across the book, so it’s represented in these cards. So, on Card (2.1) I’m going to put down a fact about how she deals with fistfights, because at some point she’s going to hit a dude (play passes to left) (hashtag a-joke-not-enough-of-you-understand).

Add a card with some detail(s) at each level per each part/chapter/act of your story. Remember, this isn’t repeating the same things over and over, it’s about writing down different facets of the relationship the character has on that level to the rest of the world you’ve created.

This means you’re going to regularly ask yourself:

  • How is my character acting and reacting physical to the environments on a scene-by-scene/beat-by-beat basis?
  • How is my character handling the mental stresses/doubts/successes/strains on a scene-by-scene/beat-by-beat basis?
  • How is my character interacting with other people? Is anything developing? Is that development good or bad? Will someone pay a price in the end?
  • How is whatever my character is doing affect their hopes and dreams? Are they moving towards them? Has the plot put the goal on a shelf? Has it changed?

The answers should help you understand (conceptually) what the mindset and experience of the character is, so that you can translate it into words on paper so that other people can read it and relate in the same way.

So this is the story after more cards go down on the table:

This is all four acts mapped out.

This is all four acts mapped out.

 

What you’ll see in that picture are gaps. They’re intentional. A space like (4.2) or (3.4) means that the element doesn’t come up in that section of the story. And that’s an important point. Gaps create importance, and so long as the gap isn’t too wide (I’m sort of stretching it with (1.4) and (4.4), then that re-emergence of the idea makes us take notice – like the guy who keeps a key in his pocket only to remember he has it when he reaches the locked door. It makes both the first instance and its return matter to the story.

However, you might not feel comfortable doing that, so here’s a complete grid for you:

Here's a story where every possible slot has a card for it. This runs the risk of being congested.

Here’s a story where every possible slot has a card for it. This runs the risk of being congested.

I’m going to throw a flag on the play, and not just because I numbered these cards differently. A full story where everything is explored in every chapter can be MONSTROUS to contend with. It might slow down. It might get wordy. It might get confusing. Your mileage varies of course, but please PLEASE don’t think you have to fill every spot, especially if you run cards all the way out to 30 or more.

As I said before, you can do this for a protagonist, or even the antagonist. You can do this for the plot, but then the tiers become more about the impact of the problem on physical, mental and social levels, leading to sort of a zoomed-out picture of the story.

Hope this helps. If you have questions about it, catch me on Twitter, or write me an email.

What I Do Isn’t “Horseshit”

Hi. I want you to read this post, then come back here.

The short version? Someone paid $800 to someone who didn’t deliver.

The part I have a problem with? Right here:

This is utter and complete bunk. Horseshit of the finest kind.  When I see agents doing this, I actually interrupt them on the panel and howl “horseshit.”
There’s nothing wrong with hiring an editor. I’ve recommended it several times myself. I have an ongoing relationship with a very good editor who reads manuscripts I’m thinking of taking on.  The problem is not editors at all.
The problem is WHEN you consult them.  IF you’re getting rejections, and you’ve been to writing conferences and taken classes, then maybe you invest some dough. 
You don’t hire an editor as step one of the query process. 

Um, okay, we need to unpack the “this”. Janet’s referring to the idea of hiring an editor to go through your work before you send it off to possible publication. She’s calling that idea horseshit. Now, I’d like to point out that I make a part of my living as an editor hired to go through work before it goes to publication. So, thanks to logic, she’s saying part of my living is horseshit.

Granted, there’s no reference to me, my blog, my resume or the things I’ve worked on in that whole blogpost. And I’m willing to bet that if asked, Janet Reid has not the first clue who I am. Which is fine, I don’t need to be known by all of humanity or editorkind. This isn’t a megalomaniacal rant.

What I do isn’t horseshit. I don’t take the money people give me and run. I don’t deliver poor quality work. I do my best to deliver thorough work done quickly. Yes, I can always be more thorough, and yes, being thorough is something I’m working on improving, because I think it only helps my clients and my projects to be so. Granted, in the Fast-Good-Cheap pyramid:

You're supposed to pick two.

You’re supposed to pick two.

I’ve got Fast and Good on lockdown, so comparatively, I’m not cheap. And I’m not. But I provide a service that isn’t inconsequential. If you want me to make sure your spelling is okay and your margins are spiffy, I can totally do that. If you want to know if your story makes sense from beginning to end, I can do that. If you want to know why people are rejecting your work over and over again and why your manuscript is a mess and you don’t know how to fix things and you don’t like your plot or your characters are out of whack, yeah, I can help with that.

My job, my greatest love in life, is helping people make their ideas into things they can share with other people. Sometimes, that’s the novel they always wanted to write, or the game they’d love to play with their friends, or it’s the start of a career in development and design or whatever. That’s my privilege to have the skills that can help make this happen. To call it horseshit is to tell me that what I’m good at and what I’m proud of is meaningless or worse, detrimental to others. That’s not cool. What I do helps people. Is it going to cost them money? Yep. Are they going to see improvements? Yep. Is that a bad a thing that I make my living doing that and charging people for it? Nope.

I’ve talked before about how I used to feel super guilty for charging people, and how I’d grossly undercharge. One of the reasons for this was because I wasn’t attached to a big publishing company, and at the time, being outside the system meant I really wasn’t seeing a lot of work, since the expected model of publishing (the “traditional” model) teaches people that they’ll get edited post-query acceptance. With the explosion of self-publishing models, I found more work, because now the bulk of development fell to the author, assuming they weren’t just uploading error-packed files to a server and charging money. And with that development process, I found I could help people. In helping them, I could help myself (it’s wonderful what a full work schedule does to feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness). Charging wasn’t an easy decision, since I tied it to my self-esteem, but it’s worked out for me, since now I can make my living doing this.

What Janet’s talking about is a legit problem – people get hosed in shitty deals when they try to make stuff, and it’s important to be careful and clear in what you’re trying to do. Yeah, people do go too far and get super guarded, holding back even talking about their ideas lest someone “steal them”. That extremism makes it super difficult to work with a person if they can’t even share the idea with the person who can help them. But, it speaks to a level of intimacy and trust – the project is near and dear to them, they don’t want to see what they love smacked around, treated poorly or wrecked. And they don’t want to lose money over it.

Totally understandable. And I get that it doesn’t help to say “I’m not an asshole who will take your money” if you don’t know me and you’ve had assholes take your money before. But you can find people who I’ve worked with who will tell you (some of them even emphatically) that I’m not going to take the money and run and that I can in fact help you learn to make awesome things.

While I was getting dressed, sorting out what I was going to say in this post, it occurred to me that there’s maybe a hint of this-how-things-are-done-don’t-question-it. The editing process can exist in a variety of spots in the publication process. What’s wrong with getting your stuff looked at before you send it off to someone who has a great deal of sway over its publication? Isn’t that like getting someone to check your outfit before you go on a big date? One of my good friends compared editing to “being told there’s spinach in your teeth before a date”, which is a great way to look at it.

Maybe it’s a sense of Don’t-question-me-I-have-an-audience-and-a-big-job-and-fame. I don’t really think this is an ego bullying trip. But for a second, let’s talk about validity. To do so, I’ll pull another quote from the post.

 “She certainly was legit-had an author featured at the conference, great website, several agents in her firm, etc.
THIS IS NOT HOW YOU DETERMINE IF AN AGENT IS ANY GOOD!!!

Here, there’s a discussion of what makes for a good agent, and the idea that it’s not found in a website or conference attendance or co-workers. So … by extension, you can’t measure quality based on how things look, or who they work with or where they’ve been, and the post goes on to say that you measure goodness based on accomplishment. Now, if you’re about to point out that Janet has a huge reach, and a big audience and posts way more regularly, and likely not about mental health or food or game design, and instead only looks at queries and publishing, I’ll just point you back to this paragraph. Measure the validity based on how something/someone helps you accomplish something.

An easier version – I can help you make your thing. It might involve dealing with bad habits, it might take time, but if you do the hard work, you can make a thing. I’m not here to take your money or let you down or leave you in a worse position than when I found you. I know there are predators out there who will rain on your parade and kick you while you’re down. And I know saying “I’m not a predator” when you don’t know me is about as comforting as being told “Hey I’m not going to rob your house” by someone walking by. If I wanted to make gobs of money, I would have paid way more attention in school, or learned to sell drugs by the kilo or something. Instead, I learned how to be really good with language, and how I can use that skill to help you make stuff. Less lucrative than drug kingpins or lawyers or plastic surgeons, but to my mind, way more rewarding.

Does this mean I’m out shilling in front of every conference room or seminar? I can tell you that I used to, when I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better. And I can tell you that it got me NOWHERE. This doesn’t mean I don’t shamelessly plug myself in panels, both seriously and humorously. Yes, of course, I want to build my business, and yes I want to have more blog readers and get more emails and help more people. Sure, yes, I like getting paid for it too. I ask on Twitter for work, I post openly about my work schedule, I stick my rates on my blog, so that people can hire me. I do that, because I don’t have a company behind me or guaranteed work waiting for me. I have to hustle and pursue it. So I do. That’s not a sign of predatory behavior, that’s a sign of I need to have money to afford travelling to conventions and I like paying bills on time.

Over the course of my writing this post, as my stomach has grumbled (must be time for lunch), my initial sense of being slapped in the face for being “new” or “freelance” or “small-time” has faded somewhat. I do think that bad practices need to get called out, no matter who’s they are or what the fallout could be. Many emperors wear no clothes, and we as a consumers and creators need to be aware and willing to point out the bad practices and be equally able to point to the good ones as well, and then do better all around.

I’m going to keep telling people “You should get someone to look that over before you send it off to publication” NOT because it’s money in my pocket, but because that can make your project better, and isn’t that the point?

Happy creating, I’m going to go eat something before my stomach gurgles any louder.

The “Are You Ready To Get Published” Checklist, John-style

There’s been a lot of talk about self-publishing about it being good or it sucking or it being the salvation of stories or the whatever-it-is-to-whomever-needs-it. And because at the moment, it’s a pretty expedient route to getting something published (in this context, I mean getting something into a format or structure where someone else can consume it, sometimes in exchange for money), that means lots of people can write something and put it out for people to come running like thirsty animals at the watering hole.

This also presents an interesting wrinkle in that when people don’t come running, as if you’re Prometheus delivering fire (as opposed to Prometheus delivering a terrible movie), you get to bitch about. Loudly. Frequently. On social media. In public. At workshops. At conventions. To your dog. To any human who lucks into your path.

Further, it gives a tease of pleasure, as if there’s more to come later, when those first sales trickle in. And then like the Muppet, you start counting sales. One, Two, Three (ah ha haa) sales. Maybe you get up to like 40 or 400 over the course of a month or a quarter or however you obsessively slam the refresh on your browser. And that pleasure is narcotic. I can speak about the joys of narcotic rushes. I can tell you just how addictive it is to feel good. I can also tell you that you will do stupid things (like bitch on twitter, or pick fights with authors or editors or agents) to get another hit. I mean, in a publishing sense. I guess you could sell your stuff for book sales, or commit sex acts in alleyways for pageviews. I never really thought about that. (Now I can’t help but think of a sign that says, “Will swallow for blog hits” and expect one of those websites to scoop it up in a hot minute)

All this is divisive and great for fomenting argument and message board chatter. And it obscures the facts:

  1. People are going to write things.
  2. Some of those things are going to exist in stages where the manuscripts are rife with errors, either within the context of the story (cliched characters, plot holes, stuff like that) and also with the words and structure (spelling, grammar and punctuation errors)
  3. People want to get published.
  4. There are lots of ways to get published, or more broadly, get people to pay for things you’ve written.
  5. Some people are going to see one way to get published as superior to another, either because of things involved in getting published that way (agents, labels on books, etc) or because of expedience (upload a file, start “selling it”) or because of some other thing I’m not aware of but I’m sure someone will tell me about once this post goes up on the blog.
  6. If you rush to publication, regardless of route, you may encounter difficulty in the form of rejections or negative feedback because your manuscript may have any/all errors described in #2.
  7. You may get your work(s) published and still require a day job.
  8. You may have to publish several books/things in order to get some sort of income that you can live on consistently without fear of financial dire straits.
  9. Not every thing you write needs to be or is going to be published.
  10. Editors who aren’t you (or aren’t immediately related to you and are therefore biased) are useful to developing your work and your ability to produce that work, even if you’re focusing on a route to publication that puts editing after a submission and acceptance process.
  11. Not many people agree on the “best” course of action.
  12. Lots of people espouse all manner of philosophy, panicked thoughts, emotional reactions and BS statistics to try and persuade or dissuade people from certain actions or avenues in publishing.

Now, I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads of things because I’m writing this late at night when I’m tired, but I think I’ve put down some nice basics there. To that end, here’s a nice checklist you can use to help you produce whatever it is you’re doing.

Question 1

Is your manuscript complete? Before we go anywhere else, the thing you’re writing has to be done. And by “done” I mean the particular manuscript has to be finished, that you’re not adding more to it or fiddling with it. Even it’s a part of a series, this book (whatever number it is) has to be a whole book. Sure, it can end on a cliffhanger. Sure, it can leave some parts of a greater plot unanswered. But by itself, it has to be a complete story. However long that is. However many words. Complete.

Sub-Questions under Question 1

Does your manuscript have a main character that we can easily pick out and follow through the course of the story? A story needs a protagonist. The audience has to have some character we follow more than all the others (yes, even in an ensemble story where you have a group of characters together), so that they can see the plot and the character(s’) response to it. If there’s no clear protagonist (as in The Phantom Menace, several films from the ’70s and anything I wrote while in college), then audience won’t have an easy access point to the story, which means they won’t be as invested as they could be, and that may mean they put the book down to pick up something else. (And that’s not ideal if you want a stable audience or good reviews or repeat sales.)

Are your characters NOT stereotypes, cliches, “Mary Sues”, overpowered unchallenged uber-folk or one-dimensional cardboard? Here we can talk about the character spectrum. If you’ve got characters that are ‘too’ anything (too perfect, too beautiful, too good for the challenge of the plot, too troubled as to be unmotivated, etc), as per above, people aren’t going to have an access point into your story and created world. They don’t need to be super flawed either, it’s more about writing characters that someone somehow and in some way can relate to.

Did you spell-check it? Seriously, in my writing program of choice, spell-check is a pretty accessible, either by a menu or a keystroke. Use it. It shows respect to your readers and helps solidify the impression that you actually give a damn about what you create and didn’t just rush to stick your name on something in the hope that money would soon thereafter follow.

Is there a plot? And are you getting to that plot within the first twenty pages? A story needs a reason or a conflict or a crisis or a problem that the characters can solve. It makes the reader feel things, it creates a sense of “will this work out for our heroes” and generally gives the book a point to being read. The sooner you can introduce the plot and its effects on the protagonist(s), the sooner we can get into following their efforts to do something about it. Bloating the story up front with details because “you need to know this in order to understand stuff later” doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve paced or planned the story out, and in a way tells me that you’re more concerned with your telling the story than my liking it. (Sort of like a party where the person cares more about the praise or attention being paid to their storytelling rather than the story’s reception or the listeners’ enjoyment – are you writing just to show that you can do it?) Lastly, does this plot build to a climax and then resolve? Yes, even if you’re writing a series, each component needs an internal structure and not just act as setup to books later “when you’ll really get into it”. I don’t want to get into it later, four books from now. I bought this book, I want to get into it NOW.

Question 2

Since your manuscript is complete, have you formatted it according the particular requirements of the route it’s going to take in publishing? Just about every way to publish a story requires it be formatted a different way. Some places want it formatted with certain spacing and margins. Others want a particular file format. This isn’t just caprice. Formatting it a certain way shows that not only can you (a) follow directions but also (b) that you give a damn about the thing you’ve created, and you want to give it the best possible shot at getting out into the world. If you don’t know how to format it for your particular publishing method, ask someone affiliated with that method or check online, nearly everywhere has ‘Submission Guidelines’ or an email address where you can talk to someone about it. And when you actually get those guidelines, follow them. Being a rebel here doesn’t do you any favors, and often leads to your work being rejected since you didn’t follow directions. (For example if Company X wants the document formatted a certain way, with inches and spacing, chances are it’s for easier reading and quick printing. Not helping Company X read your thing is not going to help Company X say yes to you.)

Question 3

If you’re going to engage an agent or publisher, have you queried them? And if so, did their response say “Please send us stuff?” Again, we get to the importance of following directions and doing yourself a favor and putting your best foot forward. Imagine for a minute that we’re not talking about books, but something more practical – let’s say you’re making a snack chip. If you want me to buy your chip and tell my friends to buy your chip, are you going to let me test one chip to see if I like it, or are you going to assume that I’ll automatically like it because you (who I don’t know) made it, and you’ve gone ahead and made me a whole giant bag? The query letter is that test chip. It helps set up the dialog and relationship between agent and writer, so that communication (like spice) can flow and deals can be struck. And just like the start of any relationship, coming on too strong is a great way to get yourself rejected. Don’t throw whole bags of chips at people, invite them to make up their own mind with a test chip. Then see where things go.

Question 4

Are you on social media? Are you available somewhere on the Internet, in terms of contact information or some other repository of your thoughts and stuff? I’m not saying you need to be all up on every form of social media. You don’t need to be an Instagram junkie or go crazy with Vines and know the difference between Tinder and Tumblr. But you are going to need some kind of spot on the Internet where people (people interested in talking to you about you and your stuff) can reach you. For me, that’s Twitter and this blog. Yeah, there’s some Facebook too, but not so much anymore. Notice how I didn’t ask about your personal life or about your family or your financial habits or whether or not you’ve got pictures of your kids I can see. Having a presence on social media DOES NOT MEAN you need to show everything to everyone all the time. You choose to show and share what you want, with the caveat that it’s called “social” media and not “I only whore my work and provide links to buy things” media. Social means you can and should expect interactions with other humans, some of whom you’ll agree with and some you won’t, and some of whom will like your work and some who won’t. Growing some thick skin isn’t a bad idea, but it’s applesauce if you think you need to wear plate armor against everyone. The nice thing is that a lot of social media is free (and this blog isn’t all that pricey either, I think it’s like $18 a year or so.)

Question 5

Did you get some people to look at your work? Did “some people” include professionals who can point out errors and issues with your creation? When you write a thing, people are excited. Maybe they’re a little envious. Maybe they just want to see you do well. Who knows. Their reasons are their own. And chances are it’s not hard to find people who want to read your stuff. Friends. Family. Relationships. Co-workers. Maybe you expand by getting librarians or bloggers. Maybe you have a writing group and you take their feedback weekly or monthly. They’re all great resources for encouragement and on-the-spot help. But have you considered getting a professional to help you? Sure, those other people are giving you free advice on some night or an afternoon, and the professional is going to cost you money, but remember how we’ve been talking about doing all you can to put your best foot forward? Getting an editor (and later, beta readers) to apply their expertise (that’s what you’re paying for with professionals) to help your work be the best it can be?

Sub-Question under Question 5

Are you relying too heavily on the editorial process after an expected acceptance? Yes, if you go by some routes in publishing, the editing of your manuscript happens after you sign some paperwork and have been accepted as an author-under-contract. It can really tempting to hold off on editing your manuscript until that part, because it’s going to a pro, and that’s they’re job and it’s out of your hands. Yes, it is out of your hands. But do you think your work is the only thing they’re doing? That they don’t have deadlines or pressure from their bosses to get a certain amount done? And do you think that even at that level they can’t say no to you and say, “This thing is a mess and a nightmare, let’s go back to like square 2”? Publishing in its many incarnations is a marathon, not a windsprint. The better condition your work is in before the race kicks off, the better it’ll hold up to all the rigors your work is going to face.

Question 6

Are you prepared to handle the numbers? I don’t often talk about my own numbers, but I’ll give you some here. I have a series of small monographs available on Smashwords, and to date, they’ve earned me about $34. Thirty-four dollars. Contrast that to my editing income, which is about three thousand times times greater (tax brackets kicked my ass), give or take a percent. Granted, I talk way more about editing novels and games and content than I do about writing my own stuff, and even my own fiction production has slowed since more and more I’m editing to pay bills and live, but thirty-four dollars fills my car up with gas ONCE, or buys me 5 burritos. That’s not a lot, but I’m grateful for it. Writing, in terms of being a writer that produces book upon book, that’s a job, and that means contending with things like sales numbers and expectations and the cost of living or what you’re comfortable owning or not owning.

Question 7

Can you do it more than once? Maybe writing is just something you want to say you tried one time. Maybe it’s to honor a promise or just a goofy thing you started ages ago and now you’re just seeing where it goes. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re writing things because that’s your retirement. Or because your career is going to put your kids through college. Or because this is what you’ve always wanted to do, so out of your apartment in your city, you write ferociously and still make time to do things like go grocery shopping. Chances are that once you’re published, someone somewhere is going to ask or expect you to do it again. Now if you’re planning a series of books, this is a given. But if you’re just lobbing one word-grenade out there, someone’s going to want you to have extras handy. Which means writing more, possibly faster than you did the first time, and possibly on a schedule and deadline other than your own (especially if you didn’t read that contract you signed too carefully). Ready to do it again?

* * *

I write this not to draw a line in any sand and say “Publish this way and not that way.” I think the “hybrid” model, where you do whatever works best for the project is ideal, even if it means you straddle “fences”. I do think that even work that goes out to agents and publishers can stand to edited, and I do think it’s critical we start pointing out emperors that have no clothes on and talking more about what makes for good writing and not just good sales. I do think sales are a consequence of a well-made product, and I know you can point to tons of material that’s well-made but sold poorly, but I think it’s also time we change our collective thinking about how we perceive writing as art and craft. I think we need to do all we can to produce the best not so that we can demand fat checks, but so that we can bring our stories to people who want them, and we do so with the best polish and construction possible.

I take a lot of heat for saying “You should be writing everyday.” and I’m still going to say it. Because I do think ANYONE can take ten minutes to write down an idea so they don’t forget, then take ten minutes the next day to write a little more, and then a little more the next day. Some people get on my about my privilege, that I’m discounting peoples’ responsibilities. I’m not. I don’t have the same responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean I’m not cognizant of the fact that hours of a person’s day gets consumed by other things. I’m not asking for hours a day. It’d be nice, I think practicing a craft works best when you devote time to it, but even ten minutes regularly counts. 10 minutes. That’s not much. Can you do more? Then do it. Write. Create. A little at a time. If you feel that it deserves more, or that you should be giving it more because 10 minutes is unfair or sounds like I’m yanking your chain, that’s on you. I do think it deserves more. I do think you should do it at least an hour as often as possible. I do think it should be taught more (and better) in schools, and I do think that words can elevate and change minds. I don’t understand how people can ask me “to understand”, when they just tell me I’m being privileged or I don’t know what it’s like. I admit I don’t. Now just tell me how you can say writing or making a thing is as important as you claim when you’re not regularly making time to do it?

Go write things. Produce art. Art hard.

Happy writing.

How To Build A Pitch: 1WHAT 1WHY 1WHO 1HOW Construction

So earlier today on Twitter, I played a round of “Dick Move/Good Move” about pitches, having heard many horror stories about people giving pitches and what (if any) response they got. To summarize:

GOODMOVE01 GOODMOVE02

 

This led to a huge response from people about how this has often gone terribly wrong for them, and that Company X or Company Y, specifically helmed by Persons A and B, respectively need to do things ranging from “die in a fire” to “quit thinking they’re the best and get over themselves” to “stop fucking around and do something meaningful” – which sort of tells you how passionate people get when they’re trying to get feet into any doors they see in front of them.

But then this happened.

GOODMOVE03

 

See, people who pitch things, you might not be doing it right, AND the people taking your pitch might not be doing their part right either. Let’s focus on that first part – pitch construction – today.

This is the 3W/1H method of pitch construction, and I’m not sure where I learned it, but I’ve been teaching for the last five years, and it seems to be doing people pretty well.

Specfically it’s 1 What 1Why 1 Who 1 How, and the order is variable.

But can we talk about Chris’ tweet a second? It’s aimed at games, because he’s a game biz guy, but you can easily swap “rules” for “plot” and then we’re talking fiction. Too quickly that can verge into “let me tell you about my character/plot/action scene and that’s not a pitch, that’s just you talking about what’s on paper. Pitches aren’t summaries or even just capsules of excitement. A pitch is a vehicle for DELIVERING  YOUR IDEA TO ANOTHER PERSON’S BRAIN OFTEN FOR THE INTENTION OF HAVING THAT PERSON BUY YOUR IDEA OR PRODUCT. So when you’re practicing your pitches, be they verbal or written, any detail that you cannot directly tie to the above bold concept LIKELY DOES NOT NEED TO STAY IN THE PITCH.

After I say something like that, people say, “Well then what do I put in a pitch?” We’ll get there. But lets hit a few main things we need to agree on first.

  1. Not every pitch is going to be a home run, slam dunk, (other sports metaphor), sure thing that will skyrocket you to success.
  2. The right pitch (not the “best” pitch) should be delivered to the right audience. You have to know that what you’re saying, you’re saying to the proper receptive audience.
  3. Pitches take practice.

Okay, onto constructing a pitch. I’m going to do my best to frame this pretty broadly, so the lines between book pitches and game pitches may end up a little blurred, but a lot of the skills and elements cross over.

Your pitch should be concise, and fit the length asked for. When people accept pitches, they usually provide a written word cap. Don’t exceed it. You also don’t always have to hit it on the nose either, but most definitely, don’t go over the boundaries stated. A lot of pitch-making is about how well you follow rules (even if sometimes that seems like you’re just jumping through bullshit hoops), so think of this an exercise in concision. When speaking, try and find the most evocative and clear words, because I usually tell people they have about forty-five seconds to catch my interest and hold my attention before I start thinking about other things.

Pitches aren’t summaries. A pitch is a lure, not a re-hash. A pitch should prompt me to want to take the time/energy to find more, not just nod a lot and say, “That’s nice, I’m really happy for you.” This is not to say you can’t have some elements of the thing you’re pitching IN the pitch, but I don’t need and frankly don’t want to hear you go through everything – that’s what the product is for.

A pitch should be what they ask for, to some extent. When you’re pitching, you’re going to get better results when you match what you’re saying with people who want to hear about it. If you’ve written a cookbook, does it makes sense to pitch it to a company that doesn’t do cookbooks? If you’ve made a game, why wouldn’t you take it to a designer? Yes, sure, okay, you can stretch and rationalize and say something like “Oh they’ll want to take a chance on me and my thing.” but hey, I’m sorry, they probably don’t, unless you’ve really pushed that .0001% of new and original take on a topic and they can’t easily name another product or book that already does what you’re proposing.

A pitch isn’t flattery, a pitch is about YOUR product. Yes, you might be nervous, starstruck, excited and eager to tell Big-Deal-Lady and her Big-Deal-Company about your project-you-want-to-make-into-your-0wn-big-deal because you really dig her work and love what she’s done with her hair, and you think she’s really kicking a lot of ass. She knows these things already. Not because she’s vain, but because she knows that people dig her work and that she changed her hair and that she’s kicking ass, that’s her job. She knows her job. What she doesn’t know is about your product. Tell her.

1 What

What’s The Product About? What Vibe Does It Give Off?  What Vibe Do YOU Give Off (As You Talk About The Product)?

The pitch should say, express or be intriguing about “What”, as in “What’s the product about?” So your book, the pitch shouldn’t tell me what goes on in each chapter or section specifically (“In chapter 3, Ashley buys eggs! In chapter 4 omelets abound!”) but should tell me what the product’s vibe is, what I can expect to see or feel when I read it and what is interesting in how you’ve elected to express these things. Rather than hear about Ashley’s egg buying and omelet making, I would want to hear about Ashley’s domestic struggles due to the fact that there’s a terrible ninja and pirate civil war that’s gripped her town and all she can do to maintain her sanity is produce omelets, since her brother died harvesting eggs. Or something. The What is the greatest point of contact between pitch giver and audience, since it’s this content that the audience presumably asked for.

But the What isn’t the only element, nor the dominant element (that’s why there’s only 1 serving in this recipe).

1 Why

Okay, there are two types of Why here. Each only gets one serving, but you only need one Why.

Why Should I Care About This Character/Her Experience? (The Fiction Why)

Interesting characters and their compelling possible arcs they may travel through your book are going to be far more enjoyable to read about than the boring dull characters who just seem to be doing stuff because they need stuff to do on paper. (This is also called filler or chuffah). If you start me with a good hook, something evocative and action-centric that will not just hold my attention but ask for more of it, I’ll want to invest the time/energy/emotion into seeing this character deliver on the promise of your pitch.

Why Should I Care About Your Product When/If Other Products Do The Same Thing? (The Game Why)

You’re making a ________ game? What’s different about yours, since I presume it’ll have _______________ and _____________ before you even detail it. Are you taking an existing trope or idea, and either invigorating it with new dimensions or exploiting it in a way where others are only perpetuating it? There’s a lot of games I could put on my shelf, why do I need yours? This is also your two-part reminder that your game doesn’t need to do EVERYTHING to answer these questions, nor do I need/want to hear about ALL the rules you’ve hacked/tweaked/lifted to help answer these questions – give me one or two and lure me in so that I want to read the rest. Note: If you’re new at this, falling back on your team approach or any strategies you have in place to expedite later steps in the production process are huge assets here.

1 Who

Who’s This Character On Whatever Arc They’re On?

(For Games, swap “This Character” for “The Player(s)”) A pitch needs to present the axis upon which everything else in your pitch and subsequent product revolves around. If you’re selling an alternative to duct tape, you better help relate this product to the lives of people who do or can use duct tape. If you’re pitching the novel, who’s your protagonist? If it’s a game, what kind of player are you appealing towards, and who can the players expect to inhabit as characters? There should be a sense of arc progression here as well, at least giving us some sense of a starting point (“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.”) as well as where they’re going, but not every step (“She took the midnight train going en-ee-where.”). Can you make it compelling? Serve me something carbonated, not flat. Serve me something with a palette of concepts, not just one heavily drenched idea.

1 How

Again there are two How possibilities, you only need one.

How Are You Going To Get This Product Off The Ground? (The Game Way)

It’s not enough to just write a game anymore. What do you plan to do with it once you’ve written all the words? Are you getting it edited? (By whom?) Will there be layout? (By whom?) Are you going to crowfund it, if so, what’s your plan like? What’s your expectation on audience engagement? Do you even have an audience? Are they built-in or is this a groundswell, and if this is a groundswell, how are you regularly stoking this fire? Is there art? (By whom?) Can any part of this be tagged as any “-ist” or “phobic”? Are you prepared for the time/energy investment and stress level of crowfunding management? Do you have stretch goals? What happens if you don’t fund?

How Are You Getting This Book Into Peoples’ Hands? (The Book Way)

It’s not enough to just write a book anymore and then the publisher fairies swoop in to handle the marketing and the book tour and all the bells and whistles. The money is gone. The fairies evaporated into glitter and rainbow sprinkles (jimmies). You, author, are going to need to handle and navigate social media. There’s no way around it if you want to have the audience you claim you do. Are you just lobbing text onto Amazon and hoping people get a whiff of your genius? Is it edited? How’s the cover looking? What’s the price point like? Are there print options? No Amazon or Smashwords? Okay, is this serialized on your blog? Is this a subscription model? Are you taking emails and shipping the books yourself? Are you selling them out of the back of your car in bowling alley parking lots next to the toothless lady who needs meth? Are you accessible on social media? Are you a jerk? How many paths have you built for people to travel to get your words in front of them?

Pitches are tough, but doable. A good method, a good strategy, can go a long way to making this easier.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.

Happy writing.

Post #121 – How You The Writer Can Help The Process of Editing

I talk a lot about how editing is a conversation between writer and editor designed to make the product (be it a book, a game, a script, a whatever) the best it can be. What that conversation looks like is this:

1. You send me the document (aka the manuscript, the MS, the thing, your draft)
2. I open it in Word and via applications of comments and Track Changes, begin to mine the good content from the bad.
2b. This includes deleting extraneous elements
2c. This includes adding, changing or reconfiguring existing material into a new position.
2d. This also includes leaving questions in comments that need to be addressed.

Here for example are two such questions: (the first from one edit, the second from a novel edit)

a) “Are you saying that you have three events occurring simultaneously, an X, a Y and a Z? Which one does the mechanic apply to?”
b) This sentence is unclear. Either chop off the beginning or make the ending refer back to the person in question. 

Throughout the revision/editorial process there’s a back-and-forth established. I say something, you respond; you say something I respond. Ideally this back-and-forth treats us both like adults and colleagues working together, and it should never devolve into name calling, passive aggressive pissing contests or outright arguments.

Why? Because edits are suggestions. Yes, they’re suggestions with good intentions, experience, and expertise behind them, but they’re still suggestions. And we (editors) know that. We hope you take them seriously, since we’re giving them for the benefit of your project, but there are going to be times when we disagree.

So what can you do to make the process of editing less about our disagreements and more about getting things done and accomplished? Here are a few tips:

i. It’s not about you! When I edit something, even something one of my friends wrote, if I edit it, nothing in their personal life comes into play. Not who they’re married to, what they’re doing Tuesday for dinner, not what they said to me on Twitter this morning…it’s all about the work. And if I call them out for making an error (or making the same error repeatedly) I trust them to see and realize that it’s not a condemnation of who and what they are, just a bad writing habit I’m trying to excise. An edit in your manuscript is not somehow a mark or slight against you, it’s an edit…in your manuscript.

ii. Be ready to listen to a new point of view. When you hand over your MS for editing, be prepared for me to come at it with new eyes. I wasn’t in the room when you wrote it, I likely didn’t have any input on its genesis or growth. It’s also possible that outside of this particular project, you and I have never spoken, so I may not fully grasp the nuances of your humor or dig your taste in metaphors. I’m going to go through your work as a totally new reader and editor, so that may mean I don’t get your joke, or understand your explanation the first, second or fifth times. If you’re not ready to have someone potentially mark up, flag and question your work, understand that you may need to talk to the editor before you submit to the process.

iii. Editing is NOT reading!The editing process is so much more than spellcheck-ing a document, reading it, and pronouncing it “nice” or “good”. It’s also not pleasure reading. In fact, I’m not really “reading” your work at it. The process is finer than that. I’m looking for errors, I’m searching for clarity in concept and execution, I’m often looking at the relationship from word to word — that’s of a higher scope and detail than just reading the MS to see if I like it.

iv. Don’t lose your temper! Sometimes, it can feel like you’re under siege while getting edited. Your hard work, your words, your creation is under a sharp knife wielded by someone who “doesn’t get it”. It can be frustrating to get back ten, twenty or thirty pages of marked up draft and feel overwhelmed and indignant that someone found so much fault with what you’ve done. Remember though, it’s not personal (i) and what we’re having is a conversation, not a lecture. If you’re able to rein in your frustrations and express your side of the discussion civilly then the writer-editor relationship will prosper. If you’re frustrated, confused, annoyed, bothered….speak up. It might be momentarily uncomfortable, but in the end it will be worth it. Just do so civilly.

I think four items is a good start. If any of my editor friends want to jump in: What can writers do to make the process easier? Leave a comment or two.

Happy writing. We’ll talk soon.