Editor, Editors Everywhere

Warning

Don't Write LIke We TalkThis blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

Editor, like Publisher, has become a broader category than it once was in the past.  It used to be that the editor/writer relationship looked like a scene out of Spider-Man.  The Editor in charge wants a photo of Spiderman, and Peter Parker better get one or be fired.

Editors have evolved.

The best way to think of an editor is a good editor will prevent you from inadvertently upsetting your reader.

I was discussing the books of a very popular writer with another   NaNoWriMo writer who had just read the most recent publication.  My friend complained that some of the simplest continuity in the book failed. (And this is an author that attracts massive advances and has a phalanx of editors).   The sin is not the inconsistency itself, in this book the heroine runs out of butter in one paragraph, makes a big deal about not having any butter, then uses copious amounts of butter on the very next page.  As readers, we were not really concerned that the butter in question seemed to magically appear in the refrigerator, although that would be handy in real life, our complaint was that such a careless oversight succeeded in wrenching the reader (my friend) out of the literary fictional world and out on the cold street, now conscious she was holding a book of paper or electronic bits exclaiming, I thought she was OUT of butter!

You the author have a responsibility to maintain your contract with the reader.  The reader promises to suspend disbelief and you promise to not suddenly jerk them back to reality before they are ready.  The editor helps maintain this contract, because he or she is a reader, they can catch situations and discrepancies that you cannot see.  Don’t yell at them, be grateful.

An ACQUIRING EDITOR buys the book from an agent or author. When you attend conferences and talk with editors, you are most likely speaking with an acquiring editor.  Acquiring editors come in various shapes and sizes.  Blog editors are acquiring editors.  We are editors in the sense that we vet potential guests.

To be guest blogger, to see your work published in an anthology.  To become part of a publishing house collection, you are working directly with that acquiring editor.

Study the periodical, and /or develop a relationship with the blog editor, if you want to write for Newbie Writers, be nice to Damien and listen to the pod casts so you have an idea of what we’re about.  The more you know, the better you can tailor your work to what the editor wants and needs, the better your chances.

Always query an editor with your idea and don’t attach anything, attachments make editors break out into hives and that’s not an auspicious start to your relationship.   Queries should give the editor a complete picture of what your blog, article or idea is about. Include what they ask for. Don’t send anything they don’t ask to see.

DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR.  This editor helps the author, if needed, with plot, structure, pacing, and writing style.  Coaches (like me) are essentially developmental editors.  We help with the structure of your book.  We walk you through the process of creating the book.

We will also help you polish the work before submitting your book to a publisher or agent.

Content and development editors are big picture experts with degrees in literature and/or creative writing.  They will find structural challenges in your story but likely they will not find typos, for that you need to hire a copy editor.

Copy editors are emergency response teams. These fearless editors are the people who can spot a typo at fifty paces and know how to resurrect a sentence.  You only need these experts in an emergency.  And the last round of edits for your book often seems like an emergency.

You will either get an assigned copy editor through your publisher (and this is not a suggestion) or you will hire a copy editor to save you from yourself before you publish your book yourself.

If you hire a freelance copy editor, find out what they usually look for, and add in what you want them to find.  Do you need to make sure the plot hangs together? Or do you just want to make sure the heroine’s eye color doesn’t change between chapter 2 and chapter 46.

Be specific, the more you want to be checked, the more expensive the work will be.  Which makes sense.

If you are assigned an editor by your publisher, he or she will check for grammar, punctuation, spelling and typos, all the usual stuff.  They will also make sure the book fits the publisher’s editorial style.

This where authors and editors come to blows.

You’ve heard authors say phrases like – editorial hell. Authors will lament that they are arguing with their editor.  They will claim that their editor knows nothing.  Or post on social media to not bother them, they are working on their damn edits for their book.   

When the edits for Future Girls (Eternal Press) were finally, finally, finally returned, I figured I would spend at least two or three weeks in editorial hell with the manuscript.

It wasn’t that bad.

And I credit a relatively easy final editing session to my Beta readers.  Making the edits the readers suggested before sending the manuscript to the publisher made all the difference.

But nothing is ever perfect. I still had work to do.

My book – Future Girls had to follow the editorial style that (the then)   Eternal Press books had to follow.  I was no different.

According to the editor, or in this case, the style guide she employed: “No beginning sentences with “And,” “Or,” or “But”.  Sigh. I start sentences with “And” all the time. And I because I start sentences with “and” I don’t penalize my students for doing the same. It was a tick I had learned to ignore.  So it was a foreign thing to hunt down those ands and change them all.  Pain in the ass.  (Running a search and replace for the word and is not an activity I recommend). But I did it.

“Em dashes. Our formatting program recognizes a double dash as an em-dash with no space before or after. Also, no spaces before or after an ellipsis.”  So I hunted down the damn spaces.  Picky picky.  But that’s the hell part.  Some authors, sorry, often new authors, will argue that they don’t want to change a single one of their sentences because it is part of their art – their style – their message.  That is silly.  Once you delivered your novel to a publisher, it’s now part of that publisher’s collection – they are responsible for the look and feel of their own products.  You can go along with this, or you can, like Virginia Woolf who never allowed anyone to edit her work – publish it yourself.

You’ll still need at least a copy editor.

Mark Twain suggested that every time you use “very” in a sentence, just change it to “damn” and the editor will subsequently remove all the damns and your sentences will be in good shape.

Editors are wonderful and important members of your team.  Be kind to your editor, keep him or her around.  I was thrilled when the editor of Future Girls came out of retirement to edit Future Gold.  She already knew the story; she knew my style – the editing went well.  I also attribute that to changing all the sentences starting with AND before I sent her the manuscript.

I can be taught.

Prompt

Rewrite the end.

Have you ever been dissatisfied with the ending of a book?  Take the end, or the last chapter, and rewrite it.  This is of course, how fan fiction is created, but you don’t need to post it or do anything with it.  Just create an alternative ending and work from there.  You may well begin another story!

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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Got My Period

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

After a breakneck presentation to authors on how to stay calm and deliver a great presentation to agents. My friend Betsy Fasbinder (guest as well) commented to me that I needed to talk more like I wrote.  Stop at those periods, she said.  Take a breath at those commas.

Take a breath?  I had only half an hour to deliver all the information these newbie authors needed and I wanted them to have everything!  I wanted them to present themselves and their projects so clearly and well that they would walk out of Pitch O Rama, the event we coordinated for authors, with an agent’s card and a promise to review their manuscript.Don't Write LIke We Talk

Of course, Betsy was right.

That pause, that comma and period was invented for breathless people like me to help us when we speak.

After all, that’s what they were invented to do.

Early Latin texts were written with all the letters jammed together with no breaks between. Just evenly spaced letters filling the page, and elegantwallpaperr certainly, difficult to read, most assuredly.  So as priests started to read, it was necessary to create some kind of symbol to help them with pauses and stops.  Writers haven’t looked back.

The comma allows the reader to break for just a nanosecond, and that helps embed the meaning of the sentence even better into their tiny brains.  Periods allow everyone to take a breath.  My trouble is I’m a fast talker, one deep breath and I can belt out two or three paragraphs talking much faster than my poor audience can listen.  I need to or three periods at the end of each sentence to get the point across to me.  Stop.  Take a breath.

The best way to think of a period is to re-name it like the Australians.  Full Stop.  It sounds like reading a telegram out loud.  Full Stop.  But that period has some drama in it.  The sentence is done; the act has been accomplished.  The question: to be or not to be.  Full stop.  There’s a lot to consider in that one statement.  Let it stand.  Move on.

If I can learn to do this, so can you.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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Who is Talking? Trouble with POV

Don't Write LIke We TalkWarning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest.   

POV, Who to Blame?

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name), followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   Third person POV is the simplest way to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

We are reasonably intelligent, even talented people. Why the confusion over point of view?

Film and Video games are part of the confusion; they are hell on   POV.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives close-ups ups.  Film mixes it up.  Film shows us who and what is around the corner.  Film gives us the character motivation visually.  We are used to knowing everything.

Video games are even better at violating POV.

You already know the cast of characters and their motivation and strengths because you reviewed them all before starting the game. When they pop up, you already know stories, motivation, and moves.

Great for a game.  Great for a film

Crappy for a novel.

If we already know everything, what is the point of the journey?  So how do we keep the point of view clear in our novel?

Here are some ideas:

Cleaning up POV

  • Does your character suddenly know what the other character is thinking?
  • Are you creating scenes of action or explaining motivation?
  • Is there action that accompanies the dialogue?
  • If the view from above a little mixed up?
  • Have you decided on who is filtering the story and sticking to it? Readers will forgive a great deal, but not an author who violates his or her own world.
  • In reviewing your second draft, ask the question, how does character A know that about Character B?

Solutions in the first draft

  • Write the action from one point of view, all the way to the end of the story.
  • Then write the same story from the other character. Now put them together. Sometimes all it takes is for us to be clear in our own heads who is talking to whom.
  • If each character has a secret, and a history, that helps keep each one clear in the reader’s mind.
  • Also if the other characters do not know the secret, then that will help notify you as you write if you’ve overstepped the POV and suddenly switched to mind-reading.
  • Be clear. Stay in the right head, stay with the right character. And everything will be okay.

First, let’s confuse the whole issue.  In her great book – Shoot Your Novel, CS Lakin advocates that writers behave more like directors and “shoot” scenes in your books.

One, because it will help make for a more interesting book and two because your readers are quite familiar with the jump cut, the fade out, the high point of view, the close-up.  We are steeped in visual storytelling, so if you can capture some of that essence in your book, you will be well served, and we hope, well read.

To summarize:  Is the scene a fully formed scene?  Can you clearly “see” the action or is there something lacking?  Did you mention the right things that will pop up in later scenes?  Is the heroine described well enough, is the villain described well enough?  And of course, in the second and third edits, did you write it all down or did you assume a few things because they are so embedded in your head?

That said, as you view your work with the eye of a director, what are the pitfalls of this approach? One of the pitfalls is point of view confusion.

Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the character.  Point of view is the story as seen through the eyes of the narrator.  The most common narrator is Third Person Limited, (not his real name).  Followed by Third Person Unreliable, which was someone I once dated.   It is one of the easiest ways to tell a story.  But writers can still get it wrong.

The third person view “sees” all the actin and knows what each character thinks and feels.  The trick is to make sure the thinking and feeling happen in different paragraphs.

So the problem becomes:  Glen opened the door, oops, there was Melissa, awake, fully dressed and angry that he was once again, late.

How does Glen really know what Melissa is thinking?

Glen opened the door, there was Melissa, still fully dressed, clutching an empty glass.  She lifted it as if to throw it, but changed her mind.  “Late again.”  She spits out.

Third person limited is akin to Third person omniscient, which, just as the label indicates, means that you, the reader along with your handy God-like narrator, know everything.

Glen knew that Melissa would be angry, he had of late, made it a habit of arriving home at all hours, this could be because of his growing ambivalence about the relationship, this was clearly his way of rebelling against Melissa’s controlling nature.

Mellissa waited at home, frantic because Glen was late. Why did she always take up with unreliable men?  There must have been some issue in her early childhood.

But First Person Unreliable is the most fun.  The story is told by an idiot signifying . . . sorry.  The story is told by a character deeply entrenched in the story itself.  The only views the reader knows are those of the narrator. The narrator cannot read minds, he or she can only respond to what they think they see and what they observe.  This helps build characters and keeps the plot on track.

I was late.  I’ve been late a lot, but Melissa didn’t need to take it so personally, I just like being out with my mates.

“Where have you been?”  She shrieked as soon as I opened the door.  I ducked as a scotch glass hurled by my head.  It crashed on the far wall.

“Not that late.”  I protested.

She dropped her hand and looked at me with what?  Pain?  Disgust. Sex, she definitely wanted sex, I could tell.

See?  How much more fun, especially when the narrator is so very, very wrong.

Seems pretty straightforward.  Why all the confusion?  Just pick a character and stick with him or her.

Ah, the reason we have such a difficult time with POV – Point of View, is movies.

Film gives you the long shot, shows other people that the main character cannot possibly know or see.  Film gives you zooming perspectives and close ups.  Film mixes it up.

And so we reasonably try the same in our novels and stories.

Doesn’t work as well – the grammar police, our editors call us on it every time – if we are lucky.

Newbie

I think that just about covers it.

Prompt

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

What do you write for publication?  What do you write for the heck of it?  Are they two different activities?

Give yourself a couple minutes and write exactly what you want.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon
Like us on Facebook – Newbie Writers Group

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Why Egypt – What Inspires Travel

Rickshaw in Luxor, EgyptMy Grandmother died Christmas Day. Some would say, finally.  She herself would say, finally.  With grandmother’s death, my mother was mysteriously free.  She immediately booked a trip to Egypt for March – three months away.

There was no good way for Western women to travel in this Muslim country without a tour, without the protection of a group and frankly a male leading the group. So we booked with a great deal of trepidation and consternation, a tour.   

Mom, who spent ten years traveling with Dad making travel films and touring them  (in the late 80s early 90s, they hit this business  at exactly the right time.  Now it’s all video of course)

considered tours anathema. Tours were terrible, restrictive, crowded, uninspiring and boring.  Tours were not the way a real traveler worked through the world.

But if you want Egypt, you must travel with a tour.

Sphinx, Cairo, EgyptWhy Egypt?  Why not Disneyworld?

Elizabeth Peters that’s why.

Starting with The Crocodile on the Sandbank, we read and collected all 19 books in a series that followed 19th Century archaeologist  Amelia Peabody and her husband through excavating and adventuring through Egypt.   The author herself holds a Ph.D. in Egyptology and knows what she’s talking about.

We loved the books, and we were mad to see the tombs, the pyramids, Shepards Hotel (which had burned to the ground, so we had to make due)  the dusty Cairo museum (which did not disappoint, it is dusty and as cluttered as it probably was in the 1800s).  We wanted to see it all.

And we could.

That was another thing.

We could.  Again, I give my mother some credit, her motto is travel to unstable countries when they are stable.  This from a woman who traveled through Spain during Franco and doesn’t remember seeing the Sagria Familia, which makes sense as at the time, the cathedral was closed and in disrepair.

So, peace in Egypt, relative stability.

Luxor Temple, Egypt

We went.

What books inspired your travels?  What films locations did you want to see with your own eyes?  It’s the start, these films and books, and the more you read, the more you know, the more exciting and interesting the trip will be.

Promise.

Follow me for more random comments about travel and writing and how to do both successfully.  For no other reason that it will make your life that much more interesting.

Join the group!  Join us on Travel/Write on Facebook, post your writing photos and inspirations.  Nothing celebrates travel like more travel!

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What Sells? Genre

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

  

Genre sells Don't Write LIke We Talk

Non-fiction/ how-to sells.

How to make money sells.

Non-Fiction books on how to write genre books and make lots of money  sell the best.

We don’t get many questions about genre, and the essence is covered in the price of a best seller. I think because I write genre fiction, both mystery and science fiction and, if you will, YA – Young Adult, I assume that since I know and write the material of the genre, most of my readers are familiar with the types, the rules and how to do it.
There are more books than is probably prudent to shelve on the subject of genre. How to write a killer mystery, For Love and Money, etc. Follow the writing advice of CS Lakin in the Twelve Pillars of Fiction or Beth Barany’s Adventures of Writing, or Elizabeth Sims Writing a Book is Easy and you’ll be covered in the genre field as well.

Genre fiction falls into the same category as Doritos Nacho tortilla chips. Compelling, delicious and addictive. You must eat until the bag is empty. A well-written genre book is exactly the same. And who wouldn’t want to produce an established addictive product? It worked for Starbucks, it can work for you.
Genre fiction is not famous for its insights or erudite comments on the human condition. These books are not novels in the way we understand literary fiction. Genre books are plot driven. The characters are big and beautiful. The story is fairly straightforward. The narrative is linear, there are few tricks or sleight of hand. Tell us a good story. Tell us again and again.
Women are the readers of genre fiction. Some read 3 or 4 books a day (many are reading romance at this rate). They love the books, they are loyal fans, they show up at conferences and cheer their authors on to write more and more.
These fans are online. They will talk with you and deliver feedback. It’s all beautiful and it can be overwhelming.
The secret to genre writing is you must love the genre. You must read the genre yourself and know your favorites and know your competition.
You must be absolutely sincere and entrenched in your genre both to create a decent book and to create a decent existence. If you are not prepared to troop down to Comic Con in San Diego dressed as your lead character in order to hand sell your latest book, don’t write in the genre.
Reading the genre also allows you to absorb the tropes and conventions of that genre. Ideally, you know, in your very bones, what a good romance or horror novel entails. It should come naturally and it’s a deep knowledge that is difficult to fake, difficult to follow along in a how-to book. Dare we suggest that it should be fun?

I tried writing romance. I tried it for all the wrong reasons, it was supposed to be easy, it was selling, it was a way to break into publication.  I bought a couple of how -to books. I followed the formula.  What could be easier?
Winning a monkey knife fight would have been easier.
Giving birth to large-headed children was easier.
It was a total failure. Because I did not believe in the redemptive and total triumph of love over common sense. I did not believe that the strong, silent, misunderstood hunk of a man could be changed by the lovely, spunky girl. I did not believe in sincere dialogue and wet weepy eyes.
It did not work for me at all.
But finding a dead body in the bathroom of an empty house? No problem at all. I realized, after many starts and stops that I should write what I love to read. And I loved mysteries and science fiction books.
I knew the rules of those games. And played them much better.
Know the rules, know the styles, then rush out and invent your own twist on an established genre.
For writers, genre is an easier format to attract an agent.
It’s easier to find an indie publisher.
It’s easier to publish yourself and still get the attention you need.
It’s easier to sell.
It’s easier to find the conferences to attend
It’s easier, much easier, to find your audience.

You just gotta love it or your everyday writing will be a bore and a chore. And since that is what you are really doing all day, make it worth your time. Make it enjoyable. Be proud of what you write.

Newbie
Please don’t write something based on a genre you think will sell, or make you money. We have had plenty of guests who have written a book because it’s the hottest topic out there. Write a genre you understand and most importantly, a genre you like. I am a firm believer in writing what you are influenced by because the resulting story will be more genuine, it’ll have all the common tropes you have read from other stories and most importantly: it’ll be true to that genre.
I would suggest writing the story that is in your head as the genre will shine through during the writing process. It may end up a mixture of genres, horror and romance, fantasy and westerns… who knows. You’ll find a fit for your story.

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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Travel/Write – Why Write While Traveling

For writers who travel and love to write.

Mom at a temple in India

Mom, avoiding the trampling elephants

Travel writing sounds so glamorous; get paid to see legendary places, sample unusual food, sleep in exotic hotels, all on a magazine’s expense account.  Wow right?  Except there are maybe four writers who get to work that way.  The majority of travel writers pay for their trips, write up the experience and work hard to publish those articles on a blog, newspaper or magazine and often receive about  $1,000 for their efforts.   So why bother?

Because Travel and Writing are in your blood and your blood is made of part oxygen, part helium, and part ink. Like all obsessive hobbies, writing about travel is pointless, costly and fun as hell – it can be found listed in the same category as water skiing, sky diving, or gourmet cooking, there is no why there is just expensive equipment.  The goal and you hope, ultimate outcome, is huge, massive satisfaction rather than any product.   Often my only takeaway after three weeks in a foreign country is a small ceramic elephant and a clutch of poorly rendered postcards.  And it’s all worth it.   

Travel will extend your year and extend your life, not those crappy years at the end, but next week.  Spent on foreign soil, next week will last much longer than usual.

But you know all this. There are blogs and blogs and blogs about the joy of travel: climbing Mt. Everest, hiking through North Korea, building schools in Afghanistan.  You can find all those missives, read them, believe them or not.

I love that travel is not a competitive sport. I don’t need to have a count or see “more” than another traveler.  I don’t need to stand in 100 countries.  In fact, that 100 country contest?  I actually counted the countries I did want to visit and arrived at 80.  What countries of you want to visit?  Five?  Ten?  Travel to where you want, not to rack up a number, because no one cares.  Most travelers will not ask your score.

For me, part of the adventure, of you can call it that, is traveling with my elderly mother.  ( I get to call her elderly because it’s my blog).  At 81, mom is no hiker.  She walks like one of those wind-up toys that teeter along,  half step after half step eventually falling off the edge of the coffee table.  So scaling Kilimanjaro is out.

But ushering her across the streets in  Mumbai was pretty damn exciting.

I know it was exciting because I made a note in my journal –  almost killed mom today.    I don’t edit while writing, but I do edit and editorialize on behalf of the blog or in telling the story to friends. With each telling, the traffic becomes denser, the street wider and mom slower.  It’s my story and I’ll enhance if I want to.

What about you?  You may be traveling this summer, do you think you’d like to write down some impressions, take a few notes, write up the draft for a poem that includes the bright summer sky, three new birds and your elderly parent?

All you need is a notebook. (See, this activity is already cheaper than base jumping).

Yes, you can make notes on your phone. Of course, you can.  When I pass by one of you doing this, hunched over, studious chimping away at the world’s smallest keyboard using just your opposable thumbs, I am amazed, impressed and can’t help note that more time is spent figuring out the keyboard and checking that the notes are correct rather than enjoying the surroundings.

Look up (especially if you’re writing about birds).

Bring the phone, but also bring a notebook.  Notebooks free you from the distraction of technology and encourage spontaneity.  Plus, no roaming fees. A good travel notebook is large enough for ephemera:  tickets stubs, postcards, coasters, business cards from the hotel, and small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.  Ideally, you can carry your notebook while wandering through a museum or sitting at a tiny cafe table.   

Don’t spend too much money on a fancy notebook,  it will just terrify you, you won’t want to deface it with your pen.

Pens, don’t assume pens. Take the pens you love and take more than just that one.  As soon as you think, oh, I’ll just pick up a pen at the airport or I’m sure there are pens available in Albania, there won’t be.  Take four or so, and scattered them through your luggage because a cluster of pens rubber banded together makes TSA personnel nervous.

Take a backup notebook.  Sure you found the perfect one, but just in case, throw another into the bottom of your suitcase, that way you won’t restrain your writing just because you have three pages to the end of the notebook, but four days left on the trip.

Should you aspire to create a Pinterest-worthy notebook?  Nope. I follow those boards and am amazed and impressed with the level of talent and creativity scuttling around the world.  I collect them on my travel/write board, but I cannot do it myself. Journals are filled with perfect square writing and elegant watercolors.  Stunning works of art. Impressive, impossible.

If you are worried about your mother pitching off the end of the felucca, you won’t have much time or bandwidth for stunning and beautiful.

But you will have time for notes and impressions.  Embrace the messy notebook, revel in creating something that will never be ready for its close-up.  The fun of a notebook is making the notes. Write a poem around the paper napkin filched from the trendy restaurant.  Make a couple of notes in your lap while your travel partners finish their coffee.

Record the sound of a bird, describe a tree.  Travel.  Write.

And join us on Facebook – Travel/Write.  A group of unrepentant writers and travelers.

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Writers Conferences How To

Warning

This blog is from our book, Don’t Write Like We Talk, which in turn,  is not a compilation of podcast transcripts (Newbie Writers Podcast), hell, it’s not even our show notes.  The book is a collection of blogs, essays, and presentations that capture the essence of what we learned in the last five years and what we want to pass along to new as well as experienced writers.  And in the spirit of the project – read here twice a month and you can learn everything we know for no financial outlay.  Be our guest. 

   

How to Rock a Writer’s Conference

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?   

Don't Write LIke We TalkWriting Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing.  By a number of years.

But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

I know reasonably famous authors who love to travel and so attend as many conferences as they can be explaining that they “write off” the trip on their taxes. Yes, you can claim a writing conference as a business expense. But you still need to pay for the flight, hotel and food up front with a cold, hard Master Card, so let’s not kid ourselves and call it a savings, or even clever financial planning. Conferences are expensive, both for the speaker and for the attendees.
So choose wisely.
Advantages of attending a conference:

There are many conferences to choose from. And those wonderful conferences are often held in fabulous exotic locations. Who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks on the beach in Mexico “writing”?
Writing Conferences are shorter and less expensive than earning a full-blown degree in creative writing. By a number of years.
But even though they are shorter, some Conferences only less expensive than a low-residence MFA by a $1,000 or so.

Disadvantages:
Writing conferences are not immune to the techniques of the most expensive and obnoxious sales pitches that claim that you can, in no particular
order: Instantly build your business! Learn the techniques of the stars! Double
your income! Double your life! Three days of excellence! Save $100 when you
register now, now, now!
All for the low, low price of $2,000 for the conference, $1,500 for the hotel
room and $16.00 for the glass of indifferent Sauvignon Blanc. Not counting gas.

You don’t care.

Writing conferences should be approached with caution and purpose.
Before you save all that money and sign up for a conference TODAY, SAVE
NOW, consider what you want from the conference first. Do you want to just experience the conference life? Do you want to meet an agent? Do you want to spend a week working with a particular author or poet? What are the takeaways? Or, as my husband insists on asking, what is the ROI?

There are writing conferences, like the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. And there are workshops, like the Squaw Valley Workshop, the Napa Valley Workshop, and a summer of Iowa Workshops.
Workshops are typically focused on writing and craft. You, as a participant are vetted and often need to submit your work in progress before gaining entry to the workshop.
You will stay in a lovely place, meet with a famous author for five or six days in a row. Make new friends, and write. At lot.
Workshops often include dinners and evening lectures.

Conferences focus a little on craft and mostly on promotion and publishing. These conferences have no barriers to entry except time, money and space. The SFWC for instance sells out early due to limited space (the conference is held at the Mark Hopkins in SF, and it’s small, as conference spaces go).
You will have a chance to learn about craft, the writing life, and listen to the popular lecture, I am famous because I was really lucky. Often a version of Agent Speed Dating will be included.
There are lunches and dinners, often at an additional cost. There are often receptions and after-hours activities at no additional cost.
If you are just considering this writer’s life, or life-style, a local conference will do just fine. Look for a writer’s conference close by to reduce the cost. Unless you very much want to experience Iowa in the summer.

Know your goals:
If your goal is to just go and experience the writer’s life, that counts.

However, if you have a purpose, state it. Know what you are going for. Do you long for contact with real literary agents? Look at the list of agents participating in the conference. No agents at this one? Don’t go.

If a favorite author is the keynote speaker and you want to see her (maybe meet her, maybe get a book signed) before she dies. Go.
Make sure she is really on the schedule. Are there words like “possible,”?
“chosen,” “may show,” “they drove by our office and that counts?” If the famous author appearance isn’t guaranteed, stay home.

Do you want to get down and dirty with real editors who will really review your fabulous manuscript? Is there an additional cost to meet with an editor?
Again, check out the conference list and know that often those meetings with editors or agents are by reservation only and may even take place the day before the actual conference, so check that carefully, or you’re into the expensive hotel for another day — and another glass of wine.

Do you want to meet publishers directly? Is there a list of publishers shown on the conference flyer or website and will they be there? Or are they attending just to sell off inventory? Who are the publishers? Do you recognize their companies or are they all from the Author Solutions where they will cheerfully guarantee that, of course, they will publish your book — it’s only $4,500 for the basic package.

There are some fabulous conferences for writers, and most conferences are held during the summer months because they meet at college campuses. You can travel to Iowa, you can travel to Adelaide and all places in between.

What to do once you are there.
Make friends with other attendees. I know you want to meet that famous person, that famous author, that agent! You want to make friends with that agent!
Meet them. Shake their hand. That’s going to be the extent of it.
Who you really should make friends with is that woman sitting next to you. You, the members of the audience, are often in the same boat. Make friends with these people. They can be the first members of your new writing critique group. Or a mutual promotion group (you support each other’s book promotions). You will likely see them again next year if not sooner. This is your chance to create real connections, not with the authors who have already succeeded, but with authors who, like you, are working their way through the process. Meet and greet, this is your tribe.

What not to do
I speak at conferences and I volunteer at conferences. I would like to nip a few bad habits in the bud if I may.
Here is what drives speakers and volunteers crazy:
Conference attendees who march around with their manuscript thrusting it at unsuspecting agents, author and volunteers like a weapon.
Conference attendees who have nothing to say except to complain about the food. It’s banquet food. It’s not gourmet fare and wasn’t advertised that way in the first place. The food will keep you going. It’s the best that can be had for the price. If you are a gourmet chef, you may have something to comment on, otherwise, the cost of your meal is paying for the room, the speaker and the wait staff, not just that chicken breast sprinkled with two olives and some rosemary. If you can cut the chicken with the knife provided, it’s a win – get over it.
Conference attendees who waste valuable networking opportunities bitching about their room or roommate.
Conference attendees who meet a pre- published author and dominate that conversation by bragging about their own agent, their own six-figure advance or their movie deal. If you are that famous and successful, what the hell are you doing at a conference? Move on to a TEDx conference and deliver your ‘I’m- Famous- Because- I- Was-Lucky talk there’.
Name dropping, especially if you’ve only heard the name, not met the actual person.
Not helping. Help people, encourage that young girl to speak to the agent. Help that small elderly lady find the workshop room.
Here’s what I really hate, the author who stands up during the five minutes Q & A and delivers a lengthy autobiography and/or lengthy descriptions of his upcoming book plot that, surprise, people can purchase from him at the end of the lecture. Do you have a question? Is it relevant? Then ask. But this is not the place for grandstanding. It’s an effective way to be remembered. But you will also be stabbing that chicken breast all alone.
Not having a 30-second elevator speech to promote their book. A word about this. The reason you want to have a 30-second summary of your work in project ready to go is to prevent you from wasting 30 minutes explaining the plot to me. Summary is good – blow by blow is bad.
I dislike conference attendees who disrespect the volunteers. First of all, it’s just bad behavior. Second of all, you don’t know who is volunteering. Many of volunteers are also speakers, or agents, or friends of the conference organizers. There is nothing worse than meeting an agent during an agent speed dating session and realizing, with some horror, that fifteen minutes ago you handed them your dirty coffee cup and told them to put it somewhere.
Conference attendees who stalk agents to the point of pushing their manuscript under the stall door in the women’s room.

But even the best conference will not help you if you don’t know what you want. And the best agents and editors can’t help you if you don’t have a completed or mostly completed manuscript to send them.
So before you sign up and buy the plane tickets, get focused. For all the money you spend, make sure there is a purpose to your conference experience. Write down the deliverables and try to full fill them during your two or three days. If you just want to have fun – fly to Hawaii. Or Australia, Australia is very nice.

Newbie
Never been to a writing conference before, certainly not paid for one. From an outsiders’ point of view, it seems like a good way to waste money and valuable time you should be writing. Perhaps this would be classed as “research” by some?
Prompt
Write a dialogue between two of your favorite characters. Snow White and Cinderella, Eloise and Ramona, Batman and Superman. Or think of your childhood favorites, what are they doing now? Write up fan fiction that fills in the grown up life of a character like Pipi Longstockings, Richie Rich, Bart Simpson. Do it well enough and you end up with a block buster like “Wicked”

 

Don’t Write Like We Talk
What we learned after five years and 200 episodes
interviewing Authors and Agents, Publishers and Poets

Damien Boath & Catharine Bramkamp
Authors and podcast producers of the Newbie Writers Podcast.

Learn more about writing:
Newbie Writer Podcast on iTunes
Don’t Write Like We Talk – on Amazon

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You Are Not Alone – because you can’t be.

We all know the legend of Jack London the adventurer and prodigious writer.  He is held up to authors as the epitome of the writer’s work ethic, publishing 50 fiction and non-fiction books and hundreds of articles.  He made his living by writing and always, always writing at least a 1,000 words a day.  That is an impressive output not only for the number but for the consistency.  1,000 words!

Many people help bring a book to lifeOn first glance, London represents impossible goals. Fifty books!  But how could anyone match that?  You can.     

Recycle

Both Jack and his wife re-purposed their adventures into many version of essentially the same book.  The travels of the Snark inspired a number of related books all covering the same material including Charmaine London’s version provocatively titled:  Woman among the Head Hunters.  Like so many best-selling authors, London created many books from a single theme.

But still, he wrote and he sailed the adventures, he had the ideas.  All deserving of praise and acclaim.  I love his work, no question.  But I also don’t want any author to think that Jack woke up each morning at Beauty Ranch and simply created his literary success all by himself.

He did not.

Let’s begin with that 1,000 words a day.

Clear the Decks

No matter the guest count that week, no matter what the crisis at the ranch, no matter what was for breakfast, Jack wrote.

His work supported the whole enterprise of course, and writing was his job.  But do consider who made those 1,000 words a day possible:

His ranch manager.

The Staff

The ranch workers and their families

His wife.

The cook.

Someone took care of all the daily challenges that arise on a working ranch.  Someone make breakfast and cleaned up afterward.  His wife protected his time and entertained the weekend guests until Jack was finished.

Use a Typist

Jack could write, but not fast enough. He worked out his books long hand.  It was his wife, Charmaine who typed up the drafts of the manuscripts, editing along the way.   She was involved in his work from the start and wrote her own stories after his death.   

Even in the creation of his books, Jack was not working alone.

Now that I’ve thrown poor London under the bus, here are more people nestled in the anonymity of the acknowledgments page of most books.

Researchers

Research comes from volunteers, helpers, or paid professionals.  For authors, everyone and anyone is a resource.  Jack discovered those stories on the islands of the  South Pacific, and the bars in Alaska.  Some authors who write multiple books a year,  hire profession researchers.    If you are very lucky, you can exploit your own high school children as research assistants and pretend it’s an educational experience.

Room Of Your Own

Behind every great writer is a spouse keeping the children quiet, or a beloved aunt who left them enough cash to live on while they worked.   I have a husband who supports the arts.  We all have some kind of help.  Don’t think authors are doing this all on their own.   

Editors

There could be up to three people involved in the editorial process.  Authors need editors. From Beta Readers to Copy editors,  these wonderful people are critical.

Promotors/PR

A group or an individual needs to promote the author.  An author often does this work herself, but again, if you are published consistently enough, or are lucky to have a team at your disposal, a PR expert is key to the success of the book.

Social Media

First, you need to start up the social media projects, then if you are lucky and I mean that – lucky – you will collect rabid fans in the thousands who will spread the word about your project or book.  These fans are unsung and unacknowledged and increasingly, critical.

Agent

In Jack’s day, literary agents were more like a personal manager.  Agents protected the author, negotiated for better royalties, negotiated with the publishers and the press, sometimes advanced the author funds out of the agent’s own pocket and helped the author decide on the next book.   It’s different now, but also the same, successful authors have that team member.

Publisher

All authors need a delivery system for their books.   It can be done through one of the big New York publishers or the largest one of all – Amazon –  but again, people behind the scenes are assembling your book and shipping it out and sending you money.

Booksellers   

If your book is featured in a bricks and mortar store, the owner and staff of that store will help sell your book.  Smart authors do not forget this.   In Powells (Portland), there was a note tacked onto the end of a bookshelf –   a  card from Sue Grafton.  T is for Thank You.

Artists

Can you design your own book cover?  Canva options aside, no you can’t.  Get help.  Those beautiful book covers illuminating pages of Amazon offerings?  All professionally done.

A section in Poets and Writers magazine lists new and noteworthy books.  The listing includes the first line of the book, then the top people involved in bringing that book to readers:   Publisher – Author – Agent – Editor – Publicist.  It takes a team, or even in some cases, a village.

London had a village.  Virginia Woolf had a village.

It takes a rather large population to bring a book to market.  We think of writing as a solitary affair and the American myth of complete self-sufficiency is still very powerful particularly when it comes to writing.  But the myth is wrong.  Authors not only need to be competent at their work, careful in their craft but also able to coordinate the multitude it will take to bring a book to market.

It’s daunting but nice to know we are not alone.

This first appeared in Writer’s Fun Zone.

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Don’t Worry, Write Anyway

In her book, Fierce on the Page, Sara Cohen  insists that authors be happy first no matter where they stand on the fame and fortune continuum.  This belies our whole tortured artist myth, that validation, and accidentally, happiness can only be achieved with publication the sharp spires of which beckon  as our own shinning  city on the hill.  This is about as true as black being flattering to all complexions.

You seem both shocked that contrary to fashion magazine claims, the little black dress isn’t universally perfect, and shocked that the end of the rainbow does not lead to a pot of gold, or happiness.  I understand.  When my first book published.  I felt satisfaction, pleasure, had a celebratory drink and immediately  had to get to work because promoting a published book is critical, required,  and lead  to increased crankiness.  Not happiness.

If that is true, how can a writer possibly be happy?

The first strategy is to understand our mythology.  Our favorite myth is that all writers want to be published.  And all published authors are happy.  More specifically, published authors are happier than YOU.   This myth perpetuates the erroneous idea that  all our work will be in vain if we don’t publish.  And not just any publisher, our work must be published by one of the big 5, 4, 3 – the only traditional publisher left.

What if the writing itself makes you happy?   

  Write HappyI am a life-long writer, can’t help it. The work may change, but the process stays very much the same because I love the process.  My goal for writing is that the work will increase in satisfaction and flow the more I do it.  I want the writing in my 80s to be even more satisfying than writing in my 50’s  which is considerably more satisfying than writing in my 20s was. In my twenties, I wanted to have written. I wanted the finished project and the imagined all the acclaim and satisfaction that a published book would bring.  In short, even though the actual process was miserable and difficult, I knew I would be happy once the damn thing was finished and published.

I ended up dropping the awful novel ( A romance. I am not a romance writer evidenced by the excruciating process) in favor of planning a trip to Europe.  Better use of my time.  I remember the trip, it made me happy.  The only thing I remember about that novel was the rejection letter.    

Concentrate on the process – the hours you will spend on creating your work.  Are you happy in those hours?  I’m betting you are.  That’s the happiness. That should be the goal: doing what makes you happy, not waiting in vain for validation from strangers.

So what will make you really happy?

Do you long to announce your book project at family dinners to show you are creative, erudite and introspective?

Will holding the title – Writer – make you more important?

Will adding writer to your Linked In account give you a thrill?

Will wearing the writer’s costume give you deep satisfaction?  (Note, the writer costume does not include a cape, rather it often consists of an old college sweatshirt and yoga pants covered in dog hair) (But being able to wear yoga pants all day confers on many of us, tremendous happiness).

Some writers are happy to have something to do while sipping their lattes at Starbucks, so an afternoon in a cafe noodling around on your laptop, feeling part of the tribe is time well spent.

If explaining the plot of your yet unwritten work delights you.  Then do that.

If endlessly editing your epic poem from 5:00 to 6:30 PM every weekday soothes your soul.  Do that.

If you can turn yourself into a writer who loves the process, and revels in the zone of writing, the doing of it, you will truly win this game.

Whatever you do, don’t believe that publication will lead you through to the beautiful sunset into which you will walk, sunlight streaming from your slender limbs, all troubles and cares erased from your now bright future.  It won’t.  Publication ends up being just one more damn thing to do.

Finding happiness in your work, in the beauty and wonder of putting words to the page, that will last forever.

So stop worrying and just keep writing.  That will make you happy.  Promise.

To learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast
For the greatest yet unassuming information on writing and social for authors
Subscribe to the blog
Sign up for the quarterly newsletter
Follow us on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
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And THANK YOU

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The Fun of Fake Research and How to Avoid It

We know what we believe and no pile of facts or expert opinions will propel us out of our comfortable Lazy-Boy of certitude.

But we are missing one of the greatest joys of writing: research.research in times of Fake News

Even if you disagree with every fact you uncover, research is fun, researching for a book or article can become the project itself, every bit as agreeable as an afternoon spent on Pinterest.

Oh look, puppies!

I teach a class on critical thinking and writing so much of my rant about research and the veracity there in, is to prevent students from  quoting urban legends or common wisdom, or FOX news.  Yes, you say, still seated comfortably, perhaps pulling a beer from the cooler embedded into the chair arm, but research is just for academics, I write fiction, no need to research, it’s my world building against yours.

That was BG.  Before Google.  In the happy past, women knew their place, white men made a living wage tightening wing nuts and  fiction writers used to be more or less exempt from research, it was our world after all, get over it.  But like the wing-nut tightening business, the industry changed.     

Everyone can look up everything.  Which means that you, the author, need to be more diligent with your facts and claims and yes, do more research, which will lead to the problem stated above, the more you love the research, the fewer words will end up in your final book.

So we have two challenges:  You need to do research, but  the research will quickly take on a life of its own through no fault of yours (puppies).

What to do?

  1. Haul yourself out of the recliner.
  2. Limit the research to three credible sources.
  3. Look for consensus and then just write from there.

Credible?  How the heck can I know what is credible?

Ask a couple of questions about the site, or journal, or white paper you’ve just encountered on your digging search:

Commercial or Academic? 

Is the information you found   just advertising copy?  Double check against another site to be sure.    

Links to corroborating sites.

Look for links to other sites – often academic and legitimate sites cheerfully link to more information or to deeper sources.  Flow the links from  one site to the next to next.

For an academic paper your goal is to find the original sources, kind of like finding the source of the Amazon.  Sometimes it feels like it takes that long as well but it’s worth it, just to be very clear.

Can you find the original article? ( I’m looking at you Huffington Post.)

Dig deep and find the original article or journal rather than just believing, and quoting, the first time you see the comment.   

Yes, you can start with Wikipedia

Believe it or not, as much as academic denigrate Wikipedia  Wikipedia isn’t a bad way to start  your research.  Just don’t end there.  Ever.  Yet, the OED was essentially crowd sourced, and Wikipedia is gaining legitimacy.  However, I’m still a fan of digging deeper.

Contact the author.

Is there an email?  Can you contact the author of the web site or journal article?  Can you ask them a direct question about what you need to know?  Probably. Give it a try. You know yourself that you love to be considered an expert in your field, give that compliment to another author, they may respond with   great information.   

Or did the author of the web site post  a selfie  wearing a colander covered in tin foil? A professional tip: don’t reference that site.

If you are writing  fiction, you may want to write the novel first, then research only what you need to research. That will help narrow your search and allow you time to actually write, rather than  just research as fun as it is.

Oh, and did you know you can create pin boards that track your research, discuss your work in progress and are all about your book?   Sorry.  Now you’ll never get that book started . . . But aren’t the puppies cute?  Make a Pinterest board.

Your Book Starts Here web siteTo learn more.
Visit us on iTunes – Newbie Writers Podcast
For the greatest yet unassuming information on writing and social for authors
Subscribe to the blog
Sign up for the quarterly newsletter
Follow us on Newbie Writers Group on Facebook
Instagram #catharineBramkampWriter
Pinterest Catharine Bramkamp
And THANK YOU

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