Monday, April 28, 2008

Is This Manuscript Marketable?

It’s hard sometimes to know if what you’re writing is marketable. If others will love it as much as you do is an even tougher question to answer. So how do you know if you’re on the right track with your story? Ask yourself a few questions.

Does the writing feel right to you? If something in your story bothers you, tweak it until you get that so-perfect-no-one-can-argue-with-it feeling. Of course, someone will always argue with it no matter what you do, but if your story is where it should be, you’ll know.

Does your story feel cliché? Words and phrases aren’t the only clichés out there. Plots, character types, even styles of writing (e.g. a detective novel a la Sam Spade) can be cliché as well. One way to tell if any part of your story has already been done by millions (exaggeration, I know) of other people is if it leaves you feeling like you’ve read it ad nauseum. When your story leaves you feeling nauseous, you know something’s wrong. Rewrite until you have unique characters combined with a plot written in a fresh way. Here again, your instincts will let you know when you’ve got it right.

What do your guinea pigs, er, critique partners think? If you’re receiving comments like, “It’s fantastic!” “I got so involved I didn’t want to stop reading,” or “Your characters just feel so real. And the plot? Love it!” you know you’re on the right track. However, if you get comments from three people about your main character’s two-dimensional personality, it’s time for a little rewriting. Keep in mind, not everyone will like your story or your characters, but they should be able to recognize good writing. So, if your test reader tells you, “It looks good, but it’s just not for me,” you’ve probably got a marketable story that your test reader wouldn’t pick up even if it had been written by Stephen King or Nora Roberts.

Are you getting personalized rejections with encouraging comments? I know it’s hard to find anything encouraging in a rejection, but if an editor or agent has taken the time to write a personalized rejection with reasons why the turned it down and maybe some suggestions to improve your manuscript, that’s a very good sign. Those encouraging comments about your main character’s vibrant personality and the unique story line mean you’re headed in the right direction. Depending upon what else is said, it could mean your story is marketable as is, just not to that particular editor or agent. Research carefully and make an informed decision about where to submit next. If you get the same suggested revisions from two or more agents or editors, definitely take those suggestions under serious consideration and think about doing at least a trial revision. You can always make a copy of your manuscript to revise according to those suggestions. If you hate it, you still have the original to submit elsewhere.

What it all comes down to is how you, as the author, feel about the story. That manuscript is your creation. Don’t sacrifice your artistic liberty just to meet a market trend. By the time your manuscript is published and hits store shelves, a new trend will have taken hold anyway. Write your story as it’s meant to be told. Revise until you feel it’s ready for it’s journey into the world of submission, and trust your instincts. If the story is meant to be published, an editor somewhere will love it as much as you do. Just be prepared for the possibility of receiving 147 rejections before editor 148 falls in love with the manuscript.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Woohoo, it's Thursday!

Okay, I admit it. I completely forgot it's Thursday until just now. Actually, that's not quite true. On some level I remembered that it's Thursday, I just forgot that I'm supposed to post here today.

Since I have that rambling explanation out of the way, on to the post!

Here's a quick update on my macro problem in OpenOffice. I still have no clue what's wrong or how to fix it. My post on the forum has been viewed 102 times as of right now. Still no reply, not even a private message to tell me I'm too computer illiterate to use a macro... Nothing. So, I'm not as pleased with OpenOffice as I originally was. I just don't have the time right now to try to learn a new program like that with no help from the people anyone.

Enough ranting. I'm slowly but surely making progress on revising my upper MG novel. I plan to work on it more tonight after the munchkin also known as my niece is in bed asleep. It didn't take me long to learn that the best time to get anything done with a two-year-old around is when the child is asleep or out with the grandparents. Ah, quiet...such a marvelous non-sound.

Writing has kind of taken a backseat to revising and work. I'm looking forward to this weekend when I plan to catch up on all the writing I haven't done this week. I wrote about three pages yesterday, so I'm not going into complete withdrawal. I do miss the days of writing twenty or thirty pages, though. Maybe I'll have a couple of those days this weekend and finally finish the YA novel that's so close to being complete. Then I'll add it to my revision list, right after the upper MG.

Now for today's writing advice. Take advantage of what free time you have and write something. Even if you only have half an hour during your lunch break to write, get those words on paper or computer screen. The feeling of accomplishment writing a few paragraphs when your life is uber-busy is worth it. Also, don't be afraid to write something controversial. A little controversy can go a long way to starting meaningful conversations and possibly selling a bit more of your work.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Perfect Manuscript...or Not

You've completed your manuscript, revised it a couple of times, and now it's perfect. Right? As disappointing as it is to hear, you'll probably find something that could be better when you look at it again. Then, once those things are changed, you'll send it off to an editor or agent who may or may not accept it. If they reject it, you may get a request for revisions.

Revisions? Didn't you already send them a perfect manuscript? Uh, no. You see, even after your manuscript is accepted by a publisher, there will still be editing to make you "perfect" manuscript even better. Before you get angry that the editor doesn't see how perfect the story already is, take a look at the proposed changes and think about them objectively. Maybe that word would work better than the one you originally had. Yeah, on second thought a comma does need to go there. If you take a step back, distance yourself a little from your story, you'll find that the editor really does know what he is talking about.

So, how is it that this editor knows that changes need to be made? It's his job. Plus, he's not nearly as close to the story as you are. You've poured your heart and soul into your manuscript for months, even years. That's your baby, and it's hard to find fault with your baby. The editor understands this. The suggestions he makes are only to make the manuscript the best it can be so you'll sell a ton of copies and make readers happy. He's not trying to destroy your "voice" and make your story sound like a hundred others. The changes he suggests are not a personal attack on you or your writing. His goal is the same as yours: to make the story the best it can possibly be.

Once you and the editor agree that your manuscript is "perfect," it'll go onto production and hit the shelves of your local bookstore. You go in, buy a copy so others will see you with this great book and want a copy for themselves. Then you take it home and look at your baby now that it's all grown up and a member of the published world. You can't believe it. Right there on page 57, you find a sentence that makes you cringe. You can think of three better ways to say the same thing. How did that get through all of those edits?

Because that looked like the best sentence at the time. That's one of the hazards of writing and why your manuscript is never perfect. No matter how many times you revise, rewrite, and tweak your story, you will always find something you could change. Before you get paranoid that your story will never be good enough to get published, think about this. All of the books you see in the bookstore and the library were written by someone who thought it was perfect, went through the editing process, saw their baby published, and found half a dozen things in the book they wish they had done differently.

Once your baby is as perfect as you can get it, take a week or two off from it, work on something else, then go back to your baby. If you find something you want to change, go ahead. Just remember that you have to let go of your baby sometime and send it off into the world to sink or swim. If it sinks, keep it home for a while and evaluate why it's getting rejected. Get an objective set of eyes to look it over and help you figure out how to make it better. A critique partner is great for this. Then, once your manuscript is ready for it's next trip into the world, send it out with your blessing.

One of these days, someone will see your manuscript and fall in love with it. That's when you know your baby is growing up. When you see it on store shelves, you know it's grown up and ready to stand on it's own in the world, with a little promotional help from you, of course. But that's another post.

Happy writing!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Macros, Procrastination, and Toddlers

Well, the website design has come to a standstill. I'm being overpowered by a macro that came with OpenOffice. What it's supposed to do is open a file when I click on the push button I assigned it to. Does it do that? Sort of. The file opens, but only after I get an error message telling me the macro has the wrong number of parameters. How can I have the wrong number of parameters in a macro written by the people who developed the software? After trying to find a solution on my own, I gave in and posted my problem on the forum. I'm still waiting on someone to respond, even though 37 people had looked at my post the last time I checked.

Big sigh. I'm sure the people who read the message are either as lost as I am on what to do or they're just too busy to respond right now. It's frustrating, but hopefully I'll get some help soon. In the meantime, if anyone reading this knows about writing/editing macros in OpenOffice and can help me out, please post a comment and let me know how to contact you. This macro thing is driving me nuts!

It's also giving me a way to procrastinate. Like I needed another one. I'm running behind in just about everything I need to get done, but a lot of that has to do with a certain two-year-old who wants to help, get into everything, and basically provide endless distraction. I love the girl though, and will get caught up even if I have to start writing, revising, and editing in the middle of the night.

This brings me to something I've been thinking about today. How do you overcome procrastination? Or maybe I should say "revision block." I know, you're wondering what revision block is. Aside from being something I just made up (As far as I know I made it up, anyway. If you've seen it anywhere else, let me know and I'll edit this post accordingly), it's kind of like writer's block except it hits when you're in the process of revising. I'm working on revising a manuscript, and every time I open the file I want to close it. I much prefer the creative part of writing, but I know how necessary revising and rewriting are. My way to overcome this block is to just force myself to revise whether I want to or not. This might not work for everyone, but it's the best thing I've come up with for me. Once I get into the revisions, the initial reluctance to work on it usually goes away and I wonder why I was so reluctant in the first place.

When it comes to overcoming procrastination, the same type of method works (sometimes, anyway). If I think "Eh, I'll just do it later or tomorrow," I remind myself that I said that yesterday. Therefore, I have to do it today or risk getting WAY behind on whatever it is. Since running behind is the last thing I want to do, the only option is to work on it whether I want to or not.

Here's a question for you: How do you deal with the urge to procrastinate?

Leave your answer in the comments section, and if enough people admit to being procrastinators we'll consider starting a Procrastinators Anonymous group.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Website Woes

I've decided it's time for me to finally create a website. Don't get too excited yet. I don't have a link to give you, because I don't actually have the site set up. I know who's hosting it, though, so it's all good.

Until I started on this adventure (over the weekend), I never realized just what creating a site entails. I knew I needed a design and some content, but I figured it would be easy to just throw a few things together and make it look pretty. Those of you who have already created your sites can stop laughing at me now. Trust me, an hour into planning I realized just how much work throwing those things together will take. And making it pretty? Yeah, that's going to take come time too.

I recently downloaded Open Office and learned that I can create web pages with it. I have a scheme I love, but I haven't figured out how to link anything to my pretty buttons. I also haven't figured out why I can't change anything after I save the file. I'll have to get my computer-savvy brother to explain that one to me. It's cool that I can design my own website, but it'll be even cooler when I can make it work.

The content is another big task. I've got a few articles I can throw on there and ideas for a couple more. I'm planning to post a few excerpts so people can get a feel for my writing, and I'll create a links page. The hardest part of all of this isn't know what kind of content to include, it's figuring out the specific links, excerpts, etc. to put on each page. Then there's the bio... I hate writing bios, but I've done it enough that I can come up with something good.

I'm hoping that once I get the site put together (and working!) that it will be fairly simple to maintain. This initial, time-consuming creation stage is a little overwhelming at times, but I quickly learned to break it down into manageable chunks. Just like when I have to rewrite a story. The task as a whole may look like an impossible challenge, but once I start looking at each component, I realize it may be complex, but it's far from impossible. Sometimes, it turns out to be remarkably easy. I know that's what's happened with parts of creating a website. Other parts, like not being able to link anything and being unable to change stuff after saving, are a challenge I look forward to conquering.

I'll post a link to the site just as soon as it's up and running, whenever that may be. In the meantime, happy writing!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Truth in Journalism?

We've all heard about truth in advertising, but do the same rules apply to journalism? If you look at current news outlets, you have to wonder. The general public tends to get only part of the story, whether it's about the war on terror, the presidential campaign, or Russia opposing Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO. Every major news organization claims to provide complete, unbiased information. Yet, if you dig a little deeper into the stories, you're likely to find a vast wealth of information that the media never reported. Occasionally, that information contradicts some of what the news report said.

So where does that leave the general public? Those who don't realize that the news doesn't always tell the whole story will base their opinions on whatever spin the media outlet chose to put on a particular story. Those who dig deeper will wonder if it's some kind of conspiracy to tell the public how to think instead of handing them the facts and letting them form their own opinions.

The big question is what can be done about the skewed reports being presented as the whole truth. Writing letters to the editors of newspapers and presenting the facts left out of the articles is one option, though there's no guarantee the letters will be printed. Blogging about a particular story is also an option, though the people most likely to read the posts are the ones looking for the information traditional media failed to mention.

I think the best option is staying informed yourself and offering the truth whenever the subject comes up in conversation. Sharing how you learned the information is a great way to get others to dig deeper than the morning paper and the evening news. The more people we can motivate to look past the partial story to the full truth, the better the chance that the media will realize they can't control the flow of information any longer. With the internet, there are so many sources of information that a person can be well informed without going anywhere near traditional media.

By now, I'm sure you're wondering what all of this has to do with writing. It's simple; whenever we write, we're passing along ideas and information to others. We need to be sure we have the facts straight, even when writing fiction, because our work could be the only place the reader will learn about the subject. Yes, fact-checking can be time-consuming, but think of how much better your writing will be for it. You'll also be much more well informed about whatever your topic is if you take the time to dig deeper to find out the whole truth.

Keep researching and document where you found the information. That way you can point anyone who questions the facts you present to the source where you found them. Also, be aware that alternative news sources, such as blogs and message boards, are not always completely accurate. Use your common sense. If something sounds questionable, check it out through reputable channels like government agencies, professional journals, and, yes, even traditional media. They may not always give you the whole story, but what they do give you has most likely been checked out and found to be true.

Most importantly, ask questions and keep learning. The better informed we are, the better our society will be.

Happy writing!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Autism Awareness

In honor of Autism Awareness month, I'm posting an article I wrote a while back after seeing a bunch of reports on autism. The information in this article by no means applies to all autistic individuals, but it does offer a different perspective on autism.

Enjoy reading, and please feel free to leave me a comment on what you think!


Autism is a term that covers an entire spectrum of disorders, including Asperger’s Syndrome. People with an autism spectrum disorder can have symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The most severe symptoms are found on the low end of the spectrum or low-functioning autistics. People with mild symptoms and those with Asperger’s Syndrome are classed as having high-functioning autism.

A lot of the resources that can be easily found apply to mid- to low-functioning autism. Unfortunately, many people take that information and assume that it also applies to high-functioning autistics. It generally doesn’t. Below are some truths about what high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are really like.

Autism is not the unfeeling and lonely place that many non-autistics think it is. In reality, it is a wonderful place of freedom and innocence. People with autism, both children and adults, enjoy being alone. They like the freedom from stress that being alone gives as well as the creative thoughts that flow uninterrupted by outside distractions. Yes, when in a group an autistic may seem unaware of their surroundings and completely oblivious to what is being said. However, be aware that they may be listening intently to every word and know exactly how many people are in the room.

Autistic people generally have trouble making eye contact when being spoken to. It is not because they aren’t listening, rather they are probably listening very intently. The face, especially the eyes, provides a lot of confusing information for those with autism. While a non-autistic may seek visual cues to add to the conversation, a person with autism tends to be distracted by them and miss every word that is said. By looking at the wall or the floors or even closing their eyes, the autistic person is able to concentrate on what is being said rather than trying to process all the information the face is giving.

When an autistic sits unmoving in a room full of people, don’t assume they are being anti-social. Instead, realize that they are probably observing everything that is going on around them. Autistics are the world’s greatest observers of life. Rather than participating, they are more like people at a zoo watching the monkeys play. The only difference is, the monkeys in this case are non-autistics.

One of the most misunderstood things about autism is the body language. Rocking can be comforting in a stressful situation, but it can also be a sign excitement. Flapping the hands can be a sign of happiness or a signal that the person is becoming agitated. Sitting curled up in a chair can be comforting, but sometimes it is just more comfortable for the autistic person to sit that way. These are just a few examples of the body language. The important thing to remember is that although society may view these behaviors as unacceptable or inappropriate, they are a part of being autistic. Demanding that the person with autism give up these behaviors is like demanding a non-autistic to give up their sense of humor or some other part of their personality.

Many “experts” on autism constantly suggest ways to cure autism. That sounds wonderful, but there is one problem: autism is not a disease. Saying that autistics need to be cured is like saying non-autistics need to be cured of being themselves. No sane person would want that, so why must a person with autism be cured of who they are?

Autism is not a devastating disease to be cured. Autism is a different way of life. Quirky, eccentric, different, and odd are all terms that have been used to describe people on the high end of the autism spectrum. Keep in mind that none of these words mean stupid or mentally handicapped. To the contrary, many people with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome have average or above average intelligence, though their test scores may not show it. People on the autism spectrum do not test well. The questions on the test may not explain things fully enough for them or they may suffer from severe anxiety about taking a test. If you can get the autistic person to relax and talk to you, most likely their intelligence will shine through, and you’ll be amazed at just how much they know.

One symptom many autistics exhibit it developing an obsession with a particular object or topic. They may become so fixated on one particular thing that everything they say and do revolves around it. They tend to want to learn everything possible about that topic and can become somewhat of an expert on their topic of choice. The topics can change every few days or they may stick with a topic for years. Though it may seem bizarre to non-autistics, this fixation on one area is a safe way for the autistic to express their intelligence. By sticking to one thing and learning everything they can about it, the autistic is able to carry on a conversation about that topic and feel smart.

Much of the information readily available on autism describes the difficulties and challenges of living with an autistic. They suggest ways to keep your autistic child from “escaping” from a room or the house as well as ideas for essentially baby-proofing the house for your autistic child. These suggestions are also for autistic adults. While extra precautions may need to be taken for people with mid- to low-functioning autism, there is no need to turn the house into a prison for most people on the high end of the spectrum. Many high-functioning autistic children can learn not to play with the stove, stick objects into outlets, or run into the street.

If your autistic child tends to wander, don’t automatically assume that he or she will runaway and lock them up. Instead, observe the child while they wander. Let them have the freedom to roam the backyard without someone constantly beside them. If they start to wander into the street, call them back, but don’t assume that you can never let the child have freedom. Teach them the dangers of traffic just like you would any other child.

If the autistic child has a fascination with electrical appliances, let them learn with supervision. Teach them about safety with appliances, but don’t severely restrict their access. They will never learn if you won’t let them.

Just like any other child, one with autism must be taught that certain things are dangerous. They must be taught not to talk to strangers and how to get away if someone tries to kidnap them. Teach them that police and firemen are there to help them and to call 911 if there is an emergency. It may take longer for the autistic child to learn, but most likely, they will learn.

Don’t deprive autistic children of a normal childhood just because they are autistic. If your family goes to the amusement park, seriously consider taking the autistic child as well. They need to know that they are loved, just like any other child. Excluding them from family activities will have a deep emotional effect on the child. They may not always be able to express their emotions, but all autistics have the same range of emotions non-autistics do. Some may have an awareness that they are different from everybody else, but try to treat them the same way their siblings are treated. No one likes to be treated differently from their brothers and sisters.

Yes, autism can be a challenge for parents, but is it really any more of a challenge raising an autistic child than a non-autistic child? If you listen to the “experts” it is. If you listen to them, your life will much more difficult and stressful than if you listen to your child with high-functioning autism. Raise them like you would any other child, but make special allowances when and where necessary. Take the autistic child to Grandma’s house, but allow them to go to a different room if they need to instead of forcing them to remain with the family. Sometimes, that alone-time is the only thing standing between a peaceful visit and a complete meltdown of the autistic child.

If the autistic child has trouble with flashing lights and loud noises, like those at a carnival or an arcade, they will let you know. It may not be in words, but they will find a way to tell you that those situations are something they need to avoid. You just have to be willing to listen to the child no matter how they communicate.

There are no specific guidelines for how an autistic child or adult will communicate. Sometimes they are verbal forms of communication, sometimes it is non-verbal. It is different in each case, so you must learn to communicate with the person and be patient if they have trouble expressing their needs or what they are feeling.

Autism does not mean that the person will never be independent or lead a fairly normal life. It just means that they view things in a unique way and do things differently. So rather than deciding that autism is some kind of dreaded scourge that needs to be eradicated, try to understand it and see autistics as the special people that they are.

Copyright 2005 by E. A. West

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Inspirational Writing Contest!

Here's all the information for The Wild Rose Press Easter Lilies Short Story Contest. If you write inspirational romance or it's something you've always wanted to write, here's the perfect opportunity! Feel free to send this information to other writers you know who might be interested.


The Wild Rose Press Announces the Easter Lilies Short Story Contest, sponsored by the White Rose inspirational line. We invite you to enter for your chance to win one of three publication slots.

Rules for Entry:
The defining Scripture is Solomon 2:2 "Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens."

Stories should be between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Authors may enter more than one story, but each should be original and never-before-published. Current TWRP authors are eligible to enter.

You may incorporate both the hero's and heroine's points of view, however, as the Scripture is a man speaking of his lady, ideally, these stories should focus on your hero's love developing for his heroine. These stories may be historical or contemporary, but they must be set around the Easter holiday.

In addition to using this Scripture as the reference, some symbol of the Easter Lily must also be incorporated. Easter lilies have long been a symbol of purity, motherhood, the trumpet herald of the Angel Gabriel as he visited the Virgin Mary, of resurrection, and more. (Feel free to research and use different symbols. These are listed as example only).

How you incorporate any of the symbols is up to you. Whether it's an actual flower that the hero gives to the heroine (or vice versa), or a piece of jewelry, or a spiritual experience. The use is up to you. Perhaps your hero is a Christian musician who plays the trumpet. Perhaps your heroine has lily earrings that have been passed through her family. Perhaps your hero had a "resurrection" of his faith through some experience past or present, or maybe your heroine is a mother. How you incorporate the Easter lily symbolism is up to you. It can be subtle or overt, but it has to be there.

Three stories will be chosen, and winners will receive a publishing contract from The Wild Rose Press. Stories will be released in electronic format one per day on the three days preceding Easter 2009.

Entries must be received via email on or before July 1, 2008. Winners will be announced no later than November 7, 2008.

The subject line of all entries must read: TWRP Easter Lilies: [title of entry] [last name of author]
Entries that do not have this subject line will be disqualified and deleted.

In the body of the email include:
Author Name (and pseudonym, if applicable):
One-word description of symbolism used: (eg. "trumpet" "resurrection" "purity" "herald")

Your story should be typed in standard manuscript format and be attached to your entry email as a Word .doc or .rtf file.
Entitle your entry file: TWRP_EL_[name of story]
Send entries to:

You will receive a receipt confirmation email in return.


Good luck to all who enter! Make sure you polish that story until it shines like the sun. Happy writing!