Thursday, May 29, 2008

Goals and Ice Cream

When you work full-time and want to write full-time, what's the solution to not enough hours in a day? Ice cream. Extreme Moose Tracks, to be exact. Okay, so maybe that's not actually a solution, but it sure does taste good. And what better reward for reaching a goal than a bowl full of cold, creamy, chocolate goodness? I hear all you health-conscious people out there listing much healthier rewards than ice cream. Trust me, most of the time my reward is much more along the lines of reading for the fun of it, a little extra time in the sunshine, playing on that website that I never have time get the idea.

The point of rewards? Motivation, pure and simple. Yes, setting goals is a great way to get work done, but what happens when you get bogged down with goals and lose the excitement of writing the rest of that chapter or revising that troublesome scene? With something to motivate you to achieve whatever goal you've set, you quit working then spend the next week lamenting the time you wasted playing Minesweeper instead of working on your writing. This is where rewards come in. Set small milestones to reach the big goal, and reward yourself as you reach those milestones. Keep the milestones and the rewards reasonable. No going out to the trendiest restaurant because you rewrote two sentences. That's not how it works. Set a goal of, say, revising six pages. When you reach that goal, reward yourself with ten minutes of playing with your kid's Wii. Obviously, the goals and rewards will vary with each person, but the important thing is to have them.

Why do we set goals in the first place? To have a plan of action. If you've ever completed a 300+ page novel and thought about revising it, you know how intimidating that can be. Setting a goal of revising five to ten pages a day breaks it down into manageable chunks that leave you excited to get to work. And when that excitement fades is where the reward system comes in. Not only are you working toward your bigger goal of revising the entire manuscript, you're working toward a smaller goal that will give you a much more immediate reward. The sense of accomplishment when you see that revised manuscript is amazing, but sometimes it takes a few little tangible rewards along the way to get to that one-of-a-kind feeling.

So, set your goals, set your rewards, and get to work. This is an honor system, so no cheating. Good luck and happy writing!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

This is the day to remember those serving our country and those who have given their lives to protect it.

To the men and women currently serving in our military both here in the United States and overseas: Thank you. I'm proud of the job you do.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Maria. J. Bare)

To those who have served in the past: Thank you for all that you've done.

(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Suzanne Day)

To the police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and EMTs: Thank you for protecting us here at home.



To the families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty: Thank you for the sacrifice your family has made. You can be proud of the job your loved one willingly gave his or her life for.

(Photo by Adam Skoczylas).

And to all the civilian employees who help keep the military running smoothly: Thank you. You are appreciated.
Photo by Rabia Nombamba, USAG Ansbach

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Interesting Things From Around the Internet

Thanks to visiting blogs and receiving newsletters from places like, Publishers Marketplace, and Guide to Literary Agents, I've come across several interesting things this week.

Writer's Digest has published their annual list of 101 Best Websites for Writers. This is always a fun list to look through, and I've found some amazing places in the past I didn't even know about until I looked through the list. I will warn you, going through the list and visiting the sites will keep you busy for hours.

On Jane Friedman's blog over at Writer's Digest, she has an interesting post titled The Secret to Effective Marketing and Self-Promotion. Interesting stuff and so true.

Jonathan Lyons from Lyons Literary, LLC has a series of posts on his blog where he answers questions he's received from writers. Be sure to continue on to the older posts so you don't miss any of the useful information he gives.

The last interesting thing from around the Internet I have to share today is the OLPC XO-2, which is scheduled to be released in 2010. It's the second generation of the OLPC XO laptop. The maker's goal is to have a laptop to every child. What I love about the XO-2 is that it folds like a book and isn't much bigger than one. Talk about the ultimate e-reader! How could would it be to have a reader that you hold like a book? It also works as a laptop, which makes it that much better. My only issue, and it's a minor one, is that there's no external keyboard. It has touchscreen technology, which is great, but I have to wonder how uncomfortable it would be to type anything like a report on a hard surface. If there's a way to connect a regular keyboard to it, I'm going to seriously consider taking part in the Give 1, Get 1 program (which starts up again in August or September), assuming it will apply to the XO-2.

That's all I have from around the Internet for now. If you know of any other interesting writing or publishing related things, please share it with me. You never know, I might add it to a post in the future.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Innocence of Youth

The innocence of youth is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, it makes facing the real world a challenge. I still remember thinking I could change the world and that everyone would love my books, giving me a publishing contract the first time I submitted anything.

Then I submitted my work and learned the painful truth: what I thought was great writing wasn't. I had to learn a lot about good writing (including how to do it), then I had to learn about query letters, researching markets, self-editing...the list goes on and on. I'm not complaining; I'm glad I learned all of those things and that I'm still learning. I still believe my writing has a place in the world of published works, but now I know the hard, cold reality of publishing: it's unbelievably hard for a new writer to get picked up by anyone. I've been trying for several years (though I will admit to not submitting as much as I should for most of those years) and only recently had a short story published for the first time. Getting a novel picked up is even harder.

Now, to prove there really is a reason for the title of this post, I'll explain what brought all of this to mind. I was talking to my younger sister and two of her friends the other day. My sister and one of the friends want to be authors. They already have their books all planned out and are working on writing them. They also seem to be convinced that publishers will be drooling on their doorsteps to get the manuscripts. And once the contracts are signed, the books will become instant best-sellers.

I'm glad they still have the innocent view of publishing I had several years ago. I hope that once they discover reality, their dreams won't be crushed to the point they never write another word. Getting a publisher to believe in an unknown, first-time author is difficult at best. For that author to quickly become a best-seller is nearly unheard of. All authors have to do promotion for their books. The bigger your name in the book world, the more time and money your publisher will invest in marketing and promotion. But for the majority of authors, it's their own hard work and determination that build sales.

Then there's the writing part of the dream. Yes, you may have a ton of talent, but even talented authors have things to learn. You may write compelling stories your friends and family love, but unless you've studied the writing craft, it's likely you're making errors that mark you as an amateur. You can justify not learning to correct these technical problems by saying readers will never notice them, but you need to keep in mind that readers will never see your story unless an editor gives you a contract. To get that contract, you need to have the best writing possible. Putting in time studying your craft is worth it. So is rewriting and revising your manuscript until your so sick of looking at it you want to throw it out the window. That time and effort will show in the completed project and improve your chances of impressing an editor.

Don't be surprised if an editor asks you to rewrite part of your "perfect" manuscript. It's their job to make the manuscript into something that will have readers lining up at the bookstore to buy it. No, crowds rushing to the nearest bookstore for the release of your novel aren't likely, but you get the idea. Editors know the book market, they know what works and what doesn't, and they want to see your book sell millions of copies as much as you do. Just be prepared for your Great American Novel to sell in the thousands, not the millions. When you get to your fourth or fifth book, your sales numbers will probably be better since you'll have a following (we hope!) and at least a little name recognition.

Now, I'm not saying all of this to discourage anyone from trying to get published. I'm all for people dreaming of becoming an author and working to make it happen. But keep in mind the key word here is work. Writing is a hard business. Take a realistic look at it and decide if it's something you want to get into as a career or if you just want to write for your personal pleasure and to entertain your family and friends.

As I've often said, publishing is a wacky, confusing, subjective world, but I love it. Though it can be a frustrating place for an author to navigate, I can't imagine my life without striving for publication. It's part of who I am, and I know that one day I'll succeed.

Good luck to all of you author hopefuls out there. Keep learning, revising, and submitting!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Doing the Happy Dance

I am so excited! I received my contributor's copy of Cantos yesterday. There is nothing like the feeling you get from holding your first piece of published work in your hands. Yeah, I got an article published in a little online magazine a while back, and that was unbelievably great, but I'm old fashioned enough to love holding an actual publication with pages in my hands. Plus, this is my first published piece of fiction. Woohoo!

Now, to update everyone about my ongoing task of creating a website. I tried something new last night and it worked, except the program I used is so old my text boxes didn't show up when I opened the page in a web browser to see what it would look like. I think I know how to do the same thing in OpenOffice, though, so I just might get it created and put on the web sometime in the next month. It all depends on how much time I can spend working on it.

Oh, and I'm still waiting for a response to the question about macros I posted on the forum a while back. As of this morning, the question has been viewed 155 times with no response. I'm so not impressed, since the forums were built up as being a great place to go and get help with any problems you have with OpenOffice. Oh, well. I found a way to bypass using a macro with a different program, so hopefully I can use that knowledge to bypass macros in OpenOffice when I work on designing my site again.

Back to doing the happy dance about finally having a piece of fiction published! Everyone, this feeling is why you should polish your work and submit it. There's nothing else like it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm So Excited!!!!

I received the greatest email last Friday. The editor of Cantos (Missouri Baptist University's literary journal) sent me a message to let me know my contributor's copy would be mailed today. I can hardly wait for it to get here! My first published short, does it feel great. I'm ready to submit my second short story just as soon as I find the right place to send it. I may submit something else to Cantos, but I'll have to come up with the right story.

Oh, the dance of matching stories and publications. Isn't it grand?

NOTE: This is a short post since I'm having trouble with my internet access. I'll write a longer post Thursday, assuming whatever is going on with my internet access is fixed.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Writer, Editor, Somewhere in Between

Being both a writer and an editor can be a weird position. The editing has improved my writing (at least I think it has!) and the writing gives me sympathy for the authors I work with. Now that I've seen both sides of the fence, I can understand the complaints both sides have. Editors complain about a flood of unpolished manuscripts that could benefit from a major rewrite, authors think editors enjoy rejecting manuscripts for no reason.

In my own experience, I've seen a few mss that need work, but with enough work they could probably get picked up by a publisher. There are also some that will never be publishable and the author needs to move on to the next project.

I'm ashamed to admit that when I first started on the writing adventure several years ago (long before I became an editor), I wondered if the editors I submitted to were on some kind of vendetta to keep me from getting published. Then I learned more about writing and figured out why my submissions kept getting rejected. If any of those editors remember me and read this, I am so sorry for submitting something that badly written. I blame it on youth and lack of experience, and you'll be happy to know my writing is greatly improved from those first attempts at publication.

Writers, keep in mind there's always a good reason your manuscript has been rejected. Even if the editor just sends you a form letter with no explanation, there was a reason for sending it. Contrary to popular urban legends, editors are not cold, heartless beings who enjoy rejecting authors. We're human beings with feelings and we hate rejecting manuscripts.

That brings up another important point. Editors aren't rejecting you, just your manuscript. It may feel personal when you get that rejection letter, but the only thing the editor rejected was your manuscript. As a writer, I know how easy it is to take a rejection personally. I've even done it a time or two until my brain kicked in and said the ms was the only thing rejected. The editor probably didn't have an opinion of me as a person one way or the other.

Now, here's a tip for writers that you've all hear a gazillion times before: make sure the first couple of pages grab the reader's attention. I always thought it was some kind of myth that an editor or agent could judge a story by reading just a few pages. Then I became an editor. Trust me, it's possible to have a pretty good idea of how the rest of the story will be after reading just a couple of pages. If you get a request for a partial after sending five pages with your query, that's a good sign. That means your writing has passed the first test.

Queries are something that tend to get overlooked. Always, ALWAYS take the time to revise and polish your query. If you don't, it won't matter how much time you spend on the manuscript. An atrocious query letter will prevent your ms from ever being seen by the agent or editor you submitted to. Remember that the query is usually the first sample of your writing they see and if it's bad, the logical assumption is that the manuscript will be just as bad. Besides, editors appreciate well-written queries that show the writer understands submissions are like a job interview and appearances are important. So, put your best foot forward with an awesome query polished to perfection, and I'm sure you'll be pleased with the results.

Now, I need to follow my own advice and polish a query waiting to be sent. Everyone have a wonderful weekend, and tune in Monday for a brand-new post!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Rejection and Submissions

I know, it looks like I got that title backwards. In way, I guess I did. But considering the weekend I had, it's in the correct order.

I received another rejection on one of my manuscripts last week. I'm not going to admit the number here, but I've received several rejections on that particular manuscript. I've worked long and hard on it, and the critique buddies who have read it loved it. The ones who just read the synopsis said it sounded like something they might like to read. Even agents have commented on liking the premise. And yet it keeps getting rejected.

I seem to hit agents with full lists or who just don't fall in love with the story the same way I did. The rejections have been encouraging so I don't feel it's time to give up on the manuscript. If I ever do feel it's time to give up on it, I will. I'm not going to put my writing career on hold for a manuscript I can't sell. I would like to see it published someday, however.

Ever since I received that last rejection, I've been evaluating my writing career and trying to figure out the next step. I have plans for a couple of manuscripts waiting for me to revise and one that I'm still writing. I'm planning to submit a short story just as soon as I write the letter to go with it. And I've decided to keep searching for an agent for now. Yes, I've received rejections on that ms, but I've also received requests. I truly believe the book is publishable; I just need to find the right person to represent it. I've set a number and if I receive that many rejections, I'll take another hard look at the ms. I'm hoping I won't have to do that, however.

I've researched agents carefully and I'm only querying the ones I believe will be interested in my manuscript. I'm impressed by their agenting skills and client lists, but I've also heard wonderful things about them as people. We'll see how the query process goes. In the meantime, I have plenty of writing and revising to keep me busy.

Now for the moral of this post: Don't give up even in the face of multiple rejections. Keep writing and submitting. But it's also important to be flexible. If it becomes apparent you're not going to get anywhere with a particular manuscript, be willing to set it aside. Once you've published a book or two or three, then you can pull out the manuscript you set aside and try again to sell it. The market is constantly changing and evolving, so what won't sell today no matter how good it is could become a best-seller in five or ten years.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Joys of Inspiration

For once, I wasn't inspired to start a new story. This inspiration came in the form of finally knowing how to rewrite the beginning of a novel. I finished the first draft of this particular manuscript a year or so ago. I knew even as I wrote the end that the beginning had to be completely rewritten. What I originally has was exciting, captivating, unrealistic garbage. When you know your beginning is bad, that can be really discouraging. But I had the advantage of knowing I could rewrite the first few chapters without having to trash the whole story. So I finished the manuscript and set about planning the rewrite.

I had no idea how to start my story. What I had kept invading my thoughts and I began thinking, "Well, if I just tweak this a bit and make some minor changes here, it might be okay." Uh-uh. This beginning would never be okay. At least not in this book.

So, I set the manuscript aside and got to work on other things. Every once in a while, I'd take a look at the manuscript to see if I could figure out how to rewrite it, but the result was always the same. After a day or two of frustration and no inspiration, I'd put the ms away again and go back to my current project.

Then yesterday I woke up and had an idea. It started slowly, then I talked to a couple of people about seemingly random topics, and my new beginning came to me. I made plenty of notes on what the beginning needed to include as well as a few things that had to change later in the story because of the rewrite. I salvaged my original first paragraph with a few minor alterations and the first sentence of the second paragraph, then I began writing completely new stuff. Of course, it didn't take long for the story to go in a different direction than I expected, but it works perfectly with a scene later in the book.

I'm so excited about this! I know where I want to submit this manuscript when I finish it, revise it, revise it again, and possibly revise it one more time after that. Now I just need to find the time to finish that rewrite. Between work, polishing another manuscript, finishing a third manuscript, and searching for an agent for a fourth, it looks like late at night will be my time to rewrite.

Some might call me crazy, but I love the occasional insanity that is the publishing world! Even the mind-boggling writing, rewriting, and revising process that makes the faint of heart cower in fear is something I can't imagine living without. And now, it's back to work so I can get to my rewrite faster.

Happy writing, y'all!